The society and humans depicted in this book have fascinating sides: for instance, the subtle and complex social/political/cultural dance of 'shifgrethor'; or the fact that Gethen's inhabitants are sexually neutral most of the time, except during 'kemmer', where they get sexually active and can become either male or female, without any set rule here.
However, some things definitely bothered me:
- The negative qualities associated with female gender, openly or not. Genly tends to do that a lot, and while it may be part of his insight as the only alien on this world, I just couldn't reconcile this disdain for 'feminine characteristics' (don't start me on how everything feminine is so often associated to weakness/lazy/corrupting/and so on) with the image of broad acceptance conveyed by the Ekumen (a federation of dozens of diverse worlds) he represents. I mean, so you're willing to embrace a world in which everyone's basically a hermpahrodite, but you still can't get over Eve the Imperfect Temptress? Come on.
That's all the more surprising, coming from a female author. Although, to be honest, I've found that women can be often worse than men when it comes to disdain towards their own sex. Meh.
- Also, since Genly calls every Gethenian a 'he', it gives a male colouring to every character he meets. A 'zé', 'they' or whatever else would have been so much more appropriate.
- A quarter of the book or so is devoted to travelling for hundreds of miles on ice, in blizzard storms, etc. I'm really not for 'travel novels' anymore, if I ever was, and this was a pretty boring part for me.
- The basis for Gethen is, as said, fascinating, but not exploited enough.