David said something quite complimentary about Le Guin, and, in order to fulfill my sacred obligation to Question Everything, I felt I should read The Left Hand of Darkness. It is a rich novel. I love the incorporation of indigenous myths and stories of an invented people on an imagined planet that serve the reader to understand and come to love the characters and cultures told into truth here. And, even if you don’t do sci-fi, pick this up in a bookstore or library and read Le Guin’s introduction.
Here’s the moment when it really caught me up in it. I think you can read this without doing harm to the story, but if you’d rather not get a preview, consider this your spoiler alert.
Below is a conversation between the envoy of an alien people exploring the possibility of relationship with a new world, Winter. Genly Ai, the envoy, encounters Faxe, a member of an apparently clairvoyant, monastic-like religious group, the Handdara, who are known for a practice that allows them to answer specific questions about the future. “The domestication of the hunch” is how Genly identifies this procedure for arriving at a guess of absolute certainty. Faxe is not nearly as impressed with his capacity, unique among all the peoples Genly is aware of.
“… we in the Handdara don’t want answers. It’s hard to avoid them, but we try to.”
“Faxe, I don’t think I understand.”
“Well, we come here to the Fastnesses mostly to learn what questions not to ask.”
“But you’re the Answerers!”
“You don’t see it yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Fortelling?”
“To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”
“The unknown,” said Faxe’s soft voice in the forest, “the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion….. But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion. . . . Tell me, Genry, what is known? What is sure, predictable, inevitable — the one certain thing you know concerning your future, and mine?
“That we shall die.”
“Yes. There’s really only one question that can be answered, Genry, and we already know the answer. . . . The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.”