The Left Hand of Darkness
by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness Chapter 16 Summary
Between Drumner and Dremegole
- It's time to treat ourselves to some more of Estraven's journal.
- Ai asks Estraven what the journal is for. Estraven tells him it's for the Records of his family's domain.
- This leads to a conversation about Ai's family, who are seventy years dead. Estraven is amazed by this fact since Ai is only thirty-ish, but Ai explains that faster than light travel means time passes by slower when he's traveling on a spaceship.
- Science Snackaroo: Ursula K. Le Guin is playing off The Twin Paradox, a famous thought experiment by some guy named Albert Einstein. Maybe you've heard of him. We could detail it here, but wouldn't you rather watch a cartoon explaining the whole thing? We thought so.
- Estraven realizes both of them are exiles in their own way.
- Actually, Ai points out, in a way they both became exiles for the other. That's, um, sweet?
- The two travel into a volcanic wilderness. Of course, the volcanoes are active and spitting out ash and smoke. What kind of adventure would it be otherwise? (Answer: a comfy one.)
- They discover the straight path to the Ice won't work. The grade is too steep and the rocks too loose. They'll have to go way out of their way between the two volcanoes.
- Light blizzard. No traveling; time to catch up on reruns of House. Oh, yeah, and sleep.
- More snow. Another stay-in-bed day.
- Ai teaches Estraven how to play the ancient Chinese game of Go.
- Estraven discovers just how poorly drawn his map is. How poorly? It's missing a whole mountain.
- We've had similar experiences with Google Maps, to be honest.
- Although the food supplies seem almost depleted, it's just because they've eaten through the heavy stuff. That's actually a relief, since the sledge is now easier to pull.
- The bare rocks force them to put the wheels on the sledge. The same bare rocks promptly break the stupid wheel.
- The volcano Drumner is currently active. The air tastes of sulphur and the sun is blotted out.
- On the plus side, the volcanic activity pushes CO2 into the atmosphere. This means the planet may eventually reach an average of 72 degrees.
- Not that it'll be any help to our heroes anytime soon.
- The volcanic activity continues to make the going tough.
- And when the going gets tough, the tough get frostbite.
- At any rate, Ai does. He develops a touch of frostbite in his face, but Estraven massages it away, and there's no permanent damage.
- The two discover they have farther to go than they though as the volcano grows more violent around them.
- Now they have to decide whether to follow "the glacier on its long sweep westward and so up gradually onto the plateau ice, or [climb] the ice-cliffs" (16.25).
- Ai thinks they should man up and climb.
- Estraven is amazed someone who's so susceptible to cold could be otherwise so strong.
- And climb they do. They also fail.
- Estraven notes that this would be a very bad place to get injured.
- If one of them breaks their leg, both of them will die.
- Pro tip: always carry your cell phone when you go out to climb ice cliffs.
- They try another spot on the ice cliff and fail again. They have to head farther west.
- Ai is mad at the failure, and Estraven recollects how odd it is that Ai should find crying shameful.
- Still no luck, and the travelers are moving farther and farther from their goal.
- Ai is impatient with the slow progress, but Estraven keeps his temper in check. He'll be in kemmer in a few days, which should prove…interesting.
- They finally make it on the Gobrin Glacier. Ai is overjoyed, and Estraven is pretty pleased himself.
- Sure, they still have to worry about plummeting to death in the crevasses but whatever. At least they're on their way.
- They begin to make better time but not without minor peril.
- Estraven slips on the ice Home Alone 2 style, and Ai laughs. It hurts the Gethenian's feelings at first until Ai explains he thought himself the only man who fell on Gethen.
- They keep up the pace but they're still behind.
- Estraven is in kemmer and having difficulty ignoring Ai's full-time kemmerness.
- When Ai asks what's wrong, Estraven has to tell him about the kemmer.
- Ai talks of loneliness. He imagines the Gethenians find their planet lonely: there are only a few other species, and none of them are even as intelligent as a dog.
- They talk about singularity, dualism, and wholeness. It's super important to the book thematically, so check it out (16.44).
- Estraven notes that even though Gethenians are undivided in sex, they are still dualist since there is the self and the other.
- Ai tries to explain the difference between human men and women. He finds he can't do so beyond a very basic anatomy lesson.
- Well, Ai, maybe you can't explain them because they're a very numerous set of incredibly diverse individuals. Just like men.
- Nope. In the end, Ai says that women are more alien to him than the Gethenians.
- And you wonder why not everybody was too into Le Guin's portrayal of gender.
- The two make good time, moving light and fast.