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There's a new prime minister in town, and it's Tibe, the creepy guy with the teeth.
The radio bulletins are full of his news. Seems a land dispute between Orgoreyn and Karhide might erupt into the first-ever war on Gethen.
Ai takes a landboat east. This journey gives us lots of time for details on the Gethenian lifestyle and planet.
For example, their attitude about hurrying (they don't). Not to mention how dangerous the glaciers and mountains can be, outside of the city's safety. Basically, "Karhide is no country for comfort" (5.7)—pretty much what you'd expect in a frozen wasteland.
At the end of the journey is the city of Rer. It's an ancient city that once housed the Kings of Karhide before Argaven's ancestor moved to Erhenrang. Bet this place is full of interesting history to explore.
But we won't be doing any of that, because Ai sets out again the next day.
He travels to a forest and meets a Gethenian named Goss.
Goss takes him to the Fastnesses, and en route the two see Gethenians practicing the "Handdara discipline of Presence" (5.28).
Oh, and there's going to be a lot of mention of Handdara from here on out, so feel free click over to our "Symbols, Imagery, Allegory" section for some thoughts on the subject.
In the Fastnesses, the home of the Foretellers, Ai meets Faxe the Weaver. When Faxe asks him if he has a question, Ai says he doesn't know. So, Faxe asks Ai to stay with them a few days.
Ai does, and it sounds pretty nice. Hard work, good times with dance and song, that sort of thing. The Fastness is basically the Rivendell of this novel.
Goss sticks around too and warns Ai to ask a good question. He says, "Vagueness breeds vagueness" (5.41). He also warns that some questions will not be answered because of the consequences.
Like, a thousand years ago, someone made the catastrophic mistake of asking what the meaning of life is. People died, some went catatonic, and others drove themselves insane.
Finally, Ai asks whether or not the Gethen world will join the Ekumen in five years. Faxe says the question is answerable, and the ceremony begins.
This ceremony of foretelling is one dense and rich passage of writing. It involves Zanies, Gethenians who might be schizophrenic, a kemmer, and a pervert (the Gethen word for one who keeps their male or female sex permanently). No paraphrase, not even Shmoop's, can do it justice. After all the awesomeness subsides, Faxe has Ai's answer.
Yes, the planet Gethen will join the Ekumen.
After the foretelling, Ai and Faxe go for a walk. Ai tells Faxe that Faxe must be a natural empath with the ability to read minds.
Ai asks if Faxe wishes to learn mindspeech, which is exactly what it sounds like. Faxe declines. He says he has no desire to change the world. His "business is unlearning, not learning" (5.90).
As it begins to rain, the pair walks under a tree, and Ai wonders why kings don't use foretelling in everyday decisions (although he now knows why Gethen doesn't have a lottery).
Faxe says that every answer leads to more questions, and every question must be precisely formed. For the foretellers, the idea is not to tell the future but "to exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question" (5.111).
We do love our philosophy with a bit of Zen flavoring.
In the end, Ai realizes that there's only one true answer to any question of the future: we all die.