Genly Ai (GEHN-lee AY-ee), an envoy to the planet Gethen from the Ekumen, a league of planets. Not yet thirty years old, dark-skinned, and somewhat taller and stronger than the native Gethenians, Ai is occasionally impatient, quick to despair and to rejoice, somewhat of an innocent, and not always aware of the motives of others. Ai’s mission is to prepare the way for Gethenians to join the Ekumen, offering opportunities for “communication, trade, treaty, and alliance, nothing else.” He begins his stay on Gethen in Karhide, a country loosely run by a monarch and his council. Betrayed, as he believes, by the prime minister, Therem Harth rem ir Estraven, he travels to Orgoreyn, a country tightly controlled by the Commensal, the thirty-three heads of its districts. There, he is truly betrayed and sent to a work camp, from which Estraven rescues him. The two cross the vast northern expanse of ice back to Karhide, a difficult journey during which they become friends.
Therem Harth rem ir Estraven
Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (THAYR-ehm hahrth rehm ihr ehs-TRAY-vehn), the “King’s Ear,” or prime minister of Karhide. Stocky and dark, with a layer of fat to protect against the constant cold of Gethen, he has black eyes and sleek hair. Estraven is an androgyne, neither man nor woman but both, as are all Gethenians. A cautious, authoritative, methodical, far-seeing person, Estraven is the first to believe Ai and perceive the importance of his mission. When Estraven falls from favor with the monarch (for suggesting that Karhide join the Ekumen) and is exiled, he travels to Orgoreyn and attempts to prepare the way for Ai there. Estraven’s preparation...
(The entire section is 745 words.)