Mary Gentle’s Golden Witchbreed is likely to remind readers of Ursula K. Le Guin’s Gethen from The Left Hand of Darkness (1969). Lynne de Lisle Christie’s journey across the barren wastes of Orthe is less a voyage of discovery than an attempt at gaining contact with an alien culture. Like Le Guins character Genly Ai, Christie is an empath who cannot quite reconcile the emotional similarities she shares with her hosts and the stark differences of loyalties. Christie is betrayed by her lover Falkyr and her friend Ruric because she assumes that Terran standards apply to Orthean society. The isolation of the alien, in this case a human being, has been a standard element of science fiction since its birth as a genre.
Golden Witchbreed also tends to resemble Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness in its treatment of gender. As they were for Le Guin’s Gethenians, sexual differences between Orthean males and females are played down to the point of insignificance. Gethenians are neuter until they join into mating pairs; because partners do not know what sex they will become during the mating ritual, neither can assume gender roles. A stereotyped image of sexual roles is a perversion of the natural order to the Gethenians.
Gentle has established much the same situation for Orthe. Children, called ashiren, are born without a gender and do not acquire one until puberty, when they have the possibility of becoming...
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