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Why is Le Guin's hand-drawn map not as famous as her book?
Like Stevenson, Tolkien and other creators of fantasy worlds, Ursula K. Le Guin was a cartographer as well as a writer
- Stevenson, Tolkien and Le Guin have all made maps to 'illustrate' their stories.
- Despite the iconic status of Le Guin's 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness, her hand-drawn map of planet Gethen is quite unknown.
- The map focuses on Karhide and Orgoryen, the two main nations on the frozen planet and the locus of the action in Left Hand.
The map is half the story. Especially if the world in that story is entirely fictional. That's why some authors are also cartographers. Stevenson drew the outline of Treasure Island before he spun the tale itself. You can follow the Fellowship's quest to destroy the Ring on Tolkien's spellbinding plan of Middle-Earth – the mother of all fantasy maps. Less well known is that Ursula K. Le Guin also mapped out the topography of her most famous book.
Le Guin's 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness ranks high on lists of sci-fi classics. According to the critic Harold Bloom, "Le Guin, more than Tolkien, has raised fantasy into high literature, for our time". Left Hand was popular as well as acclaimed. To date, more than a million copies have been sold.
If Le Guin's hand-drawn map of the icebound planet Gethen is somewhat obscure, it's perhaps because it seems to pop up for the first time only in the endpapers of The Hainish Novels & Stories. Published in 2017, the year before the author's death, the two-volume collection is the first to unite all her work set in the universe of The Left Hand of Darkness.
Le Guin's map of Gethen as it appears in the endpapers of the first volume of The Hainish Novels & Stories.
The backdrop to that universe is the Ekumen, a galaxy-wide confederation of some 80 planets inhabited by humanoids. All are descended from the planet Hain, about 140 lightyears from Earth. The Ekumen works to reunite the far-flung Hainish colonies, despite the fact that genetic engineering and a million years of separate evolution have led to great cultural and biological divergences.
Volume one brings together the first five Hainish novels, including Left Hand, and two short stories. The second volume presents the final two novels (including The Word for World is Forest, the inspiration for the movie Avatar), seven short stories and a story suite in five episodes.
In her introduction to the boxed set, Le Guin writes that "The Universe in the 1960s was a man's world – a remarkably chaste one (…) We followed the boys out among the stars". Le Guin changed all that. The evolutionary divergence in the Hainish cycle allows her to explore gender relations and sexual politics in new and unexplored ways – boldly going where no man had gone before.
The Left Hand of Darkness reads as a report by Genly Ai, a man from Earth sent to Gethen to persuade its inhabitants to join the Ekumen. As the book starts, that mission is failing. Ai has trouble understanding Gethenian culture, which is rooted in the unique ambisexuality of the Gethenians. Most of the time, the locals are sexual neuters – they only turn male or female when they enter a state called kemmer. Depending on the interaction with a particular partner, Gethenians can then turn into either sex, and thus, depending on each interaction, either father or bear children.
The Great Continent, with Orgoreyn in the west and Karhide in the east.
After a year in Ehrenrang, the capital of the kingdom of Karhide, Ai finally obtains an audience with the king – only for him to reject the Ekumen. Ai then crosses over into Orgoryen, a communist-style republic and the only other major nation on Gethen. In the capital Mishnory, Ai seems to get more understanding and support than in Karhide. But he is eventually arrested and sent to die in a work camp in the far north. Ai is saved by Estraven, the deposed prime minister of Karhide. Both flee across the northern Gobrin ice sheet back to Karhide, where the story concludes.
Left Hand contains a lot of detail about Gethen, a planet so cold that the Ekumen also know it, simply, as Winter. Both Gethen's atmosphere and gravity are similar to Earth's, as are the lengths of its years and days. However, its orbit is quite different, producing long, extreme and planet-wide seasons. In the book, Gethen is gripped by an ice age, and there are extensive polar caps, all the way to at least 45° north and south. Snow and cold are omnipresent elsewhere too. Gethenians are physically adapted to the harsh climate: they are short and robust, similar to Inuit on Earth.
Le Guin's map focuses on the Great Continent shared by Orgoryen in the west and Karhide in the east. A small inset at bottom left also shows the Sea Hemisphere, with a northern continent called Sith and a southern one called Perunter.
All continents on Gethen are partially covered in ice. West of Sith is an unnamed archipelago.
Karhide occupies the greater part of the continent it shares with its rival, Orgoryen. The Karhidian capital Ehrenrang is in the south, on the river Sess, close to the Gulf of Charisune. The centre of the country is separated by the Kargav Mountains from Old Karhide, on the east coast. To the north, towards the Pering ice sheet, is the Pering Storm Border.
The Ey river, rising just south of Guthen Bay and flowing all the way down to the Gulf of Charisune, forms most of the border between both countries. Like its opposite, the capital of Orgoreyn is located in the south, on a river, the Kunderer. While Karhide is a kingdom composed of 'nation-domains', Orgoreyn is a Great Commensality, divided into 33 districts.
The inset top left focuses on the northwest of the Great Continent. The border dispute in the Sinoth Valley could boil over into war. The farm where Ai is confined is in this area. And the escape route he and Estraven follow leads across the Gobrin Ice, immediately to the north.
Area of Ai and Estraven's escape from Orgoreyn to Karhide.
One notable discrepancy between the main map and the inset top left: on the former, Orgoreyn touches the western shore of Guthen Bay, while on the latter a straight-line border clearly to the west puts Karhide in control of that area. On the main map, Kurkurast is in Orgoreyn, while that city is in Karhide on the smaller inset map. Is this a visualisation of the Sinoth Valley dispute? Having read the book quite some time ago, I can't recollect any supporting evidence for or against this theory. But it's not entirely plausible: the valley is located quite a bit further south.
Despite this (potential) flaw, Le Guin's map of Gethen is an attractive companion to the story itself and deserves to be better known. And who knows? Last year, the tv rights for Left Hand were acquired by production house Critical Content, so chances are the map will soon flash across our screens.
Strange Maps #940
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.