Havzhiva is a young boy who comes from the people of Stse, living on the planet of Hain. Many planets in the universe are connected through the futuristic technology of the time, but Havzhiva is not made privy to these scientific and broader intellectual advancements of other societies because the Hainish people are content living a traditional lifestyle, rooted in family rituals and a spiritual belief in the gods. Havzhiva is introduced to a historian, Mezha, who is related to his partner at the time, Iyan Iyan. Mezha explains to Havzhiva the roles and rewards, as well as the difficulties, of being a historian, and he decides to leave his partner and people to travel to the school Mezah attends to become a historian himself. While there, he wrestles with accepting the cultural knowledge he learned growing up in Haim, and the broadscale, universal knowledge he learns at school as a historian. He also enjoys a greater amount of personal freedom without having to bend to cultural traditions. He sleeps around with many women, particularly Aliens from different planets, until he meets Tiu. He falls madly in love with Tiu, but she must leave for a planet lightyears away for an opportunity to study there. Havzhiva is heartbroken and falls ill, nearly dying until a medicine man from Hain heals him. After surviving, Havzhiva decides to leave, feeling like he has no place to belong. He goes to a planet that is in the middle of political turmoil, particularly on its colony planet that is a slave world work camp. When he arrives, the turmoil is over, and the planet and its colony planet are rebuilding themselves. He goes on a walk one day shortly after arriving on the new planet and is attacked by the people because he is obviously foreign, and is the only one who looks different from them. When he awakes, he is in the hospital being taken care of by a woman named Yeron, who ran the hospital during the war. She explains that now that the war is over, the men of her people, the slave people, are in charge. Despite the women fighting and organizing for liberation just like the men, the women have been given no power. She asks Havzhiva to form an alliance with the women of the planet to finish the job of liberation by joining the fight for women's rights. He becomes heavily involved in the politics of the planet, learning more about their history and culture, all the while challenging unjust gender roles. Despite his challenging, he recognizes that it is nearly impossible to change a society from the outside, and the culture remains misogynistic and violent in some aspects. He settles down with a partner, and lives with her for eighteen years. After eighteen years, he travels to visit Yeron in the city where she has retired, and feels at home and balanced for the first time in his life, as he walks with her and tells her the story of his people and his life.
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