Overheard. A group of university students discussing Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness.
One of the students was adamant. “It’s not science fiction,” she insisted. “It’s fantasy.”
Now, by any measure, a book wherein the protagonist is an ambassador from another world come to convince the governments on this world to join a kind of galactic United Nations, a universe which has near light-speed spaceships, where the person travelling goes into cold storage for the trip, meaning that by the time they get home everyone they knew will be dead, is science fiction.
It’s almost hard science fiction, in fact.
In some ways I can see why she considered it fantasy. The world of Winter is so alien to us, so believable, and so much of the story is not about science, but about politics, relationships, and prejudice. Even so, the world of Winter does not have a mediaeval setting. It has 20th century technology. Trucks, portable heaters for the tent, and so on.
It was an interesting view from this young student. It took me back to the days when some fans claimed the only real science fiction was hard science fiction.