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Ursula LeGuin's "The Left Hand of Darkness"

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Feb 11, 2007, 3:58am Top

I just finished reading this book and loved it.

The only other book I had read by LeGuin was The Word for World is Forest, and while I admired her anthropological bent, I just didn't like the story.

Someone told me Left Hand of Darkness is her masterpiece.

Agree? Disagree?

Feb 11, 2007, 4:37am Top

Actually, I'd argue that Earthsea is her masterpeice. Its her most well known work, and, as far as I know, its her most Tolkenian, in that she has created a detailed, complicated world for the story to take place in. If you haven't read it already I highly recommend it.

Feb 11, 2007, 6:34am Top

Earthsea is more popular but I would say that either The Left Hand Of Darkness or The Dispossessed are in with a shout of being her best work. Both won both the Hugo and Nebula.

Incidentally the original novella of The World For Word Is Forest won the Hugo as well and was shortlisted for the Nebula.

Feb 11, 2007, 7:33am Top

I'd agree with andyl, The Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed are probably her best novels. Earthsea is an enjoyable sequence of books, especially the initial trilogy - imagine a well-written, much more intelligent Harry Potter set in an imagined world. The LHoD and TD are more detailed works, dealing with more complex ideas - that is probably why they lack the popularity of Earthsea, some readers are put off by this.

ps...I've always had a soft spot for The Lathe of Heaven, it raises some very interesting ideas but doesn't hang together as well as her other major works.

Feb 11, 2007, 2:11pm Top

I did enjoy the Earthsea books, but The Lathe of Heaven is my favorite Le Guin book.

Feb 11, 2007, 2:24pm Top

The reason I have had a hard time reading Le Guin is because her books are somehow not as accessible as other authors ... those long complicated "otherworldly" names; and there's something obscure about her writing.

I've started the Earthsea trilogy many times, and can't seem to get past this SHELL that surrounds her writing.

Does anybody know what I mean?

However, I did finish Left Hand of Darkness (shell notwithstanding) and now, thanks to you all, have great ideas about where to go from here. Surely, this was a fabulous book, and the woman is clearly a profound and progressive thinker who's thought lines are fascinating to follow ... if you can just get there!

I got Earthsea for Christmas. After Left Hand of Darkness the trying will seem more worthwhile.

Feb 11, 2007, 4:23pm Top

I'm surprised to hear you say that about Earthsea but I know what you mean, sometimes her style can be very dry, almost austere. It can make her work hard to get into initially but usually if you stick with it, it repays the effort, as in your case with The Left Hand of Darkness.

I forgot about her 'historical' novel about Orsinia, Malafrena. I thought it was a good novel but most of her science fiction audience weren't interested.

Edited: Feb 12, 2007, 8:39am Top

I think most of her Hainsh novellas are good, and that includes Left hand of darkness. Also, I think at least two of the stories in Worlds of Exile and Illusion is good. Also, Four ways to forgiveness and The birthday of the world - they are somwhat connected...

Ariel - Le Guin herself has said that The word for world is forest and The eye of the heron are immature works that she would not have written today.

*Edited in a try to fix touchstones /what have happened? I can't get touches on books I have listed!/*

Edited: Feb 13, 2007, 12:27am Top

Yes, I agree with andyl, both The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed were excellent, (and both won the Hugh and the Nebula--a rare feat to be accomplished twice by an author), although it's been well over 20 years ago since I read them.

(BTW, I seem to remember reading recently that The Left Hand of Darkness is being made into a movie by director Guillermo del Toro, whose movie "Pan's Labyrinth" is out right now and is excellent. It should be very interesting to see what he does with Ursula LeGuin's novel).

Feb 13, 2007, 3:32am Top

Whoa Spiff ... great news! I can't wait!

Feb 13, 2007, 6:49am Top

Usually my heart would sink at the thought of a good book being filmed but on paper Del Toro looks a good choice. However, it is worth noting that his best two films are in Spanish (Cronos & Pan's Labyrinth), while his English films have been a little wonky (Blade II & Hellboy). Still, unless they hire McG or Brett Ratner it couldn't be worse that the Hallmark Earthsea mini-series.

12hhw First Message
Edited: Feb 13, 2007, 9:49am Top

I just poked around the internet to find out more about this movie, and it's apparently a version of The Count of Monte Cristo set in 19th century Mexico. Not the same Left Hand of Darkness.


Le Guin wrote her own screenplay of the book in the 1980s (I think -- not sure of the date), but it has not been published or produced.

Feb 13, 2007, 9:57am Top

I googled on it as well, and found out that the SciFi Channel planned to do something in 2001 - SciFi Wire June 7th 2001.
Surely it would be out by now if the project had succeeded.

Feb 13, 2007, 4:44pm Top

I saw del Toro's previous film, The Devil's Backbone which was very good. At the very least it has to be better than the Earthsea miniseries.

I'd love to see a good adaption of Lefthand, but really don't trust that it will happen without spoiling it somehow.

Casting should be very interesting.

I still haven't seen either of the Lathe of Heaven films.

Feb 13, 2007, 8:19pm Top

> 12
Hi, hhw.
I, too, had read that del Toro's upcoming movie was originally thought to be a version of The Count of Monte Cristo, but then I read comments at the following site, which indicate it IS indeed a cinematic version of LeGuin's novel:


So........now I'm not sure what to think.

Feb 13, 2007, 8:22pm Top

For a REALLY different take on Monte Cristo, try the anime version, Gankutsuou, available via Netflix.

Feb 14, 2007, 5:20am Top

#15 - No one would be happier than me if I'm wrong!

18RichardNeff First Message
Apr 15, 2007, 10:00pm Top

Hmm, I must add Always Coming Homeas contender for masterpiece. It incorporates the major thematic perspectives she has explored while 'grounding' it on this world.
Otherwise, I agree with Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed

Apr 15, 2007, 11:55pm Top

Actually that awful mini series was made by the Sci fi Channel! Shame on them.

Apr 16, 2007, 6:42pm Top

Not to mention the awful Earthsea mini-series they did.

May 15, 2007, 2:02pm Top

UKL is one of my very favorite authors, and I agree with the idea that The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are her masterpieces, followed by the Earthsea books. I admire Always Coming Home a lot--it's a great mix of different types of "documents"--but I can't say I enjoyed it as much as others.

I tend to see LHoD somewhat differently from others with whom I've discussed it. I see a lot of development in Henry (changing from "eye" to "I") as well as all the great anthropology. I think he has to learn to trust Estraven, and that by the end he has come to love him(? pronouns are a problem here ;-). The image of Estraven's blood sealing the entry of the world into the Ekumen, echoing the blood in the masonry in the opening passage, is very powerful. There are an awful lot of creative things going on in this book, and also in The Dispossessed.

I do have to agree, however, with the complaint that UKL often falls victim to unrelieved earnestness. I think she gets past this in her more recent writing. One of the great things about her is that you can start with almost any of her books. There is more than one road to the city.

May 15, 2007, 11:43pm Top

I agree with LHoD and the Dispossessed as her best novels. For shorter works, 'The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas' seem to have had the most resonance. That one still haunts me.

Her recent YA books, Gifts and Voices are worth a read if you are interested in nonviolence.

May 16, 2007, 7:57am Top

quinaquisset -

I remember that story! Wow, I don't remember when I last read it...but you're right, it was haunting.

May 19, 2007, 12:41pm Top

Studio Ghibli made an animated "Tales of Earthsea" movie that came out last year in Japan, and is supposed to come out on DVD in Europe this year.

Unfortunately, the Sci-Fi Channel still owns the rights to Earthsea in the States, so we won't get it til like 2009.

Reportedly, Le Guin thought the movie was good but complained that it wasn't true to the source material.

May 20, 2007, 7:14am Top

Yeah its an Anime-Movie! They are suposed to be diffrent to the surce material. Just have a look at Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind its a manga by Miyazaki himself and compare it to the Ghibli Anime-Movie Nausicaä - they are different.
So watch it and have fun.

May 29, 2007, 4:11pm Top

ariel4thou, definitely don't judge UKL by TWfWiF. She has described it as her way of getting the Viet Nam war out of her system, and described Davidson as the only character she has ever written who is unrelievedly evil. It has some powerful scenes, but as a whole is much narrower than other novels. I recently read her latest Hainish novel, The Telling, which is wonderful. If you get really interested, she's written a couple of books of essays, of which I recommend The Language of the Night.

Edited: May 31, 2007, 9:46am Top

"Supposed to" is an interesting word choice. I don't see why a movie is "supposed to" stray dramatically from the source material. That said, it happens about 95% of the time.

Nausicaa, however, is a rather terrible example, since there is virtually no difference in plot or story between the movie and the comic. The main difference is that, due to necessary time constraints, the movie's version of events is abridged.

Also, Tales of Earthsea was written and directed by Goro Miyazaki, not his father Hayao.

May 31, 2007, 9:49am Top

Abridging in films seems necessary.
Abridging and then introducing new, non-source material is just annoying and irratating (Yes Mr. Jackson, that's you I'm pointing a finger at - Arwen/Aragorn and stream for example). Don't do it. I don't want to watch your cobbled together attempt at guessing what might make people happier, I want as much of the original material as you can possably fit in.

what was the topic again?

May 31, 2007, 4:23pm Top

Oh yeah?
Why watch the movie if it´s like the book?
Where is the joy in it?
Where is the surprise?

OK, there are different expectations.
I for my part don´t want to watch a movie thats only repeating the story of the book I already have read.
Where´s the point in it?

But I understand perfectly if you like it otherwise, in the end it´s a question of taste.

Edited: Jun 25, 2007, 8:59am Top

*start of rant*

If you take a book and spin a move off it - a movie which has nothing more in common with the book than the general characters... then I think it borders on fan fiction, whether you're a famous film-maker or not.

Agree 100% with r_f in comment #28 above.
I accept deviances if they don't sabotage too much. If nothing or little is left from the book it should be clear that the movie was INSPIRED by the book. It follows that it should have a different name, as well.

I may author fan fiction in my head, but I don't read it, I don't write it and I certainly don't want it marketed to me are "the real stuff".

*end of rant*


*edited for typos*

Jun 25, 2007, 9:33am Top

i'm also a big fan of TLHoD and TD -- one of my kitty's was named Takver. i wish someone would make TLHoD into a movie -- it would be fascinating in an Orlando meets Pan's Labyrinth meets Star Trek meets Superman's fortress of solitude meets Blade Runner kind of a way.

Jun 25, 2007, 9:51am Top

#31> "one of my kitty's was named Takver" how cool! I suspect Takver was actually an image of UKL herself placed into TD, with her complex mobiles being a metaphor for her novels.

Jun 26, 2007, 11:01pm Top

Coming in late to the thread... I remember PBS's TV-movie of The Lathe of Heaven and thought it was very faithful to the novel. (The adaptation, and not the book, is to blame for my lasting association of the song "With A Little Help From My Friends" with giant alien turtles.)

Also, I don't suppose that anyone else here loved Le Guin's anthropology-of-the-future work Always Coming Home? Or enjoyed the related recording "The Music and Poetry of the Kesh"? At the time I thought they were both wonderful, although I have to admit it's been a few years since then and I don't know where my copies have got to!

Jun 27, 2007, 1:34pm Top

The other night I saw "The hunchback of Notre Dame" with Lon Chaney and I got SO MAD that they shifted Frollo's obsession with Esmeralda to harmless little Jehan! God forbid (haha) that a priest should fall in love! I mean, even Disney's cartoon managed to stay with the original...

Chaney's Quasimodo is still a sight to see, though.

Jun 28, 2007, 6:54pm Top

I loved Always Coming Home, chamekke! I haven't heard the recording, though. When I first looked at ACH, I thought it might be a bit dry, but it really was fascinating. It's one of those books where I find myself thinking about different ideas all the time, just out of nowhere. I checked it out from the library, but I may have to go buy it sometime.

I am reading The Lathe of Heaven now, and loving it, too.

36lesgoh First Message
Jun 29, 2007, 1:41am Top

I thoroughly enjoyed The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, which are more serious works than Earthsea. But although it's ultimately lighter, I must admit I also liked Earthsea. It's a guilty pleasure.

Mar 16, 2008, 10:39am Top

I am reading Left Hand of Darkness for the first time now. I am on page 170 and so far I don't really like it. However, this is a simple fault of style choice. LeGuin chose to use 1st person (which I prefer) and to switch the narrator out (which I hate) every other chapter. Also I prefer more dialogue than this book has. LeGuin's characters barely talk to themselves much less other people...meh.

Mar 16, 2008, 11:25pm Top

Haven't read much of LeGuin yet (it's hard to find her works where I live) but I love the Lathe of Heaven. Excellent characters, convincing world-building, and an extremely interesting plot idea.

Mar 17, 2008, 12:06pm Top

I think Left Hand of Darkness may be one of my all time favorite sci-fi books. I feel like I'll get something new from it each time I read it.

I also really enjoyed Changing Planes, and I'm surprised it hasn't come up here yet. Actually, looking at the numbers, it's not really the surprising. 458 copies in LT, as opposed to 3209 for A Wizard of Earthsea, 3176 for Left Hand and 2060 for The Dispossessed. Anyway, Changing Planes follows the same anthropological bent as Left Hand and Dispossessed (though told by tourists rather than official government visitors), but in short story form. I cannot recommend it enough if you're a fan.

Mar 17, 2008, 12:15pm Top

#37 Trai I think part of what UKL is up to is telling a story whose whole is not seen by any one character; there's no way she could stick with a single narrator. By using different first-person voices she lets us see the same events from different viewpoints, which not only shows us how confused poor Genly is, and how members of different cultures will necessarily see things differently, but also emphasizes the subjectivity of any narrative. Truth is indeed a matter of the imagination.

Mar 17, 2008, 8:49pm Top

Yeah, I get the reason for the style. But I would, given a choice and a reasonably coherent story allowing me to do so) prefer to fill in the some of the gaps myself. That is part of the reason that my favorite perspective (when done well) is first person.

Don't worry though, I am sticking with the book as I believe that it will deliver in the end.

Mar 21, 2008, 5:15am Top

#37: I actually prefer the chapters narrated by Estraven (his diary entries): his voice is stronger and more distinctive than Genly Ai's. Given the culture he comes from, I don't think it's surprising that he is not particularly talkative - and Genly Ai has to watch his words as well. Personally, being English by birth, I enjoy all that repression and unexpressed emotion!

Mar 23, 2008, 11:10pm Top

As suspected, the book did deliver in the end.
#42, I did like the insights into the culture that Estraven's diaries entries offered but preferred Genly's entries more.

However, more than Genly's chapters, I prefered those that offered myths of the world. Not too surprising if you understand that I started to read sci-fi/fantasy as a child when I exhausted my elementary school library's mythology section.

Also I loved the poem from which the book's title was derived.

Mar 27, 2008, 12:25pm Top

Interesting one, particularly as it seems that everyone who likes The Dispossessed also likes The Left Hand of Darkness and vice versa.

I took weeks to read The Left Hand of Darkness, found it extremely heavy-going and never really properly cared for the characters.

The Dispossessed, however, is one of my favourite books of all time.

Mar 30, 2008, 4:28pm Top

Those who have read LHoD could read The Birthday of the World - one of the stories takes place on Gethen; it's called 'Coming of age in Karhide'.

In the other stories she revisits other hainish worlds.
It's quite good.

Mar 30, 2008, 10:05pm Top

>45 Busifer: "In the other stories she revisits other hainish worlds."

I particularly like 'The Matter of Seggri', a brief but very thought-provoking story set on Seggri, one of the 83 planets of the Ekumen. TMoS was originally published in Crank #3, won a Tiptree award in 1994 and was included in the Best of Crank anthology. I'm glad it was chosen for inclusion The Birthday of the World. It definitely deserves wider exposure.

>45 Busifer: "It's quite good."

Agreed! :-)

Mar 31, 2008, 10:40am Top

And her much earlier collection, The Wind's Twelve Quarters, includes "Winter's King," a Gethen-based story written before LHoD.

Apr 1, 2008, 9:06am Top

Sincere thanks for reminding me - it has been such a long time since I last read that one! :-)

Edited: May 17, 2008, 12:20pm Top

I'm pretty much a sci-fi newbie and this was the first Le Guin book I've ever read... just finished it today! It was a very unusual book for me and not quite what I expected... very rich and deep... reads like real "capital L" Literature. It took me a little while to get through it, but I'm glad I did! I can certainly see why it's a classic of the genre... very thought provoking and detailed. It must've been quite an extraordinary stand-out in 1969. Ms. Le Guin certainly deserves her excellent reputation, if I may say, having only read this book by her. She doesn't "hold your hand" to initiate you into her world. You're just thrown in and eventually you figure things out through the gradual repetition of alien words and concepts used in context. It truly was like going to a foreign country (alien planet)... quite masterfully done.

There certainly was a lot of detailed description of geography, sociology, and weather. The journey across the ice felt interminable (and a little boring to read at times) but, I suppose it's almost necessary to evoke the right feeling. It reminded me of Frodo and Sam trying to scale Mount Doom.

The shared first person narration was interesting, as was the little interludes concerning Gethenian legends and love stories. I wish I could've read this for a discussion group. There's a lot to "chew on" and there's probably quite a bit that got lost on me. Nevertheless, I'm sold on Ms. Le Guin's talent and will definitely read more from her.

May 11, 2008, 7:52am Top

Read Left Hand of Darkness and I was far from impressed.

The idea of a relationship between an androgynous person and a single-sexed person sounded interesting, but I could not get into it, because it was not done in an interesting manner at all - it was basically two hundred pages of "we don't understand eachother", repeated in inventive ways.

That in itself is not a fair criticism of the book, more on my reading tastes, except that the other major thread of the book, trying to bring a world into a galactic trade-based civilisation, was done poorly. There are some major internal inconsistencies that I cannot reconcile.

For example, after eighty worlds have been brought into the protectorate, the group does not have a single established procedure for proving that their representative is from a different society. Or that the protectorate would send in someone with such little experience of different social systems, particularly a heirachial caste system, similar to the planet in question. Or (and this annoyed me the most) that there would be such a major basic communication problem between the two major characters, even though the native character knew that the narrator was an alien who had little knowledge of their world.

Apart from that, the transition between narrators was quite confusing, which only served to ruin any understanding I could get from the book, and that could have been easily fixed with something as simple as chapter labels.

I hope that The Dispossessed proves better, got it recently after an online purchase.

May 11, 2008, 2:05pm Top

If you want to try a book on w/ similar themes to LHoD, but with better characterization and better world building, get a copy of Melissa Scott's "Shadow Man." LeGuin deservedly gets credit for breaking new ground - but sometimes those who stand on the shoulders of giants produce more enjoyable works....

May 11, 2008, 6:06pm Top

Rojse, I see what you mean, but I think part of the point is that ll of thes people in this universe were related at one point. So, enough genetic drift has occured that they cannot reproduce across populations, but they still look a lot alike. And, when someone looks like you, even though you know they are foreign, you ten to think that they are really more like you than different. Also, most of our culture is automatic to us--we don't even think that other people may do things differently, because that's just the way it *is*.

Not that I am trying to convince you to like a book that you didn't enjoy, just another perspective.

I think you'll like The Dispossessed better, as they two societies represented in this book are much more closely related, and they are very aware that their ways of life are incredibly different. There are still misunderstandings, of course, but the characters are much more aware that this will happen and try to guard against it.

May 11, 2008, 6:49pm Top

>51 bobmcconnaughey: - I have to disagree about Scott's novel being superior to Le Guin's: Scott's novel is really a relatively straight-forward allegory of issues regarding sexuality in modern America - unfortunately the story and characters don't transcend the issues the author wants to discuss.

Edited: May 11, 2008, 9:00pm Top


That's a fair view of my problem with the book, I just think it would be different.

However, that does not change my other complaints with the book, such as the main character's lack of knowledge about planets with a ruling dynasty, or the lack of procedures for proving their extraterrestrial credentials, especially after eighty planets have been inducted to the protectorate.

May 12, 2008, 10:36am Top

#54 I believe part of LeGuin's purpose is to get you to think about these things. How, for example, would you prove that you are from a different planet? Remember that the Ekumen are very concerned about how they present themselves: they absolutely refuse to "do magic tricks" or otherwise awe their prospective partners. She also wants you to consider why they take such an approach, rather than doing something easy.

As for the shifting narration, I believe that one of her main purposes in LHoD is to illustrate the subjectivity of our experience of the world. You and I cannot even have the same experience of reading her book, because we are different people; likewise we cannot see the "real" world in the same way. We can share enough of our perceptions to collaborate on creating the "truth," whatever that is. LeGuin does not beat us over the head with her ideas; she uses her imagination to create stories that illustrate the truth that she sees, and lets us bring our own truths and experiences and views of the world to bear on it, so that we can make of it what we will. I, for one, much prefer this to the approach of authors who spell everything out neatly, to be sure that we "get" their version of the truth. I have my own imagination, thank you very much, and I like to use it to contribute to my experience of the what the author is offering.

May 12, 2008, 6:16pm Top

I still think that after eighty planets have joined their protectorate, they would have some sort of procedure in place for the problems that arose on that planet - the inhabitants not believing their visitor is an alien, communication differences, and so forth. If it had been one of their first planets they tried to ally themselves with, I wouldn't have any complaints in that regard, but after eighty, I would expect that the protectorate would have done some thinking in this regard, as it would have encountered these sort of problem before. I exempt the androgynous nature of the inhabitants from this complaint, it was clear that this had never happened before.

I did like the idea rotating narration, I can see a side to the story that would be impossible to see from the single narrator, but I thought it could be clearer as to whom is narrating, because it sometimes took me a page or two to figure out which character it was. Maybe the chapter could have included the name of the narrator, or something like that. I don't think that is unreasonable.

I don't think I ever asked for the book to be clear as to what exactly is happening, I like things to think about after I put a book down.

Edited: May 16, 2008, 7:42pm Top

I've read a few of LeGuin's novels. Earthsea series was absolutely refreshing. At first i thought it was strange, but her minimalist style of writing really appeals to me though Tehanu i thought was a bit of a waste. Very different from other fantasy authors who insist on describing every blade of grass ala the master Tolkien. I'm currently reading The Dispossessed and I'm having some trouble getting into it. I just can't seem to feel anything for the characters. Probably not enough shooting! (just kidding).

May 17, 2008, 10:30am Top

A short paper The Dispossessed earned me an A in an undergrad civics class in the late 1970s. The prof must have been a closet Le Guinn fan.

May 18, 2008, 11:12am Top

Can I just wax enthusiastic about picking up a 1969 Walker & Co. hardcover copy of The Left Hand of Darkness (dustjacket w/ Jack Gaughan cover) for $4.00?

May 18, 2008, 6:03pm Top

Finished reading The Dispossessed last night, a far better book than LHoD. Great story idea, and it presents a idea worth thinking about every couple of pages, which is what I really like in an SF book. Definitely a must-read book.

May 18, 2008, 7:12pm Top

I agree w/ the above, #60...Just in terms of enjoyment, which in the end is how i end up judging books/movies, The Dispossessed is a novel that i'll reread every now and again - whereas i'd really only reread LHoD for "reference' use. Our basic criterion as to whether a book stays in the house or moves on is whether any one of us thinks s/he might want to reread it someday (obviously not a hard and fast rule..."important" books are kept; most collectables; but that's the main rule.)

Aug 23, 2008, 11:10pm Top

>61 bobmcconnaughey: & others:

Wow -- I loved LHOD. Not for its gender politics, or its SF plausibility -- in these jaded times, we've all seen those done to a nicety many times over. What was fresh -- or forgivable -- in the 60s is going to feel different to today's more sophisticated SF reader.

I loved the language, as I always do with Le Guin's works. Her descriptions of cold and ice are always quite remarkable as they were in LHOD. (My partner and I loved reading this book during our first winter together in Boston.)

I loved the sense of slow discovery of another person. Setting aside the question of whether Estraven & Genly Ai were well-realized characters, or not, their relationship was *beautifully* realized. Their failure to know each other, and the way they ultimately did come to know each other, and the way we are all still a mystery even to our closest intimates.

The ways that social differences can be almost intractable -- and how one goes about bridging what is almost unbridgeable -- is a key, ongoing theme in Le Guin's work, and LHOD is where she first sets it out.

And the pacing -- I felt that her slow, measured pacing was perfectly suited for this story.

... I must say, I love it more every time I read it, and it's one of the very few books that I re-read as an adult.

Aug 24, 2008, 7:47pm Top

>62 lquilter: ...

I couldn't agree more! I just finished LHoD after plodding through Wolfe's Shadow of the Torturer. Although I like Wolfe's book, LeGuin's mastery of style and readability (gasp! given some of the above comments) was immediately evident. Her book seemed much shorter and I went through the 300 pages in a few days.

As a student of culture, I did not find the interaction between Genly Ai and the Gethenians incomprehensible at all. I think it was made quite clear the the Ekumen had a very specific ideology of contact. They deliver a message and let the people or planet make a decision for themselves. There are repeated references to the mystical or spiritual aspect of Ekumenical thinking. They represent a way of thought, not a political unity. Coming to a first contact situation with some kind of definitive proof could be seen as dominating and coercive.

As a matter of preference, I never found the book slow or boring, quite the reverse. It seemed very sleek next to many of the three inch thick tomes common today.

... two cents submitted.

Aug 24, 2008, 9:23pm Top

I feel the same way about it, Laura. Dispossessed, is I think, in many ways a superior novel, but it is Left Hand that I adore and reread far more often.

And I've found myself huddled under the blankets when reading it in the middle of summer, my brain is so fooled by the descriptions of Gethen.

I was lucky to read it in my mid teens, so I hadn't been overexposed to some of the things that have built on it,

The end, with young Sorve (? - checks, yes it is - thanks for adding the final words, Laura) asking about the wider universe, always, always, gets to me. So unGethenian and therefore so like the parent.

Aug 28, 2008, 10:33am Top

I re-read LHOD recently, and have not read The Dispossessed for many years, so this may not be a fair comparison, but I think LHOD is a better novel. The political ideas in The Dispossessed are very interesting, but (as I recall) I felt that they sometimes obscured the narrative and characters.

(On the other hand, most of my book group found LHOD too slow and uninvolving, especially the ice journey - whereas the ice journey is my favourite part of the book.)

But, #63, I think I'd pick The Shadow of the Torturer above either of them, if I was forced to choose only one of the three.

Aug 28, 2008, 11:08am Top

In comparing LHoD and The Dispossessed, I prefer LH because the characters are better developed. In TD we get Shevek, who is well drawn, but no other particularly memorable characters for him to interact with. In LH we have the interplay of Ai and Estraven, both well developed characters, and in fact their interactions, obstructed as they are by cultural differences, are for me the heart of the book, much more central than the hermaphroditism or the differences between Gethen's two nations.

timjones, I agree about the ice journey--that's where the two come to some understanding of each other, and I don't think it requires a farfetcher to say they come to love each other.

BTW, we're having a discussion of Shadow over here; come join in!

Sep 23, 2008, 4:40am Top

Just finished LHoD. Not impressed. Full reviewhere

Just too lacking in passion for me. There's no connection between any of the characters and the reader, I just don't care what happens to Ai, and only very slightly about Estaven. I liked to style, particularly the switching in viewpoints, but it failed to capture my attention. I know the natives are supposed to be less passionate than 'normal' numans, but the writing could still attempt to capture some feeling. The ideas were clever but far too little made of them, when presented with somethign novel I prefer the author to explore at least some of the implications rather than leaving it all for the reader to guess at.

I'll try the Disspossessed at some stage if I come across a cheap copy.

Sep 24, 2008, 3:48am Top

"The Dispossessed" is excellent, a portrayal of how two different socieities operate, and is not sparing in it's criticisms of either society. Don't try and compare it with LHoD, the only thing they share is that they are written by the same author.

Sep 24, 2008, 11:45am Top

I guess I'm just not a Le Guin fan. I read the Earthsea trilogy last year, and found it to be fairly dull and juvenile. (Though Tombs of Atuan was decent.)

Then I read The Left Hand of Darkness during a sick day last month. It was good, but nothing spectacular. It seemed to me to be mostly some political intrigue followed by half a book's worth of hiking across the tundra, with very little insight into the aliens, and the gender issues little more than background material. An enjoyable read, but nowhere near the Big Deal it'd been made out to be.

Sep 24, 2008, 12:25pm Top

A quick note on UKL the person: Her writing, and choices of subject matter, seem to me to be outgrowths of the fact that she is the daughter of anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber (wiki link). Somewhere upthread someone commented on the "shell" that they felt surrounded UKL's writing. I think that is an ingrained habit of mind, one grafted onto UKL's consciousness by dint of absorption, and probably didaction (was this a word before now?), from her great academic and thinker-father.

I make no claim to personal knowledge of Dr LeGuin, I haven't met her darn it, simply sharing facts collected in a 35-year-long love affair with her writing.

Sep 24, 2008, 12:54pm Top

Again somewhere upthread, someone characterized UKL's writing as "soft SF." That jangled a little bell in my head, sending me off to her website for the rant of hers that made my techno-peasant day:

"'Hard' sf is all about technology, and 'soft' sf doesn't have any technology, right? And my books don't have technology in them, because I am only interested in psychology and emotions and squashy stuff like that, right?

Not right. How can genuine science fiction of any kind lack technological content? Even if its principal interest isn't in engineering or how machines work — if like most of mine, it's more interested in how minds, societies, and cultures work — still, how can anybody make a story about a future or an alien culture without describing, implicitly or explicitly, its technology?

Nobody can. I can't imagine why they'd want to.

Its technology is how a society copes with physical reality: how people get and keep and cook food, how they clothe themselves, what their power sources are (animal? human? water? wind? electricity? other?) what they build with and what they build, their medicine - and so on and on. Perhaps very ethereal people aren't interested in these mundane, bodily matters, but I'm fascinated by them, and I think most of my readers are too.

Technology is the active human interface with the material world.

But the word is consistently misused to mean only the enormously complex and specialised technologies of the past few decades, supported by massive exploitation both of natural and human resources.

This is not an acceptable use of the word. "Technology" and "hi tech" are not synonymous, and a technology that isn't "hi," isn't necessarily "low" in any meaningful sense.

We have been so desensitized by a hundred and fifty years of ceaselessly expanding technical prowess that we think nothing less complex and showy than a computer or a jet bomber deserves to be called "technology " at all. As if linen were the same thing as flax — as if paper, ink, wheels, knives, clocks, chairs, aspirin pills, were natural objects, born with us like our teeth and fingers -- as if steel saucepans with copper bottoms and fleece vests spun from recycled glass grew on trees, and we just picked them when they were ripe..."

There is more on the site, and I recommend it. LeGuin at her most trenchant.

Sep 24, 2008, 2:18pm Top

After reading The Dispossessed yet again recently, it amuses me to hear Le Guin called a "soft sf" writer. It's about physics! Sure, there is quite a bit of anthropology and civics, but you don't get much harder science than physics. I love the quote above, richardderus!

Sep 24, 2008, 3:24pm Top

What a great quote! Yes, her parental background was a great influence. My favorite of her works, Always Coming Home, is explicitly anthropological...of a future, post-apocalyptic society. What many who read LHoD for the first time now miss is what a ground-breaker it was at the time it was written--its anthropological context, so to speak! It shook the genre.

Edited: Jan 11, 2009, 1:02pm Top

As a newbie I've enjoyed reading about one of my favorite authors. Maybe all of you can help me with a mystery. A book I thought was by ULeG described a woman who was living in an ultra socialistic society. Her mother was a physician and had little time to nurture her child who as an adult was suffering from severe angst. This story was so powerful that its exaggeration of the socialism philosophy cures me of any ideals I might have had about that political extreme. Thanks for your help.

Jan 11, 2009, 1:45pm Top

You should try reading Starship Troopers then. By the same argument, that book should cure you of any "ideals" you might have had about any right-wing political philosophy...

Edited: Jan 11, 2009, 1:58pm Top

Ursula K LeGuinn rocks, and The Left hand of Darkness is her masterpiece. Everyone probably knows that Alfred Kroeber (the founder of American Anthropology) was her father yes? She grew up around many of the leading anthropological theorists of the 20th century, at Cal.

Jan 11, 2009, 4:25pm Top

#74: Now, you've got me puzzled, because the ULeG title that best fits that description is The Disposessed, except that the main protagonist is male and the society at question was anarchist rather than socialist.

You can be put off anything if it is exaggerated enough. Whether that position is justified is another matter.

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