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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le…

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Hainish Cycle (4), Hainish Cycle, Chronological (6)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
10,809265383 (4.06)693
  1. 70
    Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (mambo_taxi, mollishka)
    mambo_taxi: Recommended if the whole "what if we think about gender differently" genre of science fiction appeals to you. Ammonite is much more interesting and better written as well.
    mollishka: Offworlder treks through snow and ice on planet where all of the natives have the same gender.
  2. 51
    Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (lquilter)
    lquilter: Fans of either Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness or Leckie's Ancillary Justice should enjoy the other. In common, the pacing, character-centered perspective obscuring aspects of the universe, political machinations, far-future setting, and treatment of ethics; also interesting for its simultaneous foregrounding and backgrounding of gender.… (more)
  3. 30
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (andomck)
  4. 20
    Shadow Man by Melissa Scott (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Explorations of gender beyond the gender binary
  5. 31
    Embassytown by China Miéville (santhony)
    santhony: Science fiction as seen through the prism of anthropology and sociology.
  6. 10
    Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (andomck)
    andomck: Scientists exploring an alien environment
  7. 10
    Commitment Hour by James Alan Gardner (MyriadBooks)
  8. 10
    A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg (LamontCranston)
  9. 10
    Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Vol. 1 by Fumi Yoshinaga (electronicmemory)
    electronicmemory: Ooku: The Inner Chambers explores a feudal Japan where women rule the country after a devastating plague kills the majority of the male population. Gender roles are inverted, and Ooku: The Inner Chambers follows the story of a young man who becomes a concubine to the Shogun of Japan shortly after she comes to power.… (more)
  10. 11
    The Godmakers by Frank Herbert (themulhern)
    themulhern: Two radically different novels about the business of reclaiming/rediscovering/reuniting with planets that were lost during a great stellar war.
  11. 00
    Glory Season by David Brin (ultimatebookwyrm)
    ultimatebookwyrm: Two books in the nature of a thought experiment with regard to gender and social construction. Slow, methodical reads that aren't afraid to say a few things that won't be popular.
  12. 00
    Dark Water's Embrace by Stephen Leigh (MyriadBooks)
  13. 00
    A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski (Konran)
  14. 11
    Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (WildMaggie)
  15. 24
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (andomck)
    andomck: Science Fiction involving "unorthodox" procreation

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» See also 693 mentions

English (258)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  Romanian (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  German (1)  All languages (265)
Showing 1-5 of 258 (next | show all)
A lone envoy from a loose federation of worlds has been sent down to a cold and snowy planet to establish diplomatic relations, with the goal of getting its leaders to join the alliance. It’s top-notch science fiction, and a groundbreaking look at human sexuality via this alien society whose members are androgynous and asexual, until they are in a mating period, at which point they can assume either female or male characteristics. Le Guin is masterful at creating the ice world of Gethen and the nuances of its culture and religions. She’s quite philosophical, as well as poetic in weaving myths and creation stories, giving the book real depth.

Le Guin writes with great insight into the dynamics of power, which of course apply to our own world. Especially timely are her cautions against nationalism that is based on “fear of the other”, of leaders who rule by using anger and fear, and of nationalism enhanced by “rapid communication devices.” (I’m looking at you, Tweeter-in-Chief) One country on this world is rule by a “mad king”, and its rival is one that is ostensibly more egalitarian, with communal living areas, communal childraising after one year of age, state employment, and no inherited wealth. It’s a pretty clear allusion to America/Soviet Union, and she’s certainly cautionary of the latter as well. Information is much more tightly controlled there, and the envoy soon finds himself in a Siberia-like prison, suffering brutal conditions and torture.

While sex is not a huge part of the story, I was fascinated by her consideration of the implications of sex in this society. Androgyny implied the absence of a set of privileged citizens and another set of second-class citizens based on the burden of childbirth or the division into strong/weak, dominant/submissive halves. Asexuality in the daily condition implied not only the absence of rape, but also the absence of war, which is pondered as a “masculine displacement-activity, a vast Rape.” It’s not to say Le Guin creates a utopian world, far from it – there is betrayal, inhumanity, and violence as the envoy tries to navigate through political intrigue - but she provocatively makes us think about these things, imagining if they were so for us, and she makes us think about how we think about women and those with non-binary sexuality. With an interesting perspective, it’s the envoy to the world, a “normal male” who is now sometimes referred to as the “pervert”.

What sets the novel apart is the breadth of Le Guin’s intelligence and creativity. The Introduction alone, written in 1976 and seven years after the first edition, is a fantastic bit of writing. Great read.

On acceptance, and love:
“And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man. Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear; what I was left with was, at last, acceptance of him as he was. Until then I had rejected him, refused him his own reality.”

On duality:
“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.” ( )
  gbill | Feb 15, 2019 |
Le Guin has here written one of the best sci-fi stories that I have ever read. On top of that, the way the plays around with gender ideals and sexuality is close to mindblowing again and again through this novel! ( )
  Daniel_Bach | Jan 21, 2019 |
Genly Ai, An envoy from planet Terra comes to Gethen with the mission of inviting it to join the Ekumen, a sort of confederation of planets, each with its own laws. The Gethenians differ from humans as we know them by being androgynous, or ambisexual - functioning on a 26-day cycle that includes two days when they become sexually active and can become male or female (thus at one point the king of the country Karhide becomes pregnant). The action is heavily steeped in politics but also includes a heart-stopping escape on skis over a glacier lasting several months (that seems worse than the Worst Journey in the World) where the two protagonists (Genly Ai and a Gethenian, I will not say who to keep suspense) become more than friends and reveal aspects of life in their alien worlds. I found the book very moving and well-written, but there were some aspects that were too familiar, too earthly: there are no winged creatures on Gethen so the inhabitants have never invented aircraft yet they have motorized or electric vehicles, sledges, skis, plastics, polymers, aluminium; they divide their day into ten hours but measure weight in pounds, distances in feet, yards and miles, temperatures in °C; they communicate by telephone, record on tapes and listen to the radio. And Estrevan writes things down in his little notebook - what alphabet does he use, I wonder?
Many illustrations in this Folio Society edition that made me feel the cold through to my bones. ( )
  overthemoon | Jan 20, 2019 |
I read the book because I was interested in a subject that should be the leading topic in it - a world where there are no men and women, but people enter "time" once a month and then become male or female as needed. This idea is terrific and very well developed in the book.


The idea itself is not the center of the plot. The plot is more a political story of a diplomatic emissary from another planet that comes to this planet, and its goal is to convince its leaders to join an interstellar federation that will benefit everyone. Against this background comes the story of his encounter with the different sexuality of the inhabitants of this planet. The more developed story in the book is the intriguing plot and the connections that the messenger creates with the locals, and the other matters are somehow secondary.

In conclusion, I was disappointed with the book probably because of incorrect expectations.
All in all, a good book. ( )
1 vote Denizhorowits | Jan 14, 2019 |
Autographed, Easton Press
  Micah | Dec 29, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 258 (next | show all)
An instant classic
added by bgibbard | editMinneapolis Star-Tribune

» Add other authors (89 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Le Guin, Ursula K.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dillon, DianeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, LeoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ebel, AlexCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaughan, JackCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heinecke, JanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirby, JoshCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malaguti, UgoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miéville, ChinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyytäjä, KaleviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagetti, CarloForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stege,GiselaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thole, C. A. M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
White, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Charles,
sine qua non
For Charles, sine quo non
First words
I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.
From the Archives of Hain. Transcript of Ansible Document 01-01101-934-2-Gethen: To the Stabile on Ollul: Report from Genly Ai, First Mobile on Gethen/Winter, Hainish Cycle 93, Ekumenical Year 1490-97.

I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.
Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.
Alone, I cannot change your world. But I can be changed by it. Alone, I must listen, as well as speak. Alone, the relationship I finally make, if I make one, is not impersonal and not only political: it is individual, it is personal, it is both more or less than political. Not We and They; not I and It; but I and Thou.
"Praise then darkness and Creation unfinished,"
A friend. What is a friend in a world where any friend may be a lover at a new phase of the moon? Not I, locked in my virility: no friend to Therem Harth or any other of his race. Neither man nor woman, neither and both, cyclic, lunar, metamorphosing under the hand's touch, changelings in the human cradle, they were no flesh of mine, no friends; no love between us.
The unknown, the unforetold, the unproven, that is what life is based on. Ignorance is the ground of thought. Unproof is the ground of action. If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion. . . . But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion. . . . The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.
Last words
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References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
The Left Hand of Darkness is the account of the efforts of a man named Genly Ai, a representative from a galactic federation of worlds (the Ekumen), who seeks to bring the world of Gethen into that society. The inhabitants of Gethen are sequentially hermaphroditic humans; for twenty-four days of each twenty-six day lunar cycle they are sexually latent androgynes, and for the remaining two days (kemmer) are male or female, as determined by pheromonal negotiation with an interested sex partner. Thus each individual can both sire and bear children.

A classic of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness is an imaginative masterpiece that poses challenging questions about human sexuality, sexism and the organisation of society.
Mr Ai has been sent to observe the inhabitants of the snowbound planet Winter. Like animals, its androgynous people enter phases of sexuality and can be both mother and father at different times in their lives. To Mr Ai, they seem alien, unsophisticated, confusing. A long, tortuous journey across the ice finds him losing at least some of his professional detachment, and he befriends one of their outcasts. But will he ever understand their true nature?
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0441478123, Mass Market Paperback)

Genly Ai is an emissary from the human galaxy to Winter, a lost, stray world. His mission is to bring the planet back into the fold of an evolving galactic civilization, but to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own culture and prejudices and those that he encounters. On a planet where people are of no gender--or both--this is a broad gulf indeed. The inventiveness and delicacy with which Le Guin portrays her alien world are not only unusual and inspiring, they are fundamental to almost all decent science fiction that has been written since. In fact, reading Le Guin again may cause the eye to narrow somewhat disapprovingly at the younger generation: what new ground are they breaking that is not already explored here with greater skill and acumen? It cannot be said, however, that this is a rollicking good story. Le Guin takes a lot of time to explore her characters, the world of her creation, and the philosophical themes that arise.

If there were a canon of classic science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness would be included without debate. Certainly, no science fiction bookshelf may be said to be complete without it. But the real question: is it fun to read? It is science fiction of an earlier time, a time that has not worn particularly well in the genre. The Left Hand of Darkness was a groundbreaking book in 1969, a time when, like the rest of the arts, science fiction was awakening to new dimensions in both society and literature. But the first excursions out of the pulp tradition are sometimes difficult to reread with much enjoyment. Rereading The Left Hand of Darkness, decades after its publication, one feels that those who chose it for the Hugo and Nebula awards were right to do so, for it truly does stand out as one of the great books of that era. It is immensely rich in timeless wisdom and insight.

The Left Hand of Darkness is science fiction for the thinking reader, and should be read attentively in order to properly savor the depth of insight and the subtleties of plot and character. It is one of those pleasures that requires a little investment at the beginning, but pays back tenfold with the joy of raw imagination that resonates through the subsequent 30 years of science fiction storytelling. Not only is the bookshelf incomplete without owning it, so is the reader without having read it. --L. Blunt Jackson

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:02 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A human emissary sent to the world of Winter to bring it into a galactic civilization must find a way to bridge the gulf between his outlook and that of the natives, who can change gender at will.

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