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The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

The Left Hand Of Darkness (original 1969; edition 1991)

by Ursula LeGuin

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10,879267381 (4.05)694
Title:The Left Hand Of Darkness
Authors:Ursula LeGuin
Info:Orbit (1991), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Tags:Fiction, Science Fiction,

Work details

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (1969)

  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)
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    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.
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» See also 694 mentions

English (260)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  Romanian (1)  Italian (1)  French (1)  German (1)  All languages (267)
Showing 1-5 of 260 (next | show all)
Impressive. ( )
  Jon_Hansen | Mar 16, 2019 |
Half sociological study, half travelogue, more like either of these than a proper novel, Left Hand tells of the efforts of a human envoy to bring an isolated alien culture into its intergalactic community. It's a book in which not a lot really happens and frankly it's rather a bore. The much talked-about biology of the natives doesn't affect the story in any way, and I found its portrayal ineffective. For one thing, I simply couldn't see them as androgynous as they were meant to be. Possibly it's because the narrator always uses the default male pronoun when referring to any of them. I hate to say it, but one of those silly new pronouns might have worked better (though Le Guin has said elsewhere that she dislikes them.) Or perhaps it's just that we're so hardwired as a two-gender species that cannot change from one to the other that we can't imagine any humanoid creature being this way. In any case, it felt superficial and it didn't work for me. ( )
  chaosfox | Feb 22, 2019 |
Ursula K. Le Guin is an undisputed artist, with her 'Earthsea' novels (the first three at any rate) she was playing with an idea, and for me, they possessed only rare moments of wonder.

With 'The Left Hand of Darkness', Le Guin is working. It is a great story with the weight of myth and history. A completely foreign culture is imagined and illuminated effortlessly, it has been said again and again, but genre fiction is too often praised only within its own circles.

'The Left Hand of Darkness' is a recognized classic outside of Science Fiction of course, but there are few other books from the early 1970s that I have read that have such clear staying power. It is a brave work that reflects the changing times in which it was written but has much to say to us today.

Hainish Cycle

Next: 'The Word for World is Forest'

Previous: 'City of Illusions' ( )
  ManWithAnAgenda | Feb 18, 2019 |
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.” ( )
1 vote 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 |
Showing 1-5 of 260 (next | show all)
An instant classic
added by bgibbard | editMinneapolis Star-Tribune

» Add other authors (88 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
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary 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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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.

(summary from another edition)

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