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

by Ursula LeGuin

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
10,479248387 (4.06)676
Member:agbram
Title:The Left Hand Of Darkness
Authors:Ursula LeGuin
Info:Orbit (1991), Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
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)
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  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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    themulhern: Two radically different novels about the business of reclaiming/rediscovering/reuniting with planets that were lost during a great stellar war.
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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 676 mentions

English (242)  Spanish (2)  Catalan (1)  Romanian (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (248)
Showing 1-5 of 242 (next | show all)
I was underwhelmed. Yes the idea of a culture in which humans are truly gender fluid and become male or female during a period of "kemmer", something like estrus, is fascinating. But it doesn't feel fully developed: all the characters are referred to as "he", and we don't really get to know any clearly enough to see how it actually works. We hear about some giving birth but don't see any in their female forms. It doesn't feel like true androgyny.

Unfortunately much of the plot was, for me, boring. Political intrigues I found hard to follow (I always do) and a long journey described in great detail. An appendix about Gethenian timekeeping seemed like an odd addition when the characters were thinly developed. Are there readers who actually care about this? I didn't.

The relationship between the two main characters was moving and believable. tension inherent in this: Can Earth man get past his discomfort with Gethenian biology? So it was interesting that it didn't go that way, and I wasn't disappointed that it was friendship instead of romance that tied them together. (Though it's fun to imagine the fan fiction that must be out there.)

I appreciated Loren's review on Goodreads in which she points out that "Genly is fundamentally broken, or he wouldn't have applied for this job" which takes him far from home and makes him outlive all his family. ( )
  piemouth | Jul 31, 2018 |
i have mixed feelings about this. the introduction is brilliant and reason enough to read the entire book. absolutely fantastic. what an intelligent woman and what a loss her death was earlier this year.

the book itself is interesting and sometimes engaging, but i'm not sure, overall, what the point of it is. i had a little trouble with her world building at the beginning, but that might just be because i'm not used to the names and places of science fiction and it took me a couple of days to ease into it. i think the gender and sexual physiology of the gethenians is great, and so far before her time. this is easily my favorite part of the book - the idea of it and the way she handles it. especially when i think that she published this in 1969. way ahead of society in her thinking of gender and sexuality. (although there is one line where she negates asexuality.) the science fiction part i'm less interested in. the worlds coming together for allyship is a less interesting story to me, as were parts of the trek across the ice. other themes were also interesting, though - issues of identity, otherness, socialized gender, nationality, patriotism, individuality, and the interaction of those identities. she brings up so many interesting philosophical ideas without discussing them too much. i'm not sure how i feel about this, but i do know that i'd like to read more by her.

"'The unknown,' said Faxe's soft voice in the forest, '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 if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion.'"

"'...Argaven thought him mad, like himself, while they think him a liar, like themselves.'"

"It is real, the real thing, the thing behind the words."

"'How does one hate a country, or love one?...I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry?"

"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." (2.5 stars)

from may, 2009:
i don't have to strain too too hard to see how this is considered feminist, but it is also not obviously feminist in any way. i don't have a problem with that, but this is thought of as feminist sci-fi. i'm not against sci-fi, especially as she explains it in her truly awesome introduction (not predictive but thought-experiment and descriptive) but i really did not engage with this book. she has some interesting ideas that unfortunately felt too long (while staying vague) in explanation/exploration. i think this would have been a fantastic short story, but as a novel, it doesn't hit its mark. which is really unfortunate, because there are so many amazing things in here. i think i would have absolutely loved this if it were a short story or novella.

"'I will seek the answer of the question you ask, Herbor, and I will ask no price. But bethink you, there is always a price. The asker pays what he has to pay.'"

"'I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one's country; is it hate of one's uncountry? Then it's not a good thing.'"

"It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." (3 stars) ( )
1 vote elisa.saphier | Jun 4, 2018 |
This book had a lot of faults. It took my 70 pages and two weeks to get to a point where I wanted to read it. However it is such a meaty book for such a short book. It has had me talking about it almost constantly. It has had me thinking about it a lot.
Towards the end of the book I got quite invested in the characters but that took at least 150 pages. The plot did nothing for me - I really couldn't care less about it - which is probably also why I will not be reading more in the series. However it is not the last Le Guin book I am reading. Sometimes the book was very much of it time, sometimes it really wasn't. Sometimes I really questioned the writing choices (pulling me out of the book) and sometimes it was really beautifully written.

My full review: http://www.mackat.dk/book/2014/09/the-left-hand-of-darkness/ ( )
  macthekat82 | May 24, 2018 |
One of my all-time favorite books. I reread it every few years. ( )
  gabarito | May 13, 2018 |
I decided to read this book again- I did so 30 years ago when I was in college, and didn't remember anything about it except that I liked it back then. At that time, I read a bunch of Leguin's books, and liked them all; my memory is that her stories all center on arduous physical journeys, and this book certainly has that.

Genly Ai is an envoy of the Ekumen, a loose confederation of worlds, and he is the lone envoy on a cold humanoid world nicknamed "Winter" by his people due to its unpleasant climate. Winter is populated by people who have somehow evolved as sexually neutral; they are generally asexual, but when "in kemmer" (kind of like being in heat) they develop either male or female genitalia and can either sire or carry a child depending on with whom they couple.

The sexual life of the people on Winter obviously has lots of implications for their culture, which Leguin threshes out to a degree, but which could have been fleshed out even more.

The world is divided into a few distinct countries; Ai starts off in Karhide, a monarchy in which the king replaces his prime minister, Estraven, early in the book, and banishes him. Estraven and Ai both go to the neighboring country, which seems like a communist place based on the Soviet Union (the book was written in 1969). There, Estraven is safe but Ai falls victim to political intrigue and ends up in peril.

The rest of the book consists of a lengthy and perilous journey that I won't spoil.

This book won the Hugo and Nebula awards, and is a classic in the genre. Leguin is great at world-building, and the characters are interesting. Sometimes she goes a little heavy on foreign (made up) words with explanations that are a bit vague (though I don't doubt they're not vague in her mind), making it difficult to follow. ( )
2 vote DanTarlin | Mar 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 242 (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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Epigraph
Dedication
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.
Quotations
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.
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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.

VIRAGO EDITION:
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)

» see all 10 descriptions

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