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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le…
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The Left Hand of Darkness (original 1969; edition 1969)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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9,556225301 (4.05)588
Member:sturlington
Title:The Left Hand of Darkness
Authors:Ursula K. Le Guin
Info:Barnes & Noble Books (2004), Hardcover with dustjacket
Collections:Unowned
Rating:****1/2
Tags:uncategorized - dupes

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

Recently added bychronic, Nigella7cooper, matthijss, beatrice85bach, Jon_Hansen, private library
  1. 60
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  2. 50
    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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» See also 588 mentions

English (222)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  Romanian (1)  All (225)
Showing 1-5 of 222 (next | show all)
It's a great thing when your main criticism of a book is that it didn't do more of the excellent stuff that it did. The central theme here of an androgynous humanity that goes into heat ("kemmer") and takes on gender characteristics briefly is explored fulsomely in terms of its physiology and psychology (both within the people of Gethen and between them and the "Envoy" Genly Ai, a traditional male who comes from space to inaugurate them into the interstellar order. The jump to sociology is made, though imperfectly--we think of sexual difference as something that breeds difficulty, mars-and-venus stuff, but the machinations of all against all and the extreme concern with a kind of inverse face ("shifgrethor")--not one's own concern with one's own prestige, but one's careful concern to avoid impinging on the prestigelessness of the other (while still living on a planet full of social injustice etc.)--make you realize with, yes, a bit of a chill ("Gethen" means "Winter" and it is a planet of ice) what it might mean not to be purpose-built to love each other physically--what it might mean for anyone to be equally a potential lover or foe, but only the latter role (barring a kind of pairbonding they do do, but that seems a largely private rather than social institution) being a permanent one. This then leading into trying to really grapple with a society that operates without our concern for binaries, where unity is their permanent obsession (a kind of felt Taoism, but really something far far more pervasive and mundane to those who live it)--"the right hand is the left hand of darkness, the left the right of light."

And all of this on a planet where working together is non-negotiable for survival, and where Ai and his Gethenian friend Estraven (who he doesn't even recognize is his friend for tragically long, since the latter is trying to patiently, toughly work to make Ai's mission a success and effect the contact between planets within the constraints of shifgrethor, and Ai doesn't get it at all and just sees him as a cold, ambitious politico and a user) take their epic trek across the ice (Le Guin missing her chance to make sexy SF history by not having them sleep together, but they do talk about it and maybe I'm not getting how discouraging her choice would have been to young queer and trans SF readers in the seventies looking to find reading, finally, that tries to speak, in a way, to that part of them, or just to invent not only "soft" SF but intergalactic slash fiction.

That's all great, and if the nationalist plot leaves me cold--a planet of androgynous unity fanatics/suspicious monads is not where I want to go to get my story of two mighty nations divided by a mutual hatred--we can let that pass. No, what I wanted was more culture--to visit the other nations of Gethen, learn not only about their religion (a cultural phenomenon sure but one so supersaturated with psychosocial significance that it gets deployed in the service of the main big themes, directly--we end up with the Taoist-analogue future predictors and the weird Jesus-style monopositivist cult, which plays into the plot of nations but seems basically irrelevant and out of place given the book's themes) but about their, oh, classical dance, pop music, philosophy of science (like, Ai's comment on how it's so amazing that the Gethenians came up with a concept of evolution being the only mammals on the planet is a great start, but then it just goes back to the big theme of their aloneness), publishing industry, websites. Gethen is a low-wealth place focused on survival, but it is an advanced society, and I just wanted to see Le Guin make it sing. She may not have intended to, per se--this is like an essay in fiction--but she does such a good job at that essay that it makes you want to see Gethen given a life in full. ( )
4 vote MeditationesMartini | Mar 16, 2017 |
It's hard work at times, but Ursula Le Guin's sci-fi classic The Left Hand of Darkness is well worth the effort. It is very dense, building from the ground up a whole alien world complete with language, societal norms and weird names, and this certainly impacts negatively on the pace of the story and indeed, often crowds out the plot altogether. The first half of the book drags a lot for this reason. And I am always rather thrown by weird, made-up names and mannerisms, arising not out of long culture and societal norms but the mind and fancy of a writer. They always seem so silly to me; I actually find it easier to immerse myself in a fantasy world when I'm given less detail, because there's less risk of breaking suspension of disbelief than when you're given words and names like 'Genly Ai', 'Erhenrang' and 'Odarhad Susmy'.

But, if you can get past this, there's plenty of meat. Le Guin does what a lot of great sci-fi writers do; she doesn't just make a whole world for you but uses its strangeness, its otherness, to posit questions about our own societal norms. The bisexual nature of the aliens, their hostile weather, their peculiar political structures (the land of Orgoreyn, into which the protagonist travels later in the novel, is clearly influenced by the then-contemporary USSR) are all developed with the implicit juxtaposition to our own world. It could not be otherwise, of course, for we cannot help but approach the story from a human perspective, but Le Guin consciously and deftly exploits this to pose some really great conundrums and analyses. A lot of her observations are profound and often so succinct as to be tantalisingly quotable. A lot like the main characters' trek across the glacier in the second part of the novel, my impressions of reading the book were that it was a bit of a slog but the resultant insights were well worth it. ( )
  MikeFutcher | Feb 24, 2017 |
My audio re-read of Le Guin's very fine first Hugo winner was a very great pleasure. The years since its publication have not dimmed its brilliance.

( )
  orkydd | Feb 2, 2017 |
Ursula Le Guin gives us a universe, light years into the future, where humanity has morphed across many worlds and solar systems. She imagines (speculates, as in speculative fiction) these human families with new characteristics that help us interrogate our current condition, in terms of gender identity, class, power, and love. "Light is the left hand of darkness/ and darkness the right hand of light,/ Two are one, life and death, lying/ together like lovers…" (Brian)
  ShawIslandLibrary | Dec 25, 2016 |
I read this long ago. AS a paperback that was traded back to the used bookstore for some other book.
I reread it recently. Very atmospheric, good character development. ( )
  CarolJMO | Dec 12, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 222 (next | show all)
An instant classic
added by bgibbard | editMinneapolis Star-Tribune
 

» Add other authors (34 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
Kirby, JoshCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malaguti, UgoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyytäjä, KaleviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagetti, CarloForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
White, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Dedication
For Charles,
sine qua 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.
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)

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