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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le…

The Left Hand of Darkness (original 1969; edition 1969)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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8,511185362 (4.06)506
Title:The Left Hand of Darkness
Authors:Ursula K. Le Guin
Info:Barnes & Noble Books (2004), Hardcover with dustjacket
Collections:Your library, Favorites
Tags:Science fiction, Classic, Feminist SF, Friendship, First contact, Journeys, 1960s, life on other planets, 2004

Work details

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

  1. 72
    The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin (sturlington)
    sturlington: A less well-known entry in the Hainish cycle; more alien-human interactions.
  2. 30
    Worlds of Exile and Illusion by Ursula K. Le Guin (sturlington)
  3. 30
    Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (mambo_taxi)
    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.
  4. 20
    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)
  5. 20
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (andomck)
  6. 21
    Embassytown by China Miéville (santhony)
    santhony: Science fiction as seen through the prism of anthropology and sociology.
  7. 10
    Shadow Man by Melissa Scott (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Explorations of gender beyond the gender binary
  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. 10
    Commitment Hour by James Alan Gardner (MyriadBooks)
  11. 33
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (andomck)
    andomck: Science Fiction involving "unorthodox" procreation
  12. 00
    Dark Water's Embrace by Stephen Leigh (MyriadBooks)
  13. 00
    A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski (Konran)
  14. 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.
  15. 01
    Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (WildMaggie)
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Showing 1-5 of 183 (next | show all)
This book's concept was executed remarkably subtly for the time period in which it was written. The author seems more curious than ideological. ( )
  brleach | Jan 26, 2015 |
Finding female authors in the science fiction genre can be a challenge (which is highly unfortunate since some of the best science fiction I've read has been by women) but for some reason it took me a while to actually pick up an Ursula Le Guin book despite how much I had heard about her. After reading this book, I kind of fell in love.

I always appreciate those science fiction novels that also have something highly important to say about today's world. Despite the fact that the settings are in different times and often different planets, the parallels are still drawn and are often simultaneously enlightening and terrifying. The Left Hand of Darkness is no exception to this. Le Guin manages to both set up a whole new world in enough detail that we can really see this world as existing while at the same time making comparisons to the world we live in today. Not only do we see similarities between Winter (the planet in the novel) and Earth, but the differences are striking enough to raise questions about how our society works as well, especially on questions of gender identity.

On Winter, everyone is male, until they reach a stage called 'kemmer' in which one partner basically grows the necessary parts in order to reproduce. Basically, they become female for the duration of 'kemmer' and pregnancy. This in itself was interesting, but what I found was the best part was how Genly, the envoy from Earth, reacted to this phenomenon. Not only was he fascinated at how differently sexuality played into this society than our own, but it also becomes evident that Genly has his own biases and stereotypes that he attached to the female sex, despite the fact that he is from our future (or at least that is assumed). Conversely, the Gethenians find his ideas of sex and sexuality strangely perverted and don't understand how he could possibly live his life in perpetual 'kemmer'. (Gethenians only feel sexual desire during 'kemmer' and it is often a cause of great stress.) Their ideas of monogamy are also quite different from our (American) societiy in that monogamous couples are quite rare and sometimes looked down on. Genly constantly struggles with navigating in a world so vastly different from his own not only in customs but in ideas of sexuality. This is a fairly constant theme throughout the book and it is fascinating how Le Guin's often subtle examinations of these differences can be so impactful.

Overall, this book was not only a great look into a whole new imagined world, but an insightful and thought-provoking look into our own. I applaud Le Guin on this marvelous achievement and am looking forward to reading so much more of her work.

Memorable Quotes

"The only thing the makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next."

"He was after something surer, the sure, quick, and lasting way to make people into a nation: war. His ideas concerning it could not have been too precise, but they were quite sound. The only other means of mobilizing people rapidly and entirely is with a new religion; none was handy; he would make do with war."

"He was a hard shrewd jovial politician, whose acts of kindness served his interest and whose interest was himself. His type is panhuman. I had met him on Earth, and on Hain and on Ollul. I expect to meet him in Hell." ( )
2 vote kell1732 | Jan 25, 2015 |
This is an interesting book. It seeks to explore the concept of a genderless society. One has to remember that it was published in 1969, a time when things were changing for women. It is described as a work of feminist science fiction but as a women reading it today it didn't feel as such. It is about a man who visits a planet of hermaphrodites who are mostly referred to using masculine pronouns. The lack of women in the book made it almost impossible for me to think of it as feminist. However at the time when it was published society was very different and the concepts being explored must have been controversial. The Gethenians, as neuters, are not a male dominated society and war is non-existent. Le Guin ponders the effects of gender on relationships, war, patriotism, raising children, sex and even suicide.

I loved the way the book was structured as one story told by accounts of different characters interlaced with stories and legends of the different cultures of the planet. It was a creative yet efficient way of explaining and exploring the cultures of the planet and the motives behind the actions of the characters.I would definitely recommended this book. ( )
1 vote nebula21 | Jan 13, 2015 |
Genly Ai, an ambassador of sorts to the planet Winter (locally known as Gethen), has been assigned to entreat the country of Karhide to join an inter-galactic confederacy called the Ekumen. Winter is a frigid planet whose human(ish) inhabitants are neither male nor female, but whose bodies temporarily transform into one gender or the other only when in kemmer, the physical state in which mating is possible. After two years, he finally succeeds in gaining an audience with the king, but his offer is refused, and the king's primary advisor, Estraven, is banished from the kingdom as part of the debacle. With nothing left to pursue in the city, Genly travels first to a remote part of the country to question soothsayers about the future, and then to the neighboring country of Orgoreyn where, to his surprise, he again meets the estranged advisor Estraven.

My tastes lean a bit more toward fantasy than science fiction, primarily because sci-fi that deals with spaceship technology and "star wars" scenarios are kind of a turn off, so although The Left Hand of Darkness had been on my to-read list for some time I was feeling a little skeptical when first cracking it open. Although Genly Ai arrives via spaceship (obviously), this story is more about his perceptions of and experiences on Winter. And although the Gethenians are technically aliens to some extent, they're human-like enough that the author doesn't go down the dreaded road of tentacles and fifth eyes. I particularly enjoyed the second half, which was more like a survival/adventure tale. This book was my first taste of Ursula K. Le Guin, and I will definitely pick up another. ( )
  ryner | Dec 31, 2014 |
I've tried to read this several times over the years. While I loved her Earth Sea trilogy, [b:The Lathe of Heaven|59924|The Lathe of Heaven|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1386920883s/59924.jpg|425872] & several other books including 2 earlier ones in this series, I could never get into this one, so I decided to listen to it. Never loved it, barely got through it, still I gave it 3 stars because it finally gets around to making a decent story. Really it's more of a 2.5 star read, though.

I think this is the correct edition, although I downloaded it from the library, it sounds like it was copied off old tapes. The reader doesn't do much for me. She has a fairly high voice which can be a bit grating & the quality of the recording wanders. It's not horrible, but certainly doesn't add anything to the story.

I most often hear this book held out as one of the cornerstones of SF due to the sexual ambiguity of the civilization, but this point is lost among all the other factors LeGuin has tossed in. Too much is different about their world. It was a let down because of all the talk about how great it is. It's a pretty good SF novel, but more for all the different ideas, not because it made any of them particularly well save for those about true patriotism & love that transcends sex, even species. Both of these have been done well elsewhere in stories I liked reading better.

The whole "humanity seeded by an elder race" bit wasn't handled as well as I would have liked. No other genetic modifications are mentioned for the other 83 worlds & yet she hints that the old race wasn't above it, but not why. That's probably because I'm reading this as a stand alone novel, but it is 4th in a series & it's been decades since I read any of the others. Not sure I ever read the first, but do recall liking the 2d & 3d. Unfortunately, the details are lost to me.

-- Warning, possible spoilers below --

She does mention Winter's folks figured out evolution even though they obviously didn't evolve there. Not sure I buy that one. Given the trouble so many people have with it today, it makes them far too astute, but they also figured out the universe is expanding without much astronomical ability.

The lack of herd animals, birds, or any flying insects is a huge difference. First, this has caused them not to attempt any sort of flight, not even balloons or rockets, which didn't sit all that well given their level of tech, especially when compared to them picking up on evolution. But this lack also makes a huge impact on their civilization since herding is one of the oldest skills that ours was built on. Meat is a far more efficient way to get calories than plants & herding takes far less energy than hunting. It's one of the early reasons tribes raided each other & fought over grazing lands. She doesn't mention this, but it's a good, if subtle, point.

Their population is quite low. Part of this is explained by the harsh conditions of the world, but not fully. Their tech is high in both medicine & mechanics. While people seem to father up to a half dozen kids, they seem to only have one or two of their own, at least from the examples we're given. So this makes sense & helps explain the static nature of their civilization, since it removes population pressure from the reasons to war.

The lack of war & this new tension leading to one doesn't make a great deal of sense to me. They have developed a council-ruled, totalitarian government in one place & a despotic monarchy bordering it. Both are similar to ours, yet they've never had a war developing them? I don't buy it, even though they are fairly well separated by natural obstacles.

The psi powers are interesting, but haven't added anything to the story, IMO. More of a distraction.

The much lauded ansible, at least in this book, is nothing more than a typewriter paired with another through a magical spell of simultaneity. It's reminiscent of Doc Smith's tech mixed with Voodoo. Again, perhaps this is due to where I'm coming into the series & high expectations. Of course, the heater/stove/light was pretty darn magical too, especially given their use of fireplaces. I didn't understand them in the cities at all.

( )
  jimmaclachlan | Aug 18, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 183 (next | show all)
An instant classic
added by bgibbard | editMinneapolis Star-Tribune

» Add other authors (42 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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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.
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 (2)

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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:33:58 -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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