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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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9,654230299 (4.06)603
Title:The Left Hand of Darkness
Authors:Ursula K. Le Guin
Info:Barnes & Noble Books (2004), Hardcover with dustjacket
Tags:uncategorized - dupes

Work details

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

  1. 60
    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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English (227)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  Romanian (1)  All (230)
Showing 1-5 of 227 (next | show all)
I think the first time I read this I was quite simply inadequate to truly appreciate it. My thinking at the time probably too straight and narrow in its idealism.

Having said that...

Terrific world building with a wholly different social dynamic. A thoroughly thought provoking read! ( )
  kephradyx | Jun 20, 2017 |
It was probably forty years ago that I first read this book in a science fiction as literature class, and even though I'd read SF and fantasy all my life, it was a remarkable introduction to a body of truly great science fiction writers and their work. I'm not sure I adequately appreciated how ground-breaking this novel was. I've heard it said that Le Guin didn't do a very good job in creating an androgynous society -- a criticism that even Le Guin admits may have some truth to it -- but for the time in which it was written, it was about as bold a statement as I could ever imagine.

For those who have been living under a rock since it was first published, TLHoD is a first contact story. It's about Genly Ai, an emissary from a body of united planets called The Ekumen , who has come to the planet Gethen in order to convince them to join that group. Gethenians are androgynes who enter what they call "kemmer" once a month in order to breed. When not in kemmer or pregnant, they go back to being androgynes. A Gethenian can enter kemmer as either male or female, they can sire children or bear them. Most have done both. Because Genly Ai is a human male, this state of affairs is difficult for him to comprehend, and adds a layer of visceral difficulty to the already complex task of learning the cultural norms of a new world.

Much of the novel focuses on Ai's relationship with Estraven, a lord of Karhide who has been helping him try to win over the Karhidish king. Through political intrigues, a banishment, imprisonment and escape, and a long and fearful flight through some of the bleakest parts of a bleak country in the dead of winter, Ai and Estraven are forced to drop the walls of custom and meet as human beings. And this is what the novel is ultimately about: crossing the boundaries of our differences to see the essential humanness of another person.

Since it's been about 40 years since I read TLHoD, I can't tell you what I thought if it then, save to say that I loved it. What I can tell you now is that it remains timely in terms of its political content, its message about gender and other differences between people, and also because it is a book written by a woman in what was once a sausage-fest genre. To some degree, that Le Guin knocked down the boys' club door and helped to pave the way for so many wonderful women writers in this genre might be its greatest legacy.

This is not to deny the value of the story itself, a story which still moves me, which made me cry again even though I knew what was going to happen, a story that made me think more deeply about not just gender but about the human condition. It is not a book to dismiss for being dated or having shortcomings that are only important in retrospect, but rather one to read and cherish. ( )
  HarlotRusse | Jun 18, 2017 |
The Left Hand of Darkness is a science fiction/fantasy work by feminist author Ursula K. Le Guin and was published in 1969. In this work, part of the Hainish Cycle, the effects of gender on culture is explored. The alien in this book is from Terra (Earth) where there is male and female and he has come to Gethen which is populated by a people of no fixed sex. His mission is to unite Gethen to the Ecumen but Ai does not know how to communicate with the Gethen because of the difference in gender. The title comes from Taoism. Here is a quote from page 287 of the book I read, "It is yin and yang, Light is the left hand of darkness...how did it go? Light, dark. Fear, courage. Cold, Warmth. Female, male. It is yourself, Therem. Both and one. A shadow on the snow."In addition the book does have a bit of ecology in it but it is not the main theme. There is also politics and government; the author preferring no government.

I especially liked the introduction to the book written by the author. I recommend reading it before reading the book. It does not give away the story. "Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive. Predictions are uttered by prophets (free of charge), by clairvoyants (who usually charge a fee, and are therefore more honored in their day than prophets), and by futurologists (salaried). Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist's business is lying." and more, really great stuff.

The book is a significant contribution to literature being one of the first published in the feminist science fiction genre. It also captures the mood of the time which was heavily laden with feminism. It remains relevant today in looking at and asking the question of how does gender effect society. The plot was well developed but did not answer all questions as this is part of the Hainish Cycle and the author tells bits and pieces from the various works. The characters are interesting and include several but the main characters are the Gethenian, Estraven and the Terran, Genly Ai (the narrator) and their relationship to each other that develops over a long journey in the cold of the planet Winter. I found the book enjoyable, I listened to the audio and also had the book. It is narrated by George Guidall. The author reads the introduction (not part of the original but added later) and the last part that gives information about the Gethenian Calendar and clock. The book won both the Hugo and the Nebula. It is also on the NPR 100 Science Fiction/Fantasy books to read. The book covers a bit about sexuality and gender. It was not done in any explicit way but spends time in a scientific manner so to speak to explain reproduction in a society where you are apt to be male or female depending on how it all works out during a cycle. It all fit well, the political agenda was feminism and to examine effects of gender on society. rated 4.85
  Kristelh | Jun 6, 2017 |
There's something about Le Guin's writing which I find hypnotic, and her characters & narrators normally pull me in almost immediately, so that I feel a story as it unfolds and can't look away. For some reason, though, I found it hard to move into this particular book. As always, the concept, writing, and world drew me in... but I just couldn't stay involved, to the extent that I kept find myself having to re-read pages because my mind had wandered away--which almost never happens when I'm reading, truth be told. About halfway through the book, I found myself more engaged and not wanting to put the book down, but it did take that long.

I've read from a few reviews that this can be one of Le Guin's slower works or take re-reads, so I may read it again one of these days. Meanwhile, though, I'd certainly recommend it to her fans, and to fans of classic sci-fi. But, for readers who haven't already fallen in love with Le Guin, I'd probably recommend them starting somewhere else. ( )
  whitewavedarling | May 3, 2017 |
Science fiction novel exploring the relationship between men and women and its impact on society through the plot of a man from Earth visiting a planet where people are androgynous. More exciting than it sounds. Recommended. ( )
  ohernaes | Mar 28, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 227 (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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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 (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)

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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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