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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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8,568193357 (4.05)518
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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» See also 518 mentions

English (190)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (192)
Showing 1-5 of 190 (next | show all)
Got this for Christmas from SantaThing last year. its a book that I first read many years ago in college for a Science Fiction Literature course. My memory was slim but fond, and I always wanted to read it again.

Its a story about a man; Genly Ai, who is an emissary from a group of populated worlds called the Ekumen of Known Worlds, to the isolated world of Winter (can you say United Federation of planets and the Prime Directive). The Ekumen send a single person to a new planet to see if they are ready to join the larger universe. Le Guin deals with many themes and ideas here, not the least of which is sex and gender. The inhabitants of Winter are both male and femail and neigher. They switch between male and femail during a cycle and can both father and mother a child. Politics and govermental issues are also major themes in this book. The first country Genly observes and interacts with is a paranoid monarchy and the one he escapes to is almost pure socialist and ends up sending Genly to a Gulag in the far icy north.

The last third of the booik is more of a survival thriller story of Genly and Estraven (his friend and rescuer who saves Genly from the Gulag) and how they have to survive a trek thru the frozen wilderness to mae it back to the capitol to help make a treaty with the Ekumen come to fruition.

Its weird how memory works. I could only remember this last section from my first read, and the multi-gender aspect of the natives. I totally mis-remembered that all the characters were basically human. In My mind's eye, Winter was inhabited entirely by intelligent alien creatures. This made the gender mechanics and Genly's intereactions with the people of Winter all the more weird.

All that said, I loved this book and highly recommend it. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1969.

A few quotes...

"I thought, shivering, that there are things that outweigh comfort, unless one is an old woman or a cat"

"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, ther ewould be no religion.... But also if it were rpoven that there is a God, there would be no religion....Tell me, Genry, what is known?"

"It is not altogether a bad thing to have criminal ancestors. An arsonist grandfather may bequeath one a nose for smelling smoke."


S: 3/24/15 F: 4/2/15 (10 Days) ( )
  mahsdad | Apr 18, 2015 |
This edition has too many typos - try to get a different one if you want to read it.

Lots of interesting ideas besides the gender question. Rewards the patient reader - don't give up as vocabulary, political intrigues, etc. do become more clear further on. I got more out of the last 1/4 of the book than out of all the rest. I can also see how it is considered an influential classic.

However, did I like it? Find it stimulating, or enjoyable, or provocative, or enriching? Well, not so much. Maybe if I'd read it when it was new and fresh... maybe I've read too much since that was indeed influenced by it.... And of course I don't like political intrigue or machinations.

So, really, there really isn't much going on that I can care about, as Kevin Klehr said on Aussie Readers, "Well written but for goodness sake, can something actually happen to progress the story! It's like staring at lovely wallpaper all day expecting to find drama in the pattern somewhere."

(That's my new favorite way to talk about this kind of book. Thank you ever so much Kevin. And I have your book on my wishlist, too. :)

But now I've read two of the biggest by one of the biggest sf authors I hadn't yet read (the other being [b:The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia|13651|The Dispossessed An Ambiguous Utopia|Ursula K. Le Guin|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1166571463s/13651.jpg|2684122]) and so I don't have this guilty nag in the back of my head "you really should read..." because I *have* - so there! ( )
  Cheryl_in_CC_NV | Apr 14, 2015 |
read this in high school and read through it quickly this week. What a good book. Well written description of a new world and people while posing philospically questions and ideas not too directly. The varied pov of the chapters worked as did the ending. I'll read another from her Hainish cycle. ( )
  JBreedlove | Apr 9, 2015 |
This is a beautiful book, beautifully written. A lot's been said already by other reviewers, so I won't go into that. This isn't what you expect, if you're unfamiliar with Le Guin and with a more thoughful style and speed of scifi. It's extraordinarily political, heartbreaking, hopeful, and very, very human. I look forward to reading it again someday. ( )
  D.ThoursonPalmer | Mar 26, 2015 |
a very engaging read. i thoroughly enjoyed it as a sci-fi book, with an anthropological theme. it was interesting to gradually discover the secrets of this strange people on this harsh planet and see how that impacts the main character during his time there. ( )
  nmg1 | Mar 20, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 190 (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.

(summary from another edition)

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