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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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8,238178380 (4.06)462
Title:The Left Hand of Darkness
Authors:Ursula K. Le Guin
Info:Barnes & Noble Books (2004), Hardcover with dustjacket
Collections:Your library, Favorites, Weird Women
Tags:Aliens, Gender, Alien planet, Science fiction, Adventure, women's SFF, edition (reissue), top5-2004, top20, reread

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

20th century (59) aliens (70) American (68) American literature (49) classic (58) fantasy (266) feminism (84) fiction (943) gender (290) hainish cycle (96) Hugo (53) Hugo Award (79) hugo winner (70) Le Guin (49) literature (43) Nebula Award (83) nebula winner (61) novel (179) own (53) paperback (47) politics (50) read (135) science fiction (2,028) sexuality (55) sf (391) sff (148) speculative fiction (78) to-read (170) unread (75) Ursula K. Le Guin (46)
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» See also 462 mentions

English (175)  Catalan (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (177)
Showing 1-5 of 175 (next | show all)
It started slowly, and I all but despaired of it, but it built momentum, and by the end I was wholly absorbed. It is often cited as one the best SF books ever. I cannot yet make such a judgement; but I will say it is the most thoughtful SF book I have read, and has left me much to think about, especially on the topic of friendship, which has been much on my mind lately.

Some thoughts on the simpler aspects of the story. Le Guin has built one of the most convincingly alien societies I have encountered in SF; I complained recently about SF authors not making their aliens alien. The people of Gethen are human, but a great deal more alien than most alleged aliens in other books. The characterisation and the plot take time to build, but both work out satisfyingly. There is some fine descriptive prose during the journey over the ice.

Now for the proper review. The core of this book is the story of a friendship, a friendship forged through barriers of culture and gender and mutual misunderstanding. Genly Ai and Estraven are far apart, but eventually their minds (literally) meet. They learn to trust one another, to accept their differences, to understand one another as well as they can, to love one another. The milieu for this story of friendship across divides is a world where the humans are androgynous, and none of the assumptions, problems, prejudices (or joys) of gender are present. Le Guin described the work as a thought experiment to explore a society without men and women, only humans. The description of the workings of such a society is interesting, but not heavy handed, but I do feel that the impact of such ideas has lessened over the years, and what was new and perhaps a little shocking in 1969 doesn't quite have the same punch today. It's still good world-building, though, and provided a consistently interesting and satisfyingly alien background to the main action.

One could cavil at the plot details a little: the situation of the Envoy (alone) is a little contrived, so as to generate the story, but this a very minor quibble. Overall, a very good and enjoyable read, and one that is sure to generate thought and reflection in the thoughtful reader. ( )
  sloopjonb | Jun 3, 2014 |
I've become rather bitter with sci-fi over the years, as it used to be my favorite genre. But you can only read so many space operas and pretentious near futures before it gets to you a little.

And then you decide to give an author a go because of some weird research string you were on... and it rekindles your love of why you started reading it in the first place.

LeGuin approaches sci-fi as it should be; a thought experiment. Instead of spending pages upon pages describing the minutiae of every aspect of the future, she integrates snippets of mythology, politics, and does it in a way that you don't feel is droning on.

There are parts that aren't very action oriented at all, and yet, they don't drag. I have no idea how she does it and am now rather enamored with this author.

As for the book itself, it approaches more than the simple issue of gender; it's almost zen-like, with an exploration of a duality in a whole. And the main character was the type a cranky sap like me could really relate to.

Best book I've read in a long while. ( )
1 vote cendri | May 30, 2014 |
Le Guin has both thoroughly imagined and theorized [the theory occasionally a bit too explicitly rendered:] a fascinating glacial planet called Gethen (aka Winter by humans from other planets, such as Terra, home planet of the “alien” Genly Ai). Genly is the Envoy of the Ekumen, an interplanetary system of cooperation (specifically, not a government). His task is to bring the nations of Gethen (most importantly Karhide and Orgoreyn) into the Ekumen for purposes of peaceful trade (sharing of knowledge, technology, etc.). Karhide, organized as a monarchy/ aristocracy under a mad King and a succession of Prime Ministers, also has an esoteric or mystical sect known as the Handdara, some of whom (all?) also function as Foretellers. Although there are murders and intrigues of all sorts on Gethen, there is no war and no war apparatus, i.e., an army. Orgoreyn, Karhide's rival, is a bureaucratic state nominally governed by a group of 33 Commensals, while really run by the Sarf, a secret police reminiscent of the Soviet KGB. On Gethen, shifgrethor is the fulcrum around which public life and public interaction between people revolve. Shifgrethor resembles our notions of “face” or prestige taken to the extreme. The other pole of Gethenian life is the peculiar genderless nature of the Gethenians(from the point of view of continuously male/female gendered humans from other planets). Gethenians go into Kemmer (heat or estrus) every 26 days (the Gethenian lunar cycle) at which time a Gethenian can “become” either male or female for purposes of sex and reproduction. The rest of the time s/he is in somer, neither male nor female. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
I loved 90% of this book, but I feel like the ending wasn't as powerful as the rest of the book. Goals are reached, sacrifices are made, redemption is sought, a world begins to change, and a man realizes he has become the Other, but even with all that happening I still felt a lack of a powerful climax to the book, and that was disappointing after the thrill ride of experiencing the ins, outs, and ramifications of a completely alien culture and biology. ( )
  sbloom42 | May 21, 2014 |
Genly Ai is the human Envoy to the planet of Gethen, locked in an ice age, where the inhabitants are androgynous most of the time. During “kemmer,” the two people in any given couple take on two different sexes, but it can go either way and the same individual may be mother to one child and father to another. Ai spends time in both Karhide, ruled by a king, and more industrialized Orgoreyn with its impressive bureaucracy. His primary supporter in Karhide is Estraven, whom he instinctively distrusts, but when their paths cross again in Orgoreyn, each will find out where the other really stands.

The premise is interesting, but—to put it bluntly—this is a seriously boring book, full of bureaucracy and politics and glacier-crossing and short on emotion. Perhaps it was just too subtle for my tastes. I finished it, but it felt like a great deal of work. It might repay more careful study than I was looking to give it, but it is not a casual read and I don’t feel like I got much out of it. ( )
1 vote jholcomb | Mar 21, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 175 (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)

» see all 4 descriptions

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