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The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Hainish Cycle (4), Hainish Cycle, Chronological (6)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
14,082348336 (4.05)802
While on a mission to the planet Gethen, earthling Genly Ai is sent by leaders of the nation of Orgoreyn to a concentration camp from which the exiled prime minister of the nation of Karhide tries to rescue him.
  1. 70
    Ammonite by Nicola Griffith (mambo_taxi, mollishka, LamontCranston)
    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. 61
    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)
  3. 40
    The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (andomck)
  4. 20
    Shadow Man by Melissa Scott (sandstone78)
    sandstone78: Explorations of gender beyond the gender binary
  5. 32
    Embassytown by China Miéville (santhony)
    santhony: Science fiction as seen through the prism of anthropology and sociology.
  6. 10
    Commitment Hour by James Alan Gardner (MyriadBooks)
  7. 10
    Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (andomck)
    andomck: Scientists exploring an alien environment
  8. 10
    Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin (sturlington)
  9. 10
    A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg (LamontCranston)
  10. 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)
  11. 10
    A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski (Konran)
  12. 11
    The Godmakers by Frank Herbert (themulhern)
    themulhern: Two radically different novels about the business of reclaiming/rediscovering/reuniting with planets that were lost during a great stellar war.
  13. 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.
  14. 00
    Dark Water's Embrace by Stephen Leigh (MyriadBooks)
  15. 11
    Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (WildMaggie)
  16. 33
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (andomck)
    andomck: Science Fiction involving "unorthodox" procreation
1960s (32)

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» See also 802 mentions

English (335)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Catalan (2)  Romanian (1)  French (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (344)
Showing 1-5 of 335 (next | show all)
Thought-provoking, so eloquent and evocative, but for me it never quite lives up to the promise and does not explore the truly androgynous well enough. Definitely read it. ( )
  tarsel | Sep 4, 2022 |
Uma vez pensei, influenciado por este livro: "mineiros seguem a honra das sombras". Dado o apreço pelo dizer circular, indireto, e por diversas formas do subentendido, um pouco como um japonês que se recusa a negar diretamente algo. Daí, que em um momento de adaptação, de São Paulo a Belo Horizonte, conclui que paulistas seriam orgoreynianos e mineiros karhidianos. Mas não havia por trás disso uma história de intriga e amor. E a assunção do estranhamento, antes do mergulho forçado e do mergulho voluntário.

Vencedor do prêmio Hugo 1970. ( )
  henrique_iwao | Aug 30, 2022 |
One of my reading goals for 2021 is to explore some of the more significant books in the realm of science fiction, a genre where I've read little. This title, originally published in 1969, was quite controversial at that time, and although we may not find it as startling today as it was then, it remains relevant and thought-provoking.

So many brilliant reviews of this book have been written over the past 50 years that there is little to add other than a few of my own reactions. The very short summary of the book is that an emissary, Genly Ai, is sent alone to the icy planet Gethen with an invitation to join the more technologically sophisticated confederation of planets he represents. While on Gethen, Genly confronts unanticipated challenges physical, social/political, and most importantly, emotional.

The most arresting of these stems from the fact that all Gethians are ambisexual. They are neither permanently male nor female, but adopt one or the other sex when they undergo the monthly experience of "kemmer", an intense mating cycle. If a pregnancy results, that individual remains female for the duration, but then reverts to the genderless state. For much of the book Genly struggles with his own responses to this phenomenon. As a Terran he feels his masculinity as a key element of his identity and perceives females as decidedly "other", feelings that have no context on Gethen.

Ambisexuality in humanoids must have been strong stuff for 1969, right? But easier, I think, to accept conceptually in our era where references to gender fluidity are more common and gender roles are certainly (and happily, IMO) less well defined.

Another element of the book that remains timely is the difficulty Genly encounters when trying to navigate shifgrethor, a slippery form of prestige that is an inherent part of the culture of the nation on Gethen where he spends most of his time. His inability to fully understand shifgrethor, and the inability of the second protagonist and arguably the "hero" of the book, Estraven, to appreciate that Genly doesn't understand, is a mirror for cultural differences that present challenges between nations, much less worlds.

The relatively short book is so tightly packed with stimulating ideas that it demands thoughtful reading. For me there was a relief from this in an extended section where Genly and Estraven spend several months making their way across an ice field. I will happily confess that these chapters went more smoothly for me not only because of my fondness for reading about polar exploration, but also because the idea of friendship deepening and understanding growing under extreme conditions was appealing.

It's easy to see why this book won both the Hugo and Nebula awards and established Le Guin's reputation as something of a genius. A clear tour de force. ( )
  BarbKBooks | Aug 15, 2022 |
I wanted to like this more than I did. I love SF with incredibly detailed worlds that just throw you in and force you to sink or swim. I also love gender fuckery in my SF, and though I know that Le Guin has said that that's not really what this book is about, it pervades the story, and it made me uncomfortable because of the essentialist way the book, in the final summation, approached gender roles. The mild misogyny of Genly Ai was disheartening, as he read the behaviour of these non-gendered people through a very gendered eye. I'm paraphrasing Joanna Russ (from her essay "The Image of Women in Science Fiction") when I say that Le Guin may have been criticising the narrator's point of view, as he comes across as intolerant in other ways. But I don't know. It feels self-hating to me. (Russ's essay has examples from the text, but is also worth reading for other reasons).

This may be stuck in my mind because of an essay of Le Guin's that I read last year: "Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?" It's great. I love her defense of fantasy and the imagination. However, in the midst of defending genre fiction, she throws other genre fiction under the bus.

She is concerned that without fantasy, our minds are deformed and look for any entertainment to activate our imaginations. After attacking westerns, pornography, and t.v. thrillers, typically "male" genres which she labels "sterile," she turns to women. If a woman, she writes, doesn't "discipline" her imagination, "lacking training and encouragement, her fancy is likely to glom on to very sickly fodder, such things as soap operas, and 'true romances,' and nursy novels, and historicosentimental novels, and all the rest of the baloney ground out to replace genuine imaginative works by the artistic sweatshops of a society that is profoundly distrustful of the uses of the imagination."

I read this for a class on popular fiction that was designed to remove all sense of snobbery and gate-keeping from the discussion of what makes something "popular" by definition and what that has to do with the quality of the work. In that context, Le Guin's words read as hateful and dismissive, especially as some of those genres that she's deriding are written by women for women. How are we supposed to discipline our minds? Who gets to choose what's "sickly" and deforming?

The truth is, though a huge science fiction nerd, I haven't read much Le Guin. Maybe it's too late. Maybe I should have read this when I was younger. Maybe I'm on my guard because of the many conversations I've had in the last few years about these things, but I wanted to like this more than I did, and I just couldn't.

Also, Estraven's supposedly-heroic suicide by machine gun fire is just bullshit and stupid ( )
  J.Flux | Aug 13, 2022 |
I am sad that I really didn't much enjoy this book which my husband bought me as a Valentine's gift. I was excited to receive it as being an avid reader and a bookseller I NEVER get books as a gift. So I really wanted to love this one for all those reasons.

So I know this is supposed to be so great but it just wasn't the book for me. I don't like sci fi with a religious bent. The only thing more tedious than religious fiction for me is made up religious philosophies from made up planets. I know they are supposed to be illustrating something about our own human condition but I just don't care. While I enjoy aliens as main characters and can get behind a totally different mind set for those aliens I just couldn't really enjoy these particular aliens. For my tastes not enough happened in the book. There were some dinners where I was supposed to figure out someone had been betrayed and others who seemed betrayers weren't and stuff happened that might have some bearing and things might happen in the future. And the story was interrupted by stories of the past history and myth of the planet. And yeah I get it, illustrating points blah blah. But I just wasn't interested. The trek across the ice was the most interesting part and even that went on too long.

I did like the gender ideas it played with. I guess I just didn't like the way it was written.

Oh well, you can't like everything. I am glad I read it. ( )
  Luziadovalongo | Jul 14, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 335 (next | show all)
Bei dem Roman "Die linke Hand der Dunkelheit" handelt es sich um nicht weniger als die erste Geschlechter-Utopie: Die Menschen auf dem Planeten Winter, die Gethianer, sind vier Fünftel ihres Erwachsenenlebens geschlechtslos, nur während der sogenannten Kemmer entwickeln sie vorübergehend männliche oder weibliche Geschlechtsorgane, wobei sie vorher weder wissen, welches Geschlecht sie annehmen werden, noch Einfluss darauf haben. Auch haben sie keine bestimmte Vorliebe für eines der Geschlechter. Sind sie nach dem Verständnis des auf ihrem Planeten gelandeten männlichen Terraners die meiste Zeit ihres Lebens "hermaphroditische Neutren", so sehen sie sich selbst als "Potentiale" oder "Integrale". Der lebenslänglich auf ein Geschlecht festgelegte und ständig sexualisierte Terraner hingegen ist für sie ein "sexuelles Monstrum". In einer Gesellschaft wie der gethenianischen gibt es keine Vergewaltigung und natürlich keinen Ödipus-Mythos. Da kein Individuum weiß, ob es sich in der nächsten Kemmer-Phase zur Frau oder zum Mann entwickelt, jedeR Mutter des einen und Vater eines anderen Kindes sein kann, ist die gethenianische Gesellschaft "in ihren alltäglichen Funktionen und ihrer Kontinuität frei von Konflikten, die ihren Ursprung in der Sexualität haben", denn "jeder kann alles machen". Überhaupt, so heißt es an einer Stelle, ist "die Tendenz zum Dualismus, die das Denken der Menschen so beherrscht, auf Winter weit weniger stark ausgeprägt". Eine solche Gesellschaft vorzustellen, ist zumindest das Anliegen Le Guins, doch gelingt es ihr nur bedingt. Zwar sind Denken und Gemeinschaft nicht durch die Geschlechterdichotomie bestimmt, doch ist "alles [...] dem Somer-Kemmer-Zyklus unterworfen", einer anderen Dichotomie also.
An instant classic
added by bgibbard | editMinneapolis Star-Tribune

» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Le Guin, Ursula K.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Abelenda, FranciscoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Altuğ, ÜmitTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Anders, Charlie JaneAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Andrade, FátimaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Aymerich i Lemos, SílviaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Živković, ZoranTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bailhache, JeanTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baranyi, GyulaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chambers, BeckyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, DianeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dillon, LeoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ebel, AlexCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Erőss, LászlóAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
芙佐, 小尾翻訳secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Franzén, TorkelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Freas, FrankIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Freas, Laura BrodianIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaiman, NeilIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaughan, JackIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gaughan, JackCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Guidall, GeorgeNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heinecke, JanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horne, MatildeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
서정록,secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jęczmyk, LechTł.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jones, TobyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kirby, JoshCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Koubová, JanaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kuczka, PéterAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Laretei, HeldurIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lemen, VanessaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lueg, Lena FongCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lupton, DavidIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malaguti, U.Traduttoresecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Malaguti, UgoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McArdle, JamesNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Miéville, ChinaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mitchell, DavidForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyytäjä, KaleviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagetti, CarloForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palmiste, EndelIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reinsalu, TiinaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stokesberry, RuthNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stuyter, M.K.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thole, C. A. M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vinge, Joan D.Prefacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
White, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
WoodroffeCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Тогоева, И.пер.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Цветаев, Ю.Аил.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Гаков, В.сост.secondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Charles,
sine qua non
For Charles, sine quo 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.
From the Archives of Hain. Transcript of Ansible Document 01-01101-934-2-Gethen: To the Stabile on Ollul: Report from Genly Ai, First Mobile on Gethen/Winter, Hainish Cycle 93, Ekumenical Year 1490-97.

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. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.
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)

While on a mission to the planet Gethen, earthling Genly Ai is sent by leaders of the nation of Orgoreyn to a concentration camp from which the exiled prime minister of the nation of Karhide tries to rescue him.

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