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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
15,253365334 (4.05)831
Fiction. Science Fiction. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.… (more)
  1. 71
    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)
  2. 71
    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.
  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. 10
    Commitment Hour by James Alan Gardner (MyriadBooks)
  6. 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)
  7. 10
    A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski (Konran)
  8. 10
    A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg (LamontCranston)
  9. 32
    Embassytown by China Miéville (santhony)
    santhony: Science fiction as seen through the prism of anthropology and sociology.
  10. 10
    Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer (andomck)
    andomck: Scientists exploring an alien environment
  11. 10
    Four Ways to Forgiveness by Ursula K. Le Guin (sturlington)
  12. 00
    Dark Water's Embrace by Stephen Leigh (MyriadBooks)
  13. 11
    Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny (WildMaggie)
  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. 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.
  16. 35
    Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (andomck)
    andomck: Science Fiction involving "unorthodox" procreation
1960s (32)

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» See also 831 mentions

English (357)  Catalan (2)  German (2)  Spanish (2)  French (1)  Italian (1)  Romanian (1)  All languages (366)
Showing 1-5 of 357 (next | show all)

I'm not sure I would go as far as to say this is a bad book, but I did not enjoy it. LeGuin's prose is very good here, but her plotting is not. The pages run dry. It took some time for me to finish this simply because I was so busy rehydrating.

There is a huge emphasis on world-building in The Left Hand of Darkness, and while I do not fault that aspect (or even any author who is able to construct and develop a world well), when it comes at the cost of everything else, it is a problem. The plot is minimal, spread thin over pages chiefly dedicated to exploring the geography and mythology of the world, and the politics and sexual nature of its inhabitants. The plot in question essentially revolves around a stranger to this world, an envoy, and his attempt to form an alliance between this alien planet and the epic, galactic hegemony he represents. While intriguing at first, his mission never really evolves and there seems to be little significance to any of the characters we meet beyond the first chapter. You could switch off for a good two thirds of the book and still have a good grasp of the central narrative, character motivations and general aspects of the world. Very little changes, and new information is sparse once we pass the halfway point and transition into a "journey home" type narrative.

The book alternates between the perspectives of two characters, which is a little confusing and not entirely needed. The wall between them setup by misunderstanding, miscommunication, different cultural perspectives and gender is probably the most prominent thing in the book, but for something that puts so much focus on characters and relationship, it is incredibly dull.

I'm not sure if I have accurately observed the thematic thrust, but feminism and Taoism are prominent in much of LeGuin's writing and I can see that here. The concept of a male human trying to connect with a race of beings neither male nor female (or both) seems to promote both gender equality and present an element of dualism. The fact that the book flip-flops between the perspective of two characters, and that one character even goes as close to the nose as to explain Taosim would suggest this also. The title, The Left Hand of Darkness, is in reference to Yin and Yang as well - light being the "left hand of darkness"; what we would normally see as a contrasting opposite is in fact an extension of the other. The two are meant to be joined in a mutually beneficial relationship; one cannot exist without the other. I don't ascribe to this worldview, but it often works well in fantasy.

So what else is there to say? At the end of the day, I did not find the story interesting, I did not find the characters interesting, I did not find the world interesting. The prose is nice, there are some good ideas, but it's not very well developed. Its dry, political nature and the bare-bones plot was unattractive to me, and it felt especially unfocused in the second half. It didn't get me to invest, and at a certain point I gave up trying to. ( )
  TheScribblingMan | Jul 29, 2023 |
Like many LeGuin books, it's subtle at times, a little overbearing at times, and very beautiful, personal, and touching. There's a reason this is one of her most famous books: it's thoughtful and well-done. ( )
  grahzny | Jul 17, 2023 |
Hoo-boy, here we go. Here's my review of this book, although I will say now that it won't be the best review to read if you're seriously considering reading this book because I am heavily biased.

I picked this book up because it was the December read in an online book community. It is completely safe to say that I would not have ever thought of reading this book had it not been for the book club. This book is completely out of my reading comfort zone (in terms of genre and language level), and I have, never once in my life, read anything that even closely resembles the contents of this book.

From the very start of the book, I was struggling. Tremendously. The words used were more difficult than I'm used to reading, the plot was confusing, and the world building was difficult to wrap my head around. I have so many notes and tabs in this book because of how many times I'd have to write down how confused I was, then go back after reading more to understand.

Regarding the book itself, I felt like it just dragged on and on until around the 2/3 mark. From then on, it felt like bam, bam, bam, action non-stop. For the first 2/3 of the book, I truly did feel like the characters were pretty dry and unremarkable.

[Spoilers in this paragraph] But that last 1/3 was what saved the book, at least for me personally. The relationship between Genly and Estraven was confusing at first, but it warmed up to me after a while. Towards the end I was absolutely engrossed into the plot and was rooting for the two to make it back safely. And yes, the ending absolutely destroyed me. It felt like a betrayal - I had just gotten into the story and the characters, and this is what you do, Ursula?! My heart is SHATTERED, my dude.

Overall, this book completely challenged me and I struggled through every page. I've never annotated in a book as much as I have with this one. And yet, here I am, giving it four stars. Despite the torturous hours I spent trying to understand this book, I actually found it to be quite therapeutic and rewarding to finally get to the end and make the revelations I did.

This book is quite literally the reason why I will be adding a challenge of reading ten "challenging" books in 2023, because I feel like reading this has made me a better, more analytical reader. Also, I now totally understand it when people say they have a hate/love relationship with a book, because that is how I'm feeling right now.

Now I'm going to go sob into my pillow and read short and easy books for the next 4-5 business days before my brain can handle books like this again. ( )
  aubriebythepage | Jul 7, 2023 |
This is about Genry, a man sent to a planet to make first contact with a the humans there, who have evolved to be genderless except for brief periods when they are fertile and take on physical gender characteristics. The plot of the book is about Genry's attempts to convince the people of the planet to join a multi-planet alliance, and about the political machinations of different cultures as they try to figure out what to do with Genry. But the story is also about gender, and the difficulties Genry has in thinking about people without gender.

This book is both more relevant than ever, and also showing its age more than ever right now. As parts of our culture are becoming more accepting of non-binary genders, and other parts of our culture are fighting that change, it is interesting to read about a culture that is completely free of the gender binary. Genry's reaction is sometimes shockingly sexist: he sees weak people as feminine, smart people as masculine, and never really questions those assumptions.

Like a lot of sci-fi of its era, this book can be a little tedious, but there is a lot going on here. Le Guin's worldbuilding is fascinating and thorough: not only does this world have very different sexuality, but Le Guin has created political systems, mythologies, histories, and entirely different attitudes about prophecy. This isn't a particularly easy read, but it is well worth the effort. ( )
  Gwendydd | Jul 2, 2023 |
Le Guin has a berth in the science fiction hall of fame, largely on the strength of novels like Left Hand. In her introduction, she acknowledges that all science fiction is allegorical, and that hers is especially so. It's up to the reader to unravel the implications for our own world.

She does not condescend to the reader through exposition. Instead, we are dropped into the world much like the protagonist, Genry Ai, is as envoy from the interplanetary alliance Ekumen. It takes most of 300 pages to really get your bearings - there is a lot of Winter-specific terminology that is not always fully explained.

So it ends up being both a challenging and impressionist reading experience. I think all alien encounter stories are post-colonial in nature, going back to War of the Worlds. The Ekumen is a more enlightened form of first contact, sending only one envoy with a backup plan. The androgynous people on Winter are a sly commentary on the way gender influences politics and war on Earth. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 357 (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
Edwards, LesCover 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
Nölle, KarenTranslatorsecondary 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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Fiction. Science Fiction. Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

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