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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
“[A] science fiction masterpiece.”—Newsweek
“A jewel of a story.”—Frank Herbert
“As profuse and original in invention as The Lord of the Rings.”—Michael Moorcock
“An instant classic.”—Minneapolis Star-Tribune
“Like all great writers of fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin creates imaginary worlds that restore us, hearts eased, to our own.”—The Boston Globe
“Stellar…A triumphant return to the magic-drenched world of Earthsea…Le Guin is still at the height of her powers, a superb stylist with a knack for creating characters who are both wise and deeply humane. A major event in fantasy literature.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Richly told…Le Guin hasn’t lost her touch. She draws us into the magical land and its inhabitants’ doings immediately.”—Booklist
See all Editorial Reviews
The Left Hand of Darkness is a cornerstone of 20th century science fiction. An inspired commentary on "the new anthropology. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Mythezza
This was a decent book. I did like the fact that gender is an abstract idea in this book. It does make you think.Published 2 days ago by betsy
it seemed to be out of print for a while. It is a really satisfying story and I would love to live in that world more.
I have heard about this book and seen it on lists of the best of science fiction. I waited for it to be available on kindle. It lives up to all its hype.Published 12 days ago by Kindle Customer
A rather plodding, uneventful book for all the praise it gets online. I suspect it's popular because of the gender fluidity of the aliens and the earthling ambassador's slowness to... Read morePublished 13 days ago by Change Please
Some good ideas but meandering to a conclusion. Explorers an unusual conception re gender and hermaphroditism.Published 18 days ago by Richard Powell
This is one of the most well-written books I have ever read. The imagery and development of the story are excellent.Published 19 days ago by aqwizard
The power of blood sacrifice and arch symbolism permeates and supports the novel throughout..
Agamemnon kills his daughter, Iphigenia, in a blood sacrifice before his... Read more