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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A trek to question one's perceptions., June 27, 1999
This review is from: The Left Hand of Darkness (Mass Market Paperback)
This book won the 1969 Nebula Award and the 1970 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel of the year. I recall first reading this book when it first appeared and being stunned at the originality and the beauty. I have read every Hugo and Nebula winner (and most of the nominees) and this is still near the top. In this classic novel, all of the action takes place on the planet known as Gethen or Winter, a frozen world set in Le Guin's Hainish universe. All of the humanoid inhabitants of Winter are exactly the same as the humans of Earth except in the means of reproduction. They are all of a single sex and can assume either sex when in "heat." If one person of a couple becomes female, the other automatically becomes male. The culture and society of this world is shaped not only by the harsh environment but by this sexual structure. A main portion of the novel is concerned with the trek of a human ambassador and ethnologist, Genly Ai, across Winter's surface with a Getthenian. The man from Earth and the manwoman from Winter grow to know and understand each other. The novel not only raises issues about our perceptions of sex but the problems associated with cultural chauvinism. It is a book that all serious students of science fiction literature should read. For those earlier reviewers who awarded this book a low rating because it wasn't "classic" science fiction, you have to recall that psychology, sociology, and anthropology are all sciences (remember that the author's father, T. Kroeber, was the first Chairman of the Anthropology Department at U.C. Berkeley), just like physics, chemistry, or, in my case, biochemistry. And to the reviewer from Washington, D.C., (of March 3, 1999) who complained that Genly Ai was too uninteresting as the main character. Perhaps that was the point. Have you forgotten your Heisenberg?
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Apr 8, 2010 1:41:16 AM PDT
I must of missed something. This novel was required reading in one of my literature classes in college and it went down like a lead balloon. Almost nobody liked, with most or the student not even being able to finish it. In the end, I found this novel, like everything that I've read by LeGuin, to be rather dull and way overrated. Not to mention that this cold war novel and its metaphors are as subtle as a ten-pound sledge between the eyes, and that the lead character is an absolute moron. Terry Pratchett made fun of this character in his first novel. The world that LeGuin writes about is simply not that exceptional, and the sexual politics postulated here are pretty much avoided. I guess I never fell for the hype that is LeGuin. I suspect that what you are reading in this novel is more wishful thinking than reality. And if that isn't enough, the novel's narrative is constantly interrupted by commercials from Winter's Tourist Bureau. I have books in my collection that I bought and read forty-five years ago and I sold this one as soon as the class was over.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 27, 2011 2:11:54 AM PDT
Oh, some college undergraduates didn't like it? Well that settles everything doesn't it.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 2, 2014 11:33:40 AM PST
Sometimes over time my reaction to a book can vary quite a bit. We see with different eyes at different times in our lives.

Posted on Nov 5, 2014 2:34:02 PM PST
Melanie: I totally agree, authors like Roger Zelazny bored me as a youngster, but not now. And I've learned to appreciate others like Joanna Russ and Michael Moorcock. Still, over the years I given Le Guin several tries, and, to me, she's just over-rated. By-the-way, I've read her off-and-on since the sixties, and I still don't like James Tiptree either.
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