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The Left Hand of Darkness (S.F. Masterworks) Hardcover – October 18, 2001
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Attention Science Fiction Fans
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“[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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
Perhaps the most striking thing about it is the apparent ease with which legend is woven into the fabric of the story, so that the world and its people reveal themselves slowly and naturally to the reader. This many-threaded structure allows the reader to draw conclusions from mere hints, relating the obscure myths to the concrete story at hand. Much is implied without being stated outright, but this never obscures the story; if anything, it makes it stronger, clearer, and deeper.
Every book has the odd quirk, and "The Left Hand of Darkness" isn't without its own. Although thoroughly modern in sensibilty, it was written in 1969, and in one minor way, that does show. To the modern reader, the amount of attention afforded the "unisexual" society described here feels a little bit out of proportion. Obviously our comfort with gender ambivalence and androgyny has increased over the last three or four decades; at any rate, I found no difficulty in thinking of the characters as simultaneously male and female -- it's especially easy to do when the writing is so compelling.
As with many of Ursula Le Guin's other novels, the characters are a bit abstract. This is a result of the author's focus, rather than insufficient characterisation: Ursula Le Guin is definitely an ideas writer, and a language writer, rather than a character wrtiter. It's not that Genly Ai, Estraven and others are not believable; they are. It's just that Le Guin's characters are almost always created and harnessed to serve the story's ideas, rather than the other way around. The focus isn't on the life and times of an individual human being, but on the big ideas involved, and on their implications for mankind as a whole. There are virtually no attempts to dissect and examine any individual; as with the story itself, much remains hidden, hinted at, unknown.
This is not an entire world, it is a single tale, woven from fragments of myth and narrative, but only the relevant ones. You come away satisfied with a beautifully crafted, intelligent, thought-provoking story -- but also, with a sense of having visited a place that keeps its secrets, with people who will keep theirs.
This book is, at its simplest and least descriptive, a thought experiment. What if there were a world where gender as we know it did not exist.
But that is not the half of it. It is not even close.
This book examines how nationalism can be wonderful and yet poisonous. It compares the societies of differing nation-states. It looks at humanity's role in nature. It stares unflinchingly at love in various forms and in the end, the reader has gone through a journey nearly as transformative as the one taken by our protagonist, Genly Ai.
My only true complaint stems from the idea that Genly's gender biases are so strong that he consistently labels the Gethenians as he despite having been briefed of their genderless status before beginning the assignment.
Still ignoring the pronoun confusion, this was an amazing book. It is thoughtful and thought provoking. It is wise and wonderful. And though a world as cold as Winter sounds like my own personal hell, I will revisit the characters again with pleasure.
What a fantastic concept! UKLG has created a wondrous, fully fleshed out alien world. Its inhabitants see themselves as normal and humans as the aberrations – stuck their entire lives in a single, pre-defined sex.
The story is told through the eyes of two protagonists: a human ambassador and a Gethenian politician. Both are intricate, well developed characters. The story is so well formulated that at the end, you view the human as the alien that he is, and the Gethenians as the normal ones.
This book was written several decades ago, and it shows: sentences are thoughtful and well phrased, and there is a lack of the grammatical and spelling errors which deplorably seem to be so rampant in modern works.
I would definitely recommend this book if you enjoy original, intelligent, sophisticated science fiction. I would not recommend it if you are simply looking for fast bang-bang action.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I take a certain delight in reading the books that define, change, or readjust not...Read more