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The Left Hand of Darkness Mass Market Paperback – March 15, 1987
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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 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
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.Read more ›
The Left Hand of Darkness is set on Gethen, or Winter, a planet that has arctic conditions most of the year. An envoy, Ai, from the Ekumen of Worlds is sent to explore whether Gethen would join the Ekumen and engage in intellectual exchange of ideas and technology. Gethen is also unique in that the people are unisexual, changing to female or male form on a monthly cycle called kemmer. How Le Guin handles a unisex race is one of the amazing parts of the book.
Ai sets out to live on Gethen, first in the country of Karhide. He attempts to convince the (somewhat mad) king of the value of joining the Ekumen, helped by a counselor of the King, Estraven. But Estraven is undermined by another court counselor and is banished, and Ai is in terrible danger and doesn't realize it. As Ai explores the rest of Gethen and its varied societies, he is helped again and again by Estraven, whom he at first mistrusts. Their heroic trek across the Ice of Gethen reads like the best arctic explorers adventure from Earth.
This is an exciting book, though the beginning is slow, as Ai begins to understand the strange society of Karhide and Gethen. As the adventure unfolds, you will not be able to put the book down. This is a classic that should be read by anyone who loves science fiction, and is a book that can be re-read many times with great enjoyment.
By the end everything makes sense...from the stuffy beginning to even the title of the book itself. This story is a true testament to the universality of human spirit (regardless of the most harsh nature of the environment). Likewise, it reinforces the notion that all people ARE people no matter how odd the culture or how "alien" the appearance. The world she has created feels so REAL even though it is so different!
This book is by no means among my favorites... However, I am glad that I did take the time to read it and that I didn't give-up in the beginning. I'd suggest it for the more patient reader and for people with a relatively mature mindset. This certainly is no action adventure afterall.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Le Guin has an extraordinary intellect, which is blended with an imagination second to none. She challenges our sense of what it is to be human and as a consequence we are wiser... Read morePublished 21 days ago by Mr Matthew C Brown
The writing is elegant, the world and the story are imaginative. The characters are decently done.
I am in no way disappointed I purchased and spent the time reading... Read more
Le Guin masterfully delves into socio-philosophical topics in an indirect yet clear manner, letting descriptions of culture, character development and short stories (some chapters... Read morePublished 1 month ago by Steve W. Heim
One of Le Guin's finest novels. It explores trust and traitor. Gender, and what it means to be human.Published 2 months ago by Deborah J. Harper
I know this is award winning science fiction from the height of the silver age- that's why I bought it. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Mike Archcraft
I have read this every 10 years, about 4 times now. Each time I read it, it develops into another view of my reality and sometimes an entirely different plot. What a classic.Published 2 months ago by SamsNona
This book truly is a masterpiece. Impeccably written and profound. Should be valued as one of the most important pieces of literature of the century--as it's academic reviews... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Mia