- Mass Market Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Ace Books (1987)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780441478125
- ISBN-13: 978-0441478125
- ASIN: 0441478123
- Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.9 x 7.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 601 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,191 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Left Hand of Darkness: 50th Anniversary Edition Mass Market Paperback – March 15, 1987
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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
Praise for The Left Hand of Darkness
“[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
“A towering figure in science fiction and fantasy.”—NPR
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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.
This book was published in 1969, and LBGTQ people may find some of the ideas dated, but it remains a profound exploration of what happens when the basic traits by which one is defined in one's own society don't apply in another culture. I was surprised when I re-read "The Left Hand of Darkness" to realize it could apply to any trait - race, religion, even political affiliation.
The Left Hand of Darkness was originally published in 1969 and is the title that established Le Guin as a science fiction writer. It’s incredibly intricate, an excellent example of worldbuilding. Politics and governance are well-represented, if convoluted, which makes it all the more believable. The climate on Gethen is wintry; inhabitants and their lifestyles reflect this in every detail. But what captivated me most was the nature of Gethenian sexuality. On Gethen, gender is irrelevant. Though Ai uses predominantly masculine pronouns throughout the narrative, native humanoids on Gethen are not born male or female. They are neither—until they enter “kemmer,” a regular period of increased hormonal activity in which Gethenians are driven to find a partner who is also in kemmer, for sex and procreation. Hormone levels determine which partner becomes the inseminator and which becomes the recipient. If the recipient becomes pregnant, they remain “female” throughout the gestation period, after which they return to normal. This cycle drives the entire culture, coloring every aspect of Gethenian society.
Though this isn’t the only detail to recommend the book, it’s definitely key to the story. At the time it was written, Gethenian sexuality drew a lot of attention among readers and reviewers; but it’s still relevant today. While some have criticized Le Guin for homophobia, and while Le Guin later expressed regret that she’d portrayed Gethenian norms as heterosexual, the fact remains that the story explores the nature of gender in our own society, as well as on Gethen. For my own part, I found the development of friendship and love between characters so widely diverse much more meaningful than when or how or even whether copulation occurred.
In any event, The Left Hand of Darkness is a classic in science fiction literature, a multi-layered story that explores not only cultural divides but sociological ones as well as deep, philosophical quandaries, a must-read for all sci-fi fans. Groundbreaking and evocative, I found myself rooting for both Ai and Estraven, and was sorry to turn the last page. Only one of multiple novels set in the Hainish series, LHoD can be read as a standalone tale. One caveat: Le Guin runs heavy on detail and subtlety. It isn’t exactly an easy read. If that bothers you, dear reader, push through. I promise the payoff is worth it.
This book sums that up quite eloquently. It explores gender in a unique and enlightening way. How we, as humans, perceive gender and how it effects our lives and ways of thinking. It explores the bonds of friendship, love, politics, and war all without the confines of gender. A fascinating read through the eyes of the "Envoy" as he struggles to survive in a toiling political climate on an alien world.
Well worth the read!