The Left Hand of Darkness Paperback – Jul 1 2000
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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 the Mass Market Paperback edition.
“[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
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Top Customer Reviews
Ms. Le Guin,
I am a 33 year old school teacher in Edinburg, IL. I teach English to middle school students. I occasionally teach college composition classes as an adjunct faculty member. I am also an avid reader and a struggling writer. I have always believed that in order to write good fiction one has to read a lot of good fiction and a lot of bad fiction. I have done both. I began a quest to read all of the Hugo Award winners to give myself an impression of what many consider to be good writing. That is when I discovered your novel THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS. It was sitting quietly in a used bookstore with a tattered cover and a well-read spine.
As I began to read it, I have to admit that at first I wasn't particularly impressed. It seemed an odd world, and I was having a hard time getting into the story. This did not last long. The greatness of the book began to emerge. I began to read at a quicker pace. I became so enthralled with the culture you had created that I could think of little else. You took me to the places that you had fashioned and made me live as one of your characters. I remember your descriptions of the snow and ice. I actually felt cold most of the time I read your novel. Perhaps this degree of identification is unusual, but your work moved me so much that I can only describe it as awe-inspiring. I truly felt that I was in the presence of a true master. I cannot say for certain why the book is so wondrous. I have tried to analyze it many times in my mind.Read more ›
Through androgeny, Le Guin shows that although male and female are opposites, they complement each other to make one. Protagonist Genly Ai has difficulty seeing the Gethenians as either man or woman, instead of what they really are - a union of both. And in return, the androgynes see Ai, a human, as a pervert - a division of the two sexes. Indeed, the androgeny in 'The Left Hand of Darkness' creates a world in which sexual discrimination and exploitation are not possible. Le Guin uses androgyny in order to make us conscious of the way our stereotypes can be destructive. One major stereotype that is brought to light is how female traits usually have weak connotations, whereas male traits are strong and more desirable.
In using androgyny, Le Guin poses the question of personal identity in a strange new world. Genly Ai, a black envoy from Earth, is suddenly catapulted into a unisex society and is forced to question who he really is.
Moreover, Le Guin displays a journey in which the protagonist moves from ignorance, to the polar opposite of truth. In the novel, he realizes who the people are, who he can trust, and what really matters in life. Genly's transition can only take place through his friend, Estraven, one of the androgynes:
"And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see [...]: that he was a woman as well as a man. [...] Until then, I had rejected him, refused him his own reality. [...] I had not wanted to give my trust, my friendship to a man who was a woman, a woman who was a man" (248-9).Read more ›
The only problem I might say I had with the book (and the reason I gave it 4 stars) was trying to visualize the characters as neither men nor women when the only pronoun Le Guin used is "he." I was unable to form pictures of any of the characters in my mind. Yet I think she did a good job of making the characters have a mixture of masculine and feminine traits.
After I put the book down I realized why I liked Le Guin's Earthsea books so much: because even when she is writing about a world with men and women, she doesn't write them as such, but as human beings. None of her books contain bulging biceps or heaving bosoms, but rather real people. It's refreshing.
It's an excellent book overall. Not a riveting read, but a slow, thought-provoking and often beautifully touching read.
LeGuin grew up in a household of anthropologists, and her science fiction novels all reflect a mind fascinated with the most essential questions of what it is that defines us as human, and what it is that defines our cultures. Each one of the great Hainish future-history series, a very loosely collected string of novels set in a galactic diaspora a long time from now in a galaxy very much at hand, explores a single aspect of human relations; as a science-fiction writer, LeGuin is able to create a world that serves as a custom-built laboratory for the examination of that trait. In The Disposessed, she explores the relationship of ownership to power. In Four Ways to Forgiveness, she explores... well, you know.
Here, the topic is simple: gender and sex. LeGuin posits a world, Winter/Gehenna (a Hebrew word for hell), in which the local variant of the human gene stock live in an androgenous state except while in kemmer, when they are briefly metamorphosed into either female or male form--the transformation is determined by environmental forces, rather than personal predilection, so the individual may kemmer as a female in one cycle and a male in another. Now think about how profoundly that would alter everything about human culture. Even in our modern world, where we like to pretend that individuals are not defined by their gender, we can't get past the simple biological facts that define the differences between the genders, not even to mention the social mores that enforce sexual roles.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
The Left Hand of Darkness contains my current favourite sentence. It would take me a paragraph to ploddingly write what Ms. Read morePublished 12 months ago by L D. Sword
On the writing style itself: Pretty basic and standard. Nothing to complain about, but nothing to write home about either. Read morePublished on Nov. 18 2013 by Anastasia
Subtle plotline, great character, wonderful writing. This is the first of Ursula's books I have read and I am certain it will not be the last.Published on May 10 2013 by Al. Mo.
The protagonist is a human envoy sent to a planet of hermaphrodites to invite them to join galactic civilisation. Read morePublished on April 18 2007 by Greg Slade
I first read this book over 30 years ago, and 2 worn out copies later, have lost count of the number of times I've re-read it. Read morePublished on July 18 2004 by Jax
I had been meaning for some time to read Le Guin, and picked this book as a starter. It did not live up to my expectations.
Let me start with the good. Read more
In her introduction, the author makes some compelling statements about the nature of science fiction as descriptive and not predictive. Read morePublished on May 19 2004 by Nicholas Jong
I was just forced to read this book for a class. It was assigned under the false pretenses that my classmates and I would take away some kind of meaning from it about notions of... Read morePublished on March 11 2004
With a few exceptions, I don't usually enjoy the usual science fiction books. But this one is different. Read morePublished on Feb. 17 2004 by N. Berman