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Left Hand of Darkness Hardcover – Nov 1969

4.1 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Nov 1969
CDN$ 199.90 CDN$ 164.37

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: TBS The Book Service Ltd; 1st edition (November 1969)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0356029476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0356029474
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 16.7 x 2.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 717 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 117 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,873,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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 beguiling read ... Le Guin's sometimes mischievous narrative tone is crisp and fresh' 'A jewel of a story' Frank Herbert 'As profuse and original in invention as The Lord of the Rings' Michael Moorcock 'Delicate yet daring, narrated with immense gravitas...Ursula Le Guin's masterpiece' Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
I had no idea how to review this book, so I wrote Ms. Le Guin a letter. I thought I would include part of it as my review. She responded to me, and it was a real thrill. See the letter below:
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.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
In many ways, Le Guin delineates upon the Taoist belief of unity in order to prove that all things, materialistic or idealistic, have an opposite in this wonderful, original, and often startling novel.
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).
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
The Left Hand of Darkness started out quite slowly for me. But once I got 2/3 of the way through I couldn't put it down! The ending is wonderful, if bittersweet. The intimate friendship that developed between Genly and Estraven was deeply touching to me. The quality of prose was top-notch, as I have come to expect from Le Guin.

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.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
This novel stands as a monument to what a future-history novel can be, as opposed to what they usually are--which is to say, pretty silly. (And I say that as a life-long fan of speculative fiction in all its guises.)

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.
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