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The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)

4.05  ·  Rating Details ·  62,780 Ratings  ·  3,921 Reviews
A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose -and change - their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published July 1st 2000 by Ace (first published 1969)
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Aubrey Absolutely. Le Guin said herself that, while the books of the Hainish Cycle are certainly interconnected, they contradict each other more than they…moreAbsolutely. Le Guin said herself that, while the books of the Hainish Cycle are certainly interconnected, they contradict each other more than they build each other up.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Kathryn Walton I think it has to do, in large part, with Estraven's association between Genly Ai and his dead brother, Arek. Genly mindspeaks to Estraven in Arek's…moreI think it has to do, in large part, with Estraven's association between Genly Ai and his dead brother, Arek. Genly mindspeaks to Estraven in Arek's voice (indicative, I believe, of the growing love and friendship between them). Given Estraven's love for Arek, and his grief, I think that's an extremely painful experience. It's implied that Arek and Estraven were lovers, after all, and that Estraven bore their child, Sorve, which would've ended his relationship with Arek--incest being permissible on Winter until a child is conceived. Arek may have even committed suicide, an inference I make based on the parable Le Guin provides about the original Estraven the Traitor.

Secondarily, as Genly Ai himself remarks in the book, Mindspeech must be a truly terrifying experience to someone experiencing it for the first time--in particular someone who did not previously know it was possible. (less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Nataliya
The question that permeates Le Guin's 1969 sensational for its time novel about the ambisexual society is what remains once the male and the female labels are stripped away? What is underneath the labels - is it simply humanity?


'Androgynous' - Which is how I could not help but picture the Gethenians.
"A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respecte
...more
Liz
Jul 10, 2007 Liz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I've become rather bitter with sci-fi over the years, as it used to be my favorite genre. But you can only read so many space operas and pretentious near futures before it gets to you a little.

And then you decide to give an author a go because of some weird research string you were on... and it rekindles your love of why you started reading it in the first place.

LeGuin approaches sci-fi as it should be; a thought experiment. Instead of spending pages upon pages describing the minutiae of every
...more
Samadrita
They should do away with these tags - science fiction, speculative fiction and all them other clever maneuvers designed to erect barriers between the strictly literary and the mainstream - when it's Atwood who is writing or a Le Guin. Woe betide anyone who begs to differ. This deeply entrenched contempt of the other and this instinctive loathing of anything we fail to understand after a perfunctory once-over are not only the center of the man-made hullabaloo of gender but the root cause of all f ...more
Ian Vinogradus
No Mere Extrapolation

"The Left Hand of Darkness" is a work of science fiction published by Ursula Le Guin in 1969.

At the time, it sought to differentiate itself from most other science fiction in two ways.

Firstly, as Le Guin explains in a subsequent introduction, it didn’t just take a current phenomenon and extrapolate it scientifically into the future in some predictive or cautionary fashion.

Secondly, it explored the nature of sexuality as a subject matter from a sophisticated, feminist point
...more
Cecily
The meagre 2* is more a reflection of my enjoyment rather than an objective measure of the book (it has won prestigious awards). It wasn't to my taste, and that was exacerbated by mismatched expectations. It is not really sci-fi, the gender and sexuality were a bit of a side-show, leaving curious combo of political intrigue and Boys' Own tale of derring-do in an inhospitable climate. The setting is another planet in the future, but right from the start, mentions of rain and reign contributed to ...more
Lyn
Dec 05, 2015 Lyn rated it it was amazing
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin has a voyeuristic quality, as if a description to a studious observation. I could not help thinking that I was reading a National Geographic article about a reporter visiting Winter, or Gethen as its inhabitants know it.

Many readers cannot help but comment upon the Gethenians physiological androgyny, and this is certainly a central them of the story, but there is so much more to fascinate the reader. Le Guin has demonstrated again how she can creat
...more
Agnieszka
Nov 24, 2014 Agnieszka rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

They say that The Left Hand of Darkness is a landmark in the field of science fiction literature . Albeit such typecasting seems to be unfair simplification and trivialization since that novel goes much further and deeper than any other of that genre . In view of her interests including cultures , ecology , anthropology , Zen philosophy LeGuin produces humanistic science fiction , focused on creating startling social models and analyzing living in them people . That way The Left Hand of Dar
...more
Markus
Jun 09, 2016 Markus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction, 2016
Light is the left hand of darkness,
And darkness the right hand of light.


On the distant world of Winter, ambisexual beings have lived in solitude for as long as anyone can remember. This peace is shattered when an envoy arrives from the Ekumen, offering the nations of Winter the opportunity to join a vast alliance of thousands of worlds…

This book was my first foray into the science fiction works of Ursula K. Le Guin, already one of my favourite authors. I did not find it quite as strong as the
...more
J.G. Keely
The term 'Speculative Fiction' was developed out of a desire by some authors to separate themselves from the more pejorative aspects of the Sci Fi genre. Harlan Ellison famously hated the term 'sci fi', scorning the implication that his stories had anything in common with Flash Gordon or Lost in Space.

In Speculative Fiction, technology is not there to facilitate the plot, or to dazzle readers with fantasy, but to provide the author with an opportunity to explore the human mind in unexpected, inn
...more
Kaion
Aug 24, 2010 Kaion rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sf, queer
The Should I Read This Book Quiz: Ursula Le Guin is considered a Very Important science fiction writer for her anthropological chops, and The Left Hand of Darkness her classic in which a lone representative of the Ekumen is sent down to a heretofore un-contacted planet to convince its denizens to join this interplanetary human collective. Genly Ai’s mission is complicated by his inexperience with their society—the most significant difference with his own being that all Gethenians are neither mal ...more
Apatt
Jun 27, 2016 Apatt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi, pre-80s-sf
“It was daunting, also, to me as a novelist. To invent a radically different sexual physiology and behaviour, not just as a speculation, but embodied in a novel, a story about people – people who most of the time were quite sexless but went into heat once a month, one time as a woman another time as a man? To get into the hearts and minds of such strange beings, bring them to being as characters – that would take some skill, not to mention chutzpah.”

So says SF legend, Ms. Ursula K. Le Guin, in h
...more
Jason Pettus
Jul 13, 2008 Jason Pettus rated it it was amazing
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted here illegally.)

The CCLaP 100: In which I read for the first time a hundred so-called "classics," then write reports on whether or not they deserve the label
Book #18: The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K Le Guin (1969)

The story in a nutshell:
A highly unusual and controversial book at the time of its release (but mo
...more
Lit Bug
Oct 04, 2013 Lit Bug rated it really liked it
What is the first thing we ask when a child is born? - GENDER

The six-letter word, not the three-letter word "sex" of the child - because gender involves our perception of what the child will be, our expectations of what roles the child will perform in the future - the life of the child is determined right away when we ask this question. As Judith Butler puts it, Gender is Performance.

But imagine a world where genders can be changed at will - an androgynous world where humans remain in neuter g
...more
Aubrey
I hated the harsh, intricate, obstinate demands that he made on me in the name of life.
4.5/5

This is no The Dispossessed, a judgment equal parts quality of the work and personal taste of the reader, unfair and yet true if one keeps in mind that, regardless of individual ratings, I regard Le Guin as a gift to literature. Plenty are the authors who forge ahead with little regard for the reader, nearly ubiquitous are the ones who stay stolidly put in the kiddy pool out of want and necessity, leavi
...more
J.
Jan 04, 2008 J. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in-new-york
This book is a science fiction classic. To fans of feminist and political science fiction, it is more than a classic - it is a touchstone, a founding document, a rallying post.

It follows Genly Ai, an envoy from the Ekumen (a perhaps-utopian union of worlds) to the planet Gethen, where the entire habitable zone of the planet has a climate at the extreme cold end of human tolerance - and where Gethenian natives lack biological sex and gender, but can unpredictably develop either male or female app
...more
Stuart
The Left Hand of Darkness: Brilliant depiction of an androgynous society on a frozen planet
Originally published at Fantasy Literature
The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), part of THE HAINISH CYCLE, won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best SF Novel, and is well known as one of the first books in the genre to intelligently explore the nature of gender and identity. Ursula K. LeGuin is a highly respected writer known for her anthropological and humanistic approach to SF, and her presence has attrac
...more
Tatiana
Mar 03, 2010 Tatiana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of quality sc-fi, people who like to think
Shelves: sci-fi, 2010, favorites, nebula
As seen on The Readventurer

"The Left Hand of Darkness" turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise for me. I do not read science fiction often and had to abandon my last attempt ("The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy") for its utter stupidity, but this book was a sci-fi of a completely different sort. It wasn't just another novel about green aliens or space travel, it was an extremely clever and deep exploration of gender.

Genly Ai is an emissary of the Ekumen (a union of human worlds) to planet Geth
...more
Cassy
I generally visualize a book as a scale. An old fashioned scale like the one Lady Justice holds. On left side, you found the academic merits: concept, structure, significance. On the right side is the entertainment value. My goal is to find a well-balanced book that keeps me turning the page yet leaves me feeling full and even a little cocky. Sometimes I am in the mood for an unbalanced book. But if the scale is fully tilted to the left (supposedly genius but unreadable or boring) or to the righ ...more
Nandakishore Varma
This is a pioneering work of science fiction. It is not space opera; it is not the hard SF of Asimov and Clarke which shows the impact of the science of the future on society; and it is not a fantasy where the scientific framework is used just as a convenient backdrop for the author to air her ideas. Ursula K. LeGuin explores deep questions of gender, about what it means to be a male or female, by creating a society of androgynous individuals, who take on male/ female sexual characteristics only ...more
Jerzy
Dec 27, 2007 Jerzy rated it really liked it
This is definitely not a space opera about rockets and robots; nor, despite some reviews, does it seem very "feminist" to me.

It's just a brilliant novel about people, relationships, and desires, a thought-experiment that leads to lots of insights about deep topics:
The impact of gender differences on human cultures. The ethnographer's role as a student, diplomat, or missionary, and difficulties of being alone in a foreign culture. Hospitality and honesty in harsh climates. Fear, deception, and mi
...more
Zanna
I'll make my report as if I were telling a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination

I didn't want this book to end. I so badly wanted to stay on Gethen, Winter, the frozen planet, (although I suffer cold weather with ill grace, and miss my family at 3 hours' distance). Like Octavia Butler, Le Guin makes worlds I can't bear to leave, even when they are harsh or hostile. Of course, the magnetism is all in the telling. In this edition's introductio
...more
Negativni
Počelo je s vrlo malo znanstvene fantastike, više kao putopisni roman.

Izaslanik Ekumene, vijeća koje kontrolira Galaktiku, dolazi na planet Geten (ili Zimu kako su planet nazvali istraživači), da nagovori stanovništvo da se priključi njihovoj federaciji. Sam planet su nazvali Zima, jer planet tek izlazi iz ledenog doba i klima je hladna. Slabo je naseljen i podjeljen na male državice. Stupanj razvoja je, kako sam ga ja zamislio: srednjevjekovna Europa, ali sa električnim automobilima, radio prij
...more
Jim
Oct 21, 2014 Jim rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've tried to read this several times over the years. While I loved her Earth Sea trilogy, The Lathe of Heaven & several other books including 2 earlier ones in this series, I could never get into this one, so I decided to listen to it. Never loved it, barely got through it, still I gave it 3 stars because it finally gets around to making a decent story. Really it's more of a 2.5 star read, though.

I think this is the correct edition, although I downloaded it from the library, it sounds like
...more
BrokenTune
Jun 11, 2016 BrokenTune rated it it was ok
Shelves: reviewed
"The old days or the new times, somer or kemmer, love is love."

Ok, so I really have mixed feelings about this book. I really liked the, for its time, daring message and play on gender and roles, and the journey that the characters go on, but I really could not get invested in the characters or the story.

The setting and use of words that are obviously "other-worldly" made me feel alien to the story, which I guess is part of the books point. It kept me from wanting to follow the subtleties in the
...more
Hadrian
Feb 16, 2014 Hadrian rated it really liked it
Shelves: scifi, fiction
The Left Hand of Darkness is the sort of book which realizes the great promise of science fiction. It explores the meaning of the human condition in new and untested ways, and it creates worlds far different than many of us have ever known. Yet it all seems so familiar and profoundly real.

William Thomas
Jan 21, 2011 William Thomas rated it it was ok

Try as i might, I just could not become deeply involved in this book. I wanted to enjoy it as I enjoy Leguin's personal philosophy as a feminist and anarchist, but the prose was so dry it just broke on every page without the fluidity of a master storyteller. Severely disappointing. I could not have cared less for any of the characters or for the mythology.

There was, however, a break in the story where a fable/myth is introduced to the reader. This... this was what I wanted. IT was as heartbreaka
...more
Jennifer (aka EM)
This is not a review, so much as a connected set of observations about this novel. All of these comments are merely thoughts that went through my mind as I became aware of what was missing, what seemed odd, in this otherwise rich and compelling tale, governed by the overarching question in my mind about how UKL would write this, were she writing it in 2012.

First, by way of caveat, I've read only one other UKL novel -- A Wizard of Earthsea -- and that was more than 25 years ago in what was known
...more
Rebecca Watson
Apr 30, 2013 Rebecca Watson rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
I really, really enjoyed this and was sad when it ended. Le Guin has a great way with words, and her use of metaphor makes for a rich experience. Ironically, though, my one criticism involves semantics: this is a story about a world with no established gender amongst humanoids. And yet, she consistently uses the masculine pronouns and "man" to describe them. She hangs a lampshade on this early on in the book, quoting from a field report in which a woman (a human from earth) laments the lack of a ...more
K
Oct 17, 2009 K rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: sci-fi fans who are way, way, smarter than I am
Recommended to K by: Dena Udren
"Lord help me, I'm just not that bright." (Homer Simpson)

Lots of people have raved about this book, including my friend Dena who read it for a class she took in Science Fiction at U of M. Although I'm not usually a sci-fi fan, I figured I'd try it, especially since she was offering to lend it to me and a free English book is not something you turn down easily in Israel.

I tried. Really, I did. I gave it way, way more than the usual 50 pages I force myself to read before judging a book -- I final
...more
Jon
I believe if I had read this back in the 70s or even early 80s, it probably would have wowed me. But now, in the 21st century, it was an interesting sociological study of androgyny, but gave me a headache towards the end.

Unfortunately, I never really became attached to the characters - Genly Ai, the Envoy from the Ekumen (and a Terran, born on Earth) nor with Estraven.
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As of 2013, Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. Forthcoming ...more
More about Ursula K. Le Guin...

Other Books in the Series

Hainish Cycle (8 books)
  • The Dispossessed
  • The Word for World is Forest
  • Rocannon's World
  • Planet of Exile
  • City of Illusions
  • Four Ways to Forgiveness
  • The Telling (Hainish Cycle #8)

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