The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4)
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The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #4)

4.01 of 5 stars 4.01  ·  rating details  ·  35,930 ratings  ·  2,244 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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Community Reviews

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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 respected
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
Ian [Paganus de] Graye
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
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
Jason Pettus
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography []. 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
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
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
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, but is part political intrigue and part boys-own adventure in an inhospitable climate. The setting is another planet in the future, but right from the start, mentions of rain and reign contributed to the non-sci-fi feel.

There were some some fascinating ideas, but I felt...more
Lit Bug
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 ge...more
Mar 03, 2010 Tatiana rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: fans of quality sc-fi, people who like to think
Shelves: 2010, sci-fi, 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
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
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
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.
Megan Baxter
I want very desperately to see what others have seen in this book. I reread it this month to find out if I had just missed things on first readings, if my frustrations and disappointments and distance would fade away on a second visit.

But no. I remain disappointed. I continue to think that this book tries valiantly at something very difficult and amazing, and fails. I am not grabbed by the characters. Goodness knows I want to be. I loved The Dispossessed. Why don't I love this?

It's a very lonely...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
William Thomas

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
Rebecca Watson
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
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.

Raeden Zen
Philosophical, Lyrical, and Thought-Provoking

“It is good to have an end to journey towards; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

In Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic, “The Left Hand of Darkness,” no phrase is truer than the one above told to us by Genly “Genry” Ai, an Envoy of the Ekumen. (The Ekumen being the eighty-three world collective he represented to an alien humanity on the planet Winter, aka, Gethen in the local language.) His journey began in the country known as Karhide, where he...more
As with almost everything else, my reactions to books vacillate between paeans written/sung/danced to in embarrassing earnestness and ardour and a disdain that no amount of reason can dislodge. This is probably the first time my “left-brain”-ish reaction to a book registered several notches more strongly than my emotional/visceral one. Or registered at all. Maybe this is the first time I have been able to look at a book from my cerebellum rather than the purely knee-jerk(heart-jerk?)reaction tha...more
Oct 17, 2009 K rated it 1 of 5 stars 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
Nov 04, 2012 Katy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: anyone
Recommended to Katy by: Nataliya
Book Info: Genre: Science Fiction
Reading Level: Adult
Recommended for: Anyone, especially those interested in gender roles.

Please Note: I picked up a used copy of this after reading Nataliya’s review on Goodreads. All opinions are my own.

Synopsis: 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 tho...more
Here are signs that I won't like a book:

- Everyone and everywhere has made-up sounding names.
- There are tankards of ale.

In other words, I don't like fantasy books.

But because I am...what? A jackass? I am trying to submit to this book and cast away my prejudices and just enjoy what this is, and it's...oh, whatever, it's fine I guess. It's very fantasyish. And it's got a little to say about feminism, of course: the big idea here is that the protagonist is a stranger in a strange land where everyo...more
Reread this for my SF/F class on Coursera. I loved it more, this time: read it slowly, appreciated the details, just as the professor suggested. Partially because, of course, I knew it would be rewarding with Ursula Le Guin. I don't think I was ready for this book when I read it before: the fierce joy and love in some parts of it, the devastation, the making-strange of familiar things and the making familiar of strange things.

Some parts were... maybe less subtle than I thought Le Guin would be....more
Ben Babcock
There are many flavours to science fiction, something that omnivorous readers adore and sceptics of sci-fi" forget. Not all science fiction is Star Wars, with action heroes, fast ships, and big guns (or, you know, swords). Not that there's anything wrong with those stories--but those who pan The Left Hand of Darkness for lacking such things tend to miss the point. It's not supposed to be like those stories; instead, it is a highly-faceted intellectual gem.

So much science fiction and fantasy take...more
4.0 to 4.5 stars. A classic worthy of the name. Set in the Hainish universe created by Le Guin, it centers around a missionary named Genly Ai who is sent by the Ekumen (the galactic federation of worlds ) to determine whether the planet Gethen should be brought into the Ekumen. That is only the framework of this hauntingly beautiful story of personal discovery and an expolration of the meaning of gender and sexuality.

Winner: Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction Award (1970)
Winner: Nebula Award f...more
Nov 18, 2011 Wastrel rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Those seeking quiet, highly imaginative literary sociological SF
Shelves: reviewed, z-tbd, brilliant

Le Guin's masterpiece combines a serious sociological exploration with a tense, slow-burning, paranoid political... well, "thriller" would be misleading as it isn't all that thrilling, but "a novel of suspense" would be fair. With an adventure element. All told with bright clean prose and confident command of structure (the novel takes the form of first-person narrative by one character, interspersed with diary entries from another, and with a number of myths and fables and history tales).

This is the first "soft SF" book I've read, and perhaps the softer side is what I prefer. One of my chief complaints about "hard" science fiction is the lack of character development, and the intense focus on . . . well. . . the science of it. Frankly, I've always been more interested in characters. This book is about characters.

The story follows an ambassador to the planet Winter. The ambassador is human, but the people of Winter are androgynous- they are neither male nor female until Kemmer, a...more
Shannon (Giraffe Days)
Genly Ai is an envoy, a messenger from the Ekumen, a community of worlds peacefully trading with each other. The young man is an envoy to a new world they call Winter, which the inhabitants call Gethen. Even as a world among many different worlds, Gethen is unique. Still locked in its Ice Age, the people are what could be a long-abandoned experiment: they are asexual, neither male nor female, but both female and male. Every twenty-six days they individually enter a state called "kemmer", during...more
Aug 08, 2007 Zweegas rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: people who are really into sci-fi
Okay, I admit that on July 16 this book was due back at the library and I returned it thinking I could go back and finish it sometime within the next week but that never happened.

If I ever do pick it up again (which I might do just because I like to finish what I start and not because I really care whether the characters make it across), I'll start with chapter 19: Homecoming. It's not that I didn't like the book or that it's not good, it's just that it wasn't fun for me to read (especially in s...more
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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...
A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3) The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle, #2) The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #5) The Lathe of Heaven

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“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” 189 likes
“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.” 182 likes
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