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The Left Hand of Darkness

(Hainish Cycle)

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  151,870 ratings  ·  12,365 reviews
Alternate cover edition for ISBN: 9780441478125

On the planet Winter, there is no gender. The Gethenians can become male or female during each mating cycle, and this is something that humans find incomprehensible.

The Ekumen of Known Worlds has sent an ethnologist to study the Gethenians on their forbidding, ice-bound world. At first he finds his subjects difficult and off-p
Paperback, 330 pages
Published December 2010 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 bu…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)
Ivan All books in Hainish cycle are standalone and can be read in any order.
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2021: At this point it’s hard for me to even imagine that just a decade ago I was reading Ursula K. Le Guin for the first time. This book overwhelmed me with how good it was, and how different it ended up from what I expected. Le Guin’s measured and contemplative anthropological science fiction was so incredibly memorable in how it presents the world, challenges the assumptions and reaffirms essential humanity of all of us that it touched my very soul and probably changed something in me forever ...more
Emily May
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, sci-fi, 2018
“I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.”

I can't say why it's taken me so many years to finally get to The Left Hand of Darkness. Perhaps because every time I passed it in a bookstore or library it looked like a typical dated 1960s sci-fi novel. But it is so much more than that.

This book is quite astonishing. Hannah Gadsby has made me reluctant to say "ahead of its time" but if any book is ahead of its
Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, owned
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
chai ♡
Bro, I’m literally crying. RTC
“If civilization has an opposite, it is war.”

In the nascent days of summer, I read a book that I can’t stop thinking about and can’t stop recommending. I’m stirring from my Goodreads silence to tell you about this book, Left Hand of Darkness, by the late Ursula K. Le Guin. Written in 1969 and the winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, this book is just as relevant and important today as it was when it first hit the shelves. Left Hand of Darkness is a gorgeous sci-fi novel of political intrig
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
Leonard Gaya
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
It took me a few minutes to get a grip on myself after finishing this novel. The Left Hand of Darkness is a fantastic book. It has the quaint flavour of the old sci-fi novels, especially reminiscent of Asimov’s Foundation series (it’s just way better!), Frank Herbert’s Dune, and the Star Trek TV series (released at around the same time as Le Guin’s novel).

This book was published shortly after A Wizard of Earthsea, and both novels are similar in many ways. Both contain the same world-building tro
Nov 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 theme of the story, but there is so much more to fascinate the reader. Le Guin has demonstrated again how she can crea
Aug 12, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2022, sci-fi
“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.”

The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary sent to Gethen (Winter), an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must embrace the aspects of psychology, society, and h
May 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Challenge of Sex

Sex is awkward no matter how you look at it - arguably yet another design flaw in our species. Solo sex is likely to be unsatisfying. Straight sex is fraught with gendered miscommunication. Gay sex presents serious reproductive issues. Transgender sex is... well, complicated. And all those don't even consider the morass of multiple simultaneous partners. But Ursula la/le Guin introduces a whole new level of awkwardness in her ambisexual humanoid aliens who shift gender monthl
Sean Barrs
“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.”


This was written in the sixties, though it feels like it was written yesterday. Ursula K. Le Guin creates a vivid culture of ambisexual humanoids that come with a detailed history and culture. And it is truly fascinating to read about because such discussions and representations of gender and sex are str
Dr. Appu Sasidharan

Ursula K. Le Guin tells us the story of Genly Ai, a human native of Terra, who is sent to the planet of Gethen as an envoy of the Ekumen. Ekumen is a confederation of several planets. Genly is sent to convince all the nations of Goethe's to join the Ekumen. The ambisexual nature of the people of Gethen confuses Genly and becomes a hindrance in carrying out his duty. The world-building and how the characters of Genly and Estraven are portrayed are all done in a spectacular way.

If you are new
May 07, 2022 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

'As Pythagoras knew, the god may speak in the forms of geometry as well as in the shapes of dreams; in the harmony of pure thought as well as in the harmony of sounds; in numbers as well as in words.'

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

"The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next."
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
Aug 12, 2010 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
Ian "Marvin" 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
May 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sublime in tone and voice. There’s not a superfluous line in it. Beautiful.

Mr. Ai is 17 light years from the nearest planet affiliated with his interstellar league, Ekumen. Karhide is a monarchy on the frozen planet of Gethen. Ai has come to Karhide on a diplomatic mission and has found a receptive ear in Estraven, the prime minister. The novel has a Gothic feel but soon hints of palace intrigue. Sure enough, before you can whistle Dixie, Estraven falls from royal favor. The king it turns out is
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
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.
Is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness only a science fiction story? Far from it, and that is why I enjoyed it so much. Oh, I like reading science-fiction, sometimes just for the entertainment of it. But this goes much beyond that. Different from some reviews, for me it did not seem a feminist advocacy. I would venture and say it is an anti-prejudice assertion. It is just a b
Aug 30, 2014 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 writes humanistic science fiction, focused on creating unusual social models and analyzing living in them people. That way The Left Hand of Darkness can ...more
This is a very special book to me. "The Left Hand of Darkness" is the book that made me realize that science-fiction (or speculative fiction, or whatever you want to call it) is about so much more than spaceships and aliens, that you can use those tropes to shock your readers into thinking about things that would not have occured to them otherwise, that you can use those wild settings to tweak their perspective on otherwise familiar issues. This book is considered a landmark both in sci-fi and i ...more
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.”

This book will really make you think. It will make you consider what it means to be male versus female, and what it means to be human. How do we bridge the gap in differences among cultures and race? How do we learn to trust and earn friendship and love? What does love of one’s country mean?

Charged with the
Bionic Jean
Ursula K. Le Guin was an extraordinary writer. Always questioning and challenging boundaries, she loved paradoxes. Her novels are a blend of anthropology, social psychology, and beautiful prose. She treated each story she wrote as a vehicle to explore complex, often difficult subjects, calling them “thought experiments” which presuppose some changes to the world, and probes their consequences.

“I am not predicting, or prescribing,” she wrote, “I am describing.”

The Left Hand of Darkness was first
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pre-80s-sf, sci-fi
“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
Matt Quann
It has been a bit of a personal project of for the past year or so to sample from the classics of the sci-fi genre. It’s not that I think modern sci-fi is undesirable—indeed, I’m a huge fan—rather, there is a lot of reward in visiting trends in sci-fi from other times, seeing the foundations of modern sci-fi, and having a base understanding of the language of science fiction. Sci-fi is endlessly self-referential and to be well versed in the genre it is almost a requirement that certain books be ...more
Books with Brittany
I just need to sit and think. And reread possibly. I really didn’t expect that I’d enjoy this book so much (even half way through). By the end it completely won me over. The ideas and themes presented give us so much to contemplate.
I’m so glad this was the first read I’ve completed by Ursula K Le Guin. Looking forward to more in the future.
Jan 31, 2016 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 th
This is going to be an unpopular opinion, most likely, and contain a lot of ranting and criticism of a "classic". Not really spoilery stuff though, because I didn't get that far, and didn't actually see much story to speak of. So... yeah. Here we go. My review likely will be longer than the amount of book I read. Figures.

I have had this book on my shelf for just about 5 years. I've lugged it with me through 2 separate house moves, and it's made the cut during all of the countless purges and reo
"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
The Left Hand of Darkness was first published in 1969. But I must have read it for the first time about three decades after its publication, and I would have never suspected it haven’t been written but a few months before.

Since that first reading, I have come back to this novel many times, and it always surprises me how something happening in the world at the moment I start reading feels deeply linked to Ursula Le Guin’s words here.

The premise of the book is as simple as its development is vast
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Ursula K. Le Guin 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. She lived in Portland, Orego ...more

Other books in the series

Hainish Cycle (9 books)
  • Rocannon's World (Hainish Cycle, #1)
  • Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle, #2)
  • City of Illusions (Hainish Cycle, #3)
  • The Word for World Is Forest (Hainish Cycle, #5)
  • The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #6)
  • Four Ways to Forgiveness (Hainish Cycle, #7)
  • The Telling (Hainish Cycle, #8)
  • The Birthday of the World and Other Stories (Hainish Cycle, #9)

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