Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)” as Want to Read:
The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle #6)
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Left Hand of Darkness

(Hainish Cycle #4)

by
4.06  ·  Rating details ·  98,938 ratings  ·  7,331 reviews
Genly Ai is an Envoy, a diplomat sent to make first contact with inhabited planets. Winter, a world locked in a perpetual ice age, is a particularly daunting challenge: its people are androgynous, only taking on male or female sexual characteristics during ‘kemmer’, a monthly period of change and arousal. Struggling to understand the intricacies of a society where anyone c ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published September 2018 by Folio Society (first published 1969)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Left Hand of Darkness, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
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)
Ivan All books in Hainish cycle are standalone and can be read in any order.
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  98,938 ratings  ·  7,331 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
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
Emily May
Oct 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily May by: Tatiana
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 ti
...more
Liz
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
...more
Lyn
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
...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
s.penkevich
“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
...more
Sean Barrs the Bookdragon
“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.”


description

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 strik
...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 "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
...more
Lizzy
Nov 14, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“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 bri
...more
BlackOxford
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
...more
William2
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
...more
Agnieszka
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
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 12, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: queer, sf
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
Markus
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 the
...more
Apatt
May 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽
Wow, there's a lot about this novel that I hadn't remembered. Like, basically the entire plot, other than the bare-bones outline.

I'm going to stick with 4 stars here. Review to come.

Initial post: Next up read from Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories.* This one I read back in my college days, so my memories of it are pretty hazy. The unusual sexuality of the people on the planet Gethen, or Winter -- sometimes androgynous, sometimes male, sometimes female -- has stuck with me, but th
...more
Jason Pettus
Jul 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(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
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
Jan-Maat
I bought this book in Canterbury in 2009 and read its description of two people struggling across an icy wilderness on a planet locked in an ice age sitting in an armchair in the middle of Summer and felt thoroughly chilled. I had read The Dispossessed first as a child and a couple of vague memories of it stayed with me until I picked up a copy and read it again. That experience prompted me to read The Left Hand of Darkness.

This is a short novel and a lot is packed into a few pages. The central
...more
Lit Bug
Jul 20, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Matthew 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
Tatiana
Jan 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of quality sc-fi, people who like to think
Shelves: nebula, sci-fi, favorites, 2010
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
Ashley Nuckles
I’m probably missing the whole gist of this book because it basically flew right over my head, but I’m sure if I read a few analyses of it I’d enjoy it more!
Bonnie Shores
DNF 😠 This book began by lecturing me—for just about 12 minutes—on what science fiction was/wasn't and telling me that authors are liars. Said lecture, imo, came off as pompous and wholly unnecessary. Although I already thought I hated it, I magnanimously decided to continue to Chapter 1. By 7:32 into the first chapter, which was narrated by what sounded to me like a very disinterested, very old man, I was done. I had downloaded this book a while back and it fit a challenge requirement, so I was ...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
Scott
Nov 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-fiction
This is my brain on Ursula Le Guin.

Amygdala: So. Sex and violence, huh?

Cerebral Cortex: Sorry, what? Where did that come from?

A: Well, we're reading The Left hand of Darkness aren't we?

CC: Yes, but this isn't some scantily-clad lady with a raygun, pew-pew-laserfest. This is a serious science fiction novel. You must have noticed that that we haven't had to hide the cover on the train. That's how serious it is.

A: Yes, but it's all about sex and violence.

CC: (sighs) Let’s look at this rationally. T
...more
Hadrian
Jun 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, scifi
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.

J.
Jan 04, 2008 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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Quantum Rose (Saga of the Skolian Empire, #6)
  • Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand
  • The Handmaid's Tale
  • Dreamsnake
  • Slow River
  • Her Smoke Rose Up Forever
  • A Case of Conscience (After Such Knowledge, #4)
  • Shadow Man
  • Cyteen (Cyteen, #1-3)
  • Stations of the Tide
  • A Time of Changes
  • The Snow Queen (The Snow Queen Cycle, #1)
  • China Mountain Zhang
  • Rite of Passage
  • Litany of the Long Sun (The Book of the Long Sun, #1-2)
  • Embassytown
  • More Than Human
  • Adulthood Rites (Xenogenesis, #2)
See similar books…
15,076 followers
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 (6 books)
  • Rocannon's World
  • Planet of Exile (Hainish Cycle #2)
  • City of Illusions
  • The Word for World is Forest
  • The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle #6)
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” 2708 likes
“To learn which questions are unanswerable, and not to answer them: this skill is most needful in times of stress and darkness.” 543 likes
More quotes…