Pam's Reviews > The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
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really liked it
bookshelves: hainish-cycle, science-fiction

Gethen is an inhospitable alien world in the middle of an Ice Age. It is so cold that the people of Earth and the Ekumen (a kind of league of planets) call it "Winter". But Gethen's climate is not its defining or most interesting characteristic.

The people of Gethen are, for most of the time, sexless. They go through a period of heat each month, where they either turn male or female depending on the circumstances. One person can become male one month, and female the next. This society, where there is no distinction between sexes, says a lot about how the real world places undeserved importance to one sex over the other.

But while equality between men and women is one of the most important issues to me, that isn't the most interesting part of this book either.

In this universe, planets have formed an organization called the Ekumen that allows them to communicate and learn each other's cultures. This takes into consideration the fact that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, and recalls the worlds in The Dispossessed and how the sequency-simultaneity principle was discovered in that story.

Gethen is a planet at the edge of the Ekumenical worlds, where a lone emissary is sent to invite the Gethenians to join the Ekumen. For the most part, the people of Gethen go on with their lives, with "quaint" concepts of national patriotism and border disputes. For one person, the arrival of the emissary prompts them to reconsider what it means to love their country. To me, that was a very profound realization, and it's something that everyone on Earth should come around to. It reminded me of a Christiaan Huygens' quote:

"The world is my country, science my religion".

I'm not going to talk about the second part of that statement, or I'll never shut up. But the first part is something that I've stood by for a while now. I absolutely hate the concept of patriotism, and how children are taught that it's an admirable virtue. (It isn't. People should answer to the world, not to a country or a national government.)

I greatly appreciate how that type of national loyalty is deconstructed in this novel. I think a lot of critics praise this book for how it deconstructs gender roles, but what really hit me about this novel is how it gives the meaning to that quote about borders not being visible from space.

The nations of Gethen needed to look past their borders. The same thing could be said of Earth in the real world.

(PS: I could go on about the concepts of duality in this novel, which seems to be a recurring theme in Le Guin's Hainish Cycle but I'm sure it's been done before and I'm lazy.

PPS: The Left Hand of Darkness is quite short, but the world of Gethen is very well constructed. It has its own calendar system, myths and folktales, and culture and way of life, all affected by the endless winter of the world.

PPPS: Ursula Le Guin is a genius. If someone asks me who my favorite authors are, Ursula Le Guin would be right at the top with J.K. Rowling and Margaret Atwood.)
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 24, 2015 – Finished Reading
February 2, 2015 – Shelved
June 14, 2016 – Shelved as: hainish-cycle
June 14, 2016 – Shelved as: science-fiction

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