Tatiana's Reviews > The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
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it was amazing
bookshelves: 2010, sci-fi, favorites, nebula
Recommended for: fans of quality sc-fi, people who like to think

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"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 Gethen, or Winter (called so for its extremely cold climate). His mission is to convince inhabitants of the world to join the rest of humanity in exchange of ideas and technology. However Genly is met with some reserve as the decision to join is hindered by alien to him intricacies of Gethenian politics and culture. What makes Gethen so unique and thus so hard for Ai to understand is that it is inhibited by the race of ambisexual (hermaphroditic) beings. All Gethenians have an ability to be both male and female. Most of the time their sexualities lay dormant and awaken only a few days a month during a period called kemmer (mating period). At the time of kemmer each Gethenian can become either male or female. The choice of gender is always incidental. Between the kemmers Gethenians are asexual. This sexual peculiarity makes Gethen quite a subdued race - its inhabitants are not assigned any gender roles, they are not sexually driven or sexually frustrated, they are less violent and ambitious. As the story progresses, Genly learns to understand this strange world a little better and even finds love.

I was extremely impressed by Le Guin's imagination. The world of Gethen was thoroughly detailed and very well realized. Everything about Gethen - the direct effects of Winter's climate and Gethenians' ambisexuality on the social and political order, science, philosophy and even folklore - were developed in the most remarkable way. I was also amazed at how skillfully Le Guin presented romance in the story, because as you can imagine a love story between a man and an ambisexual being (or between two ambisexuals) can go horribly wrong in less talented hands.

My only reservation about the book was the language. It took a few chapters to get used to a huge amount of Gethenian words, names and concepts. At times I had to reread some passages to understand them, because they seemed a little too densely written (my recent obsession with YA literature might be blamed for the softness of my brain too I suppose). But this wasn't so overwhelming as to spoil the reading experience for me.

Highly recommended to those who enjoys quality science fiction.
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Reading Progress

January 4, 2010 – Shelved
February 27, 2010 – Started Reading
February 27, 2010 –
page 55
16.67%
February 28, 2010 –
page 110
33.33%
February 28, 2010 – Shelved as: 2010
February 28, 2010 – Shelved as: sci-fi
February 28, 2010 – Shelved as: favorites
February 28, 2010 – Finished Reading
October 3, 2010 – Shelved as: nebula

Comments Showing 1-13 of 13 (13 new)

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namekuseijin HHGG is satire, not scifi -- and gorgeous one at that. I won't ever tire of pointing that out.


unknown that kind of threw me too... hitchhiker's is sci-fi, i suppose, but only nominally. the plot is supposed to be silly and stupid.


Tatiana Half of my GR friends have it shelved under SF, so I guess I was misled. Either way, I couldn't stand that book. Not my favorite kind of stupid I guess.


unknown The silliness is definitely an acquired taste. It is sort of scifi but mostly that's just the setting for the humor. I wouldn't use it as any kind of signifier of the genre is what I'm saying.


Tatiana My excuse I guess is that I have been out of touch with SF for many years. My youthful SF obsession was interrupted by equally strong obsession with bodice-rippers. I am only now coming back to the genre:)


namekuseijin Joel wrote: "that kind of threw me too... hitchhiker's is sci-fi, i suppose, but only nominally. the plot is supposed to be silly and stupid."

not silly, nor stupid. Plot's just a second hand device to the very witty satire on human stupidity in all its forms.


message 7: by Ken (new)

Ken Could not agree with you more re the hitchhiker's GG being utterly stupid.


Tracy I couldn't get HHGG either. Tried reading it years ago, never finished it.


Tracy Oh and awesome review.


Ivana nice review


Cecily Maybe it's easier to love Hitchhiker's if you're a Brit? Personally, I would label it comedy sci-fi, which is a fairly small category.

The odd thing is, one of the reasons I didn't like Left Hand is that I didn't really think it was sci-fi enough: part political intrigue and part boys-own adventure in an inhospitable climate.


message 12: by Jamie (new) - added it

Jamie Dacyczyn I've read HHGG, but it's not my style of humor. Too obvious that it's just trying to be silly, I guess?


message 13: by April (new)

April I loved the silly witty comedy of the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy's complete and unabridged series and you don't have to be a "Brit" you simply have to have a sense of humor.


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