Scott'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: 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. The story concerns Genly Ai, an emissary from an interstellar alliance of worlds who has been sent to a near-perpetually frozen world called Gethen. His goal is to get them to join the federation. Yeah, the locals, while human, are androgynous and have a monthly period where they come into sexual potency and can become male or female as the need arises. Yeah, they think we’re weird because we’re ‘in rut’ all the time, and because we’re consistently male or female, but this is background. Colour. Spice. There's little violence and there’s no sex. (Suddenly a roar downs out the voices of the Amygdala and Cerebral Cortex)

Lizard brain: SEX! SEX! EAT! SEX! SEEEEEEX!!!!!

(As the roar dies away embarrassed silence emanates from the rest of the brain until the Cortex quietly speaks again.)

CC: Ok, let’s try not to mention any of the trigger words that might set the old grey crocodile off. (The Cerebral Cortex sighs, and speaks again at normal volume) Anyway, this is not a book concerned with T+A.

A: Of course not, but the underlying concept, and the themes that LeGuin plays with are very much about ah… gender, and relations, and the ways these things can influence a society and the individuals in it.

CC: Hmmm… yes, OK. Go on.

A: She sets up a world where the lack of permanent gender has resulted in no wars, no rape, and no gender discrimination. There’s still violence, but it’s low level and sporadic, nothing like the millions-dead-in-the-trenches society we live in, and she brings a man from our culture into this world so that we can see it from our own gendered perspective.

CC: OK, yes, I see it now. It’s a thought experiment of a sort- what would society be like if there were no fixed genders, no ‘male’ and ‘female’ with the attendant discrimination and roles that come with them?

A: That’s it. And she’s written a fantastic, engaging, sensitive story around it – I suspect that’s what led you astray, my cerebral colleague.

CC: I daresay you’re right. There's nothing like sensitivity and emotions to throw me off the scent. It’s amazing that Le Guin wrote this in 1969. With the rise of transgender rights it seems more relevant than ever. Still, I’m not convinced that a society without fixed gender and ever-present sex drive would be less warlike.

A: Neither am I. some of humanity’s greatest artist achievements have come from the sex… (The Amygdala is interrupted by another thundering roar)


(Embarrassed silence falls over the brain again.)

CC: Perhaps Le Guin has a point.
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Reading Progress

November 11, 2018 – Started Reading
November 11, 2018 – Shelved
November 22, 2018 – Shelved as: science-fiction
November 22, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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Scott So far this is very cool - an intriguing story set on a unique and convincing world.

Michael lizard brain is frozen on this world...

Scott the gift wrote: "lizard brain is frozen on this world..." Haha, yes, perhaps Gethen is simply too cold a place for the lizard brain and it's demands. Using up valuable calories on having crushes and chasing ladies (or men) might not be a good survival strategy on an ice planet!

message 4: by Lex (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lex Poot I recall reading the book several years ago. I thought it was a highly original story. Definitely made me think about gender roles.

Scott Lex wrote: "I recall reading the book several years ago. I thought it was a highly original story. Definitely made me think about gender roles." It did the same for me. It's a real original, and quite unlike any other SF I've read.

Monica Heh!! Great review!!

Scott Monica wrote: "Heh!! Great review!!" Thanks Monica! I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

message 8: by Mark (new)

Mark Well written, sir!

Scott Mark wrote: "Well written, sir!"
Thanks Mark :)

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