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The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4)
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Ursula K LeGuin Collection > The Left Hand of Darkness - Spoiler

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message 1: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bob | 4913 comments Mod
This thread is for a full discussion of our December 2018 New School Group Read selection, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Discuss any spoilers in this thread.


Laurie | 1631 comments I finished this today, and while the premise is interesting, it didn't grab me the way I hoped. An envoy from an interstellar union of planets attempting to convince the people of a planet to join with them when the people of Winter, an apt nickname, are unaware they are not alone in the universe sounds so intriguing. And for the Winter populous to be a genderless species is doubly interesting. If only the book which sounded so promising was as great as the anticipation. I think this is a case of it's me, not the book that is at fault. I am not a huge sci-fi fan. Plus I read The Dispossessed by Le Guin earlier this year and was blown away. So my expectations were too high going in to reading TLHoD.

I kind of plodded through the first half trying to figure out what some of the terminology meant and trying to keep the characters straight. I did not go quickly because it was kind of a struggle. Then I got halfway through and, eureka, a major turn in the plot which interested me and I raced to the end. Once (view spoiler). The whole second half was worth reading the book even though this only received 3 stars from me.


Carlo | 206 comments It was a bit different for me- I actually preferred the first half of the book. Once they started plodding around the ice planet it reminded me of those boring fantasy novels where the protagonist is on a journey and we have lots of descriptions of the scenery and weather.

I agree it was a good book but not amazing. I hoped for some more political intrigue. The whole androgynous/gender aspect was interesting, but after the author had described the idea i was left wondering if any issues had really been addressed in any meaningful way, or if it had just been put out there for the reader to contemplate. A bit harsh maybe considering the book was ahead of its time, but after all the hype I was expecting a bit more.


message 4: by Sam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sam | 19 comments The book was not my preferred science fiction--I like stories set closer in the future that can be rendered more believable--Margaret Atwood's Madaddam Trilogy perhaps is my all-time favorite. And it seems pretty dated. But--putting it in the context of being published in 1969 and the gender issues it tackled--it is groundbreaking science fiction and I can understand why it won the Hugo and Nebula awards! I bet this book is on some gender studies syllabi. Like others, it took me a little awhile to get into the story--I grow tired of having to learn a bunch of definitions and jargon in order to follow a story. But I did get sucked into the story and relationship between Estravan and Ai on their journey.


Pink | 6556 comments Same here Sam. This isn’t my preferred reading genre, but I found the themes quite interesting.

The ice journey parts reminded me of Frankenstein. Did anyone else get this feeling?


Laurie | 1631 comments Yes, I absolutely felt a similarity to Frankenstein in the trek across the ice.


message 7: by Sam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sam | 19 comments Pink wrote: "Same here Sam. This isn’t my preferred reading genre, but I found the themes quite interesting.

The ice journey parts reminded me of Frankenstein. Did anyone else get this feeling?"


Oh, hadn't thought of that!


message 8: by Bob, Short Story Classics (new) - rated it 3 stars

Bob | 4913 comments Mod
I finished last night. It started out slow and somewhat boring. If not for encouragement from others I would have abandoned it and added another to the DNF shelf.

Overall I am glad I finished it, the second half was much better than the first. I also agree that this story was not what I was expecting, but sic-fi isn't my most preferred genre.


Terris | 2425 comments Bob wrote: "I finished last night. It started out slow and somewhat boring. If not for encouragement from others I would have abandoned it and added another to the DNF shelf.

Overall I am glad I finished it, ..."


I agree with all of that, Bob! I'm not big on sci-fi and I don't know if I would have gone ahead if not for the comments from this group. The book ended up giving me several interesting concepts to think about, even if I can't say that I actually enjoyed it ;)


message 10: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 627 comments This book is not conventional Sci Fi, in my opinion. I am a fan of the genre, and I see UKL as a unique voice with a different appeal than that of most SF writers, especially from the '60s.

I enjoy her books because of her interest in presenting ideas and dualities in a non-judgemental way. Her work is heavy on exploring themes and concepts, and light on character and action. I love it, but some find it cold and even boring.


message 11: by Jennifer (last edited Jan 03, 2019 09:07PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jennifer (goodreadscomjenniferediting) | 34 comments Because I was so disengaged with the first part of the book I may have missed this, but I didn't understand why Estraven heard his dead brother's voice when he first learns to mindspeak. I curious what people's thoughts are on this.


message 12: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (erinm31) | 609 comments Jennifer wrote: "Because I was so disengaged with the first part of the book I may have missed this, but I didn't understand why Estraven heard his dead brother's voice when he first learns to mindspeak. I curious ..."

I don’t think you missed anything; while there are hints regarding Estraven’s relationship with his brother, I believe much is left for the reader to fill in, including why Estraven heard Genly as his brother’s voice. Perhaps it was the level of connection, that the level of empathy that Estraven has reached with Genly had approached that which he had only before shared with his brother? Perhaps he often talked with his brother in his mind (here I don’t mean telepathically as we might hold imaginary conversations in mind), which I think his journal was also an extension of, and so when there actually was another voice in his head he heard or interpreted it as his brother’s.


message 13: by Erin (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (erinm31) | 609 comments Just finished and still processing my thoughts... I am very glad to have read it! I did not mind it starting slowly but was put off by the narrator’s characterization of what is “feminine.” It did not feel right to me that a character not only from an advanced enlightened society trained to be an ambassador to alien cultures would think that way. He admits to Estraven that he viewed women almost as an alien species (not his words but the meaning conveyed to me), and yet throughout he makes generalizations that range from offensively sexist to just nonsensical.

Many of the other characters I found quite interesting and I found myself finally pulled into the world and interested once in the Fastness. I also especially enjoyed the chapters written from Estraven’s POV and I really loved his character.

Another strength of the novel is the world-building, both in conception and execution. It feels like part of a real larger whole and conveyed naturally through the characters’ perspectives.

As to the issue of gender, I appreciate the portrayal of a world where that is stripped away and everyone is simply human, and the contrasts with bisexuality thought-provoking and, to be honest, for me at times disturbing and depressing. This probably reflects more on me... Do most people feel that gender is an essential part of their identity? Is it even, as Genly says, one of the most important defining aspects of a person? Clearly, it defines much in our world, but how much of that is integral as versus imposed from the outside? For myself, I have always found the definitions uncomfortable, but whether it is because the are too narrow or it is simply me who does not fit, I could not say. I find the idea of gender-fluidity, of being either at different times, but primarily and essentially being human, very appealing.


Laurie | 1631 comments Erin, I like the point you bring up about whether gender is an essential part of one's identity. I am sure it is different for everyone, with some feeling gender is unimportant and fluid while others feel it is one of the defining parts of themselves. I hate being boxed in as a white female which most people assume tells them all they need to know about me. While I identify as a cis gender woman, I agree with you that the idea of gender fluidity and simply identifying as human is appealing, and I wish our society was accepting of those who don't fit into traditional norms.


Nente | 779 comments I have just reread this (it took about three or four chapters to remember that I had actually read it already, some ten years ago in translation) - and found it a little disappointing. Sci-fi as a genre is fine for me; I didn't find anything to dislike; yet actively liking the book also proved impossible.
The gender question which is at the heart of the book felt a little strange: it seems that the ambassador from a super-enlightened entity already absorbing 80 worlds still has the 1960s attitudes towards women. Was that necessary for a meaningful discussion? I felt talked down to, much of the time: not trusted to make my own conclusions, but presented with them ready-made. Perhaps this is simply the effect of the book's age.


message 16: by Erin (last edited Feb 17, 2019 07:06AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (erinm31) | 609 comments Nente wrote: "I have just reread this (it took about three or four chapters to remember that I had actually read it already, some ten years ago in translation) - and found it a little disappointing. Sci-fi as a ..."

I agree with you about the narrator and I disliked the book at first until it moved beyond him constantly giving his nonsensical views on gender. I tried to imagine early on that somehow in his training and travels he’d hardly interacted with others, but then that didn’t seem to be the case either.


Michele | 1008 comments Erin, could you elaborate a bit on why "nonsensical" ?


message 18: by Erin (last edited Feb 17, 2019 07:05AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Erin (erinm31) | 609 comments Michele wrote: "Erin, could you elaborate a bit on why "nonsensical" ?"

It seemed to me that Genly viewed women almost as an alien species — I think he even says as much. Yet it seems evident that he’s worked with women — the leader of the landing party is a woman — and most people, Genly included, even have telepathic abilities, which should eliminate the “women are so unfathomable” notion if nothing else had.

Similarly, Genly repeatedly describes negative traits such as deceptiveness as feminine. Based on what? If one is going to generalize, deceptiveness seems a trait that would be common to politicians of any gender (Genly was making this observation of Estraven). My point is that Genly comes across as viewing woman as inferior, alien and largely relegated to child-rearing. All this does not make sense to me given what information we have on Genly’s background and training; he’s telepathic, has women on his first contact team, and he trained with humans beyond Homo sapiens, which should surely broaden one’s perspective on humanity.


Michele | 1008 comments Hm, good points...


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