The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Series)

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Series)

by Ursula K. Le Guin
4.2 44

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Left Hand of Darkness 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 44 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read this book at 14, when an older friend passed it on to me. Even then, I was awed by the powerful story, the relationship between the main characters, & the unique culture Ms. LeGuin created. Now in my 60s, I have read & reread this book many times, & still find some new subtlety every time I pick it up again. This is the book I would take with me to a desert island; it's complex, poetic & thoughtful. It's not a quick read & on to the next pleasure. It requires commitment & patience, as it takes its time to unfold & build. Gently Ai is a normal human man who has been sent to the planet Gethan on a mission to contact & study the local culture. In Ms. LeGuin's universe, Gethan is one of many experimental colonies deserted on their planet after undergoing genetic alteration. Although these people are human, they have been genetically altered in some way then left to evolve. In Gethen's case, the entire population is hermaphroditic, neither male nor female, but with the ability to become either sex. During most of their lives, the people are basically neutral, but they have regular cycles, called Kemmer, where a couple will take on the aspects of male and female to produce children. Anyone can become either gender during each Kemmer. The social organization that occurs because of this is completely unique. There are no instinctive gender attributes such as those which are present on our society, & each person is taken entirely at face value. For Genly Ai, this is very disconcerting, & he finds interaction with these people very uncomfortable. One of the high Government officials, a person named Estraven, attempts to help him & is not initially successful, because the two people's ways of thinking are so different. When Estraven's advice puts Ai in danger, Estraven risks everything to save him. Forced together by extreme circumstances & making a journey where only cooperation will save them, the two become friends, thus showing that peoples' differences, no matter how extreme, can be overcome by understanding. This is made all the more apparent by the fact that Ai is black, & that this is mentioned only in passing, as something unimportant (although in the 60s, when this book was written, it was very important indeed). This book's message of tolerance, understanding and even love between two very different people is even more relevant today, as we wrestle with racial & sexual issues in our own society & must learn, as Genly Ai must do, how to open our minds to that which is different ... & yet still basically the same. I wish you the same joy & wonder in reading this as I have.
Darkloom More than 1 year ago
Re-reading The Left Hand of Darkness, I realized how little I remembered it.  I'd first read it many years ago and, frankly, I was a different person then.  I doubt that the slow pace of the first two-thirds of the book bothered me then.  That style of writing had not yet gone out of favor.  I knew that it was considered a very special book, but I confess I probably had no idea why. Older now,I started the novel with high expectations and soon wondered why.  By the end, I knew why.  As someone else said in a review, it's a beautiful novel.  It's challenging in its scope. Le Guin knows how to create alien cultures, how to place a stranger within that culture and show how one, or more, can learn to live within it.   The story is about alienness, aloneness, and love.  Hatred and cruelty.Survival and death.  It's also so very much about living and learning. The people of Winter (Gethan in the local languages) know that an alien has arrived on their world, although not everyone accepts that he's from another world.  Genly Ai is from the Ekumenic and he has come to offer Winter membership in that union.  He first presents himself and his proposal to the leaders of Karhide and finds himself relying on the prime minister, Therem Harth rem ir Estraven.  Their relationship is more than testy.  They distrust each other, even though Estraven accepts Ai's claim and promotes his mission. However, Karhide, its leaders and people are nothing like what Ai is used to.  He makes mistakes, but even Estraven makes mistakes complicating matters. The two find themselves on the outside and eventually dependent on each other for survival.  This relationship gives us the true nature of the alienness between the two races.  As they work together each learns there are differences, some of which make things difficult, but there are also similarities. They are both human, after all.  Le Guin's Terrans often become more like the aliens they encounter than they are like their own people.  This transition can be beautiful, but it is also often painful.  She creates cultures so vividly that the reality of them is powerful when one is lost within the pages of her stories.
TY2 More than 1 year ago
I didn't expect to like this book, but it came to me highly recommended, so I gave it a try. I was rivetted. It's not just a science fiction novel, but a novel of human relationships. This is truely a classic piece of literature.
MaidMarion More than 1 year ago
It's not that the story is so fantastic on its own, it is how it makes you think about how we are so lashed into our male/female thinking. Everything in our world seems to be related to gender, and it really isn't a positive. While initially I thought how wierd, how awful, how ironic that "they" saw the normal male/female seperation as perveted, as the story concluded I began to see it from a different perspective. Le Guin managed to write a science fiction story that makes one look at reality in a new way. It definitely deserved the praise it recieved.
papicek More than 1 year ago
- Which is how I titled my Essentials List.

LeGuin has an uncanny ability to pack her prose with thought-provoking philosophical asides which still give me pause, as do her depictions of the intricacies of this utterly alien civilization. "The houses and islands and Hearths sit every which way, chaotic, in a profuse, prodigious confusion that suddenly culminates (as anarchy will do in Karhide) in splendor" still resonates. Perhaps I'm just farfetching though.

However, I confess that what I found riveting is their journey over the Ice. As one who yearly went winter-backpacking, I know first hand how huge the sound of wind is in the winter wilderness, and of nightime silences so profound that the tick of a falling ice crystal grabs your attention, and of "...the susurus of windblown snow...." I can attest to the immensity of the solitary winter landscape (and you attend to it, for it can hurt, kill, or cause you misery otherwise) as well as the constant preoccupation with the tiny details of comfort and survival, and with food, which equals strength, warmth, and well-being. I found her depiction of this wonderfully evocative. It is absolutely authentic.

Others may feel that the bond between Ai and Estraven is lacking in the end. I assure you that, apart from their dramatic situation, the comradeship, the otherworldly sharing, entailed with long winter treks is deep and lasting.

Difficult to share with others, nonetheless, this is a fat, multifaceted story which works well on many levels. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Genly Ai, an envoy from the human galaxy is sent to the alien planet Winter/Gethen on a mission to bring the planet Winter into the fold of an evolving intergalactic civilization. He must do so by closing the gap between his own culture and the prejudices of those that he comes across. On a planet where people are of no sex, but have the ability to change into either gender, this is a large gap indeed. I found the novel fascinating and was amazed with Le Guin¿s intellectual and creative storytelling. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a book that makes you sit back and ponder.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author of the Earthsea books brings readers to a frozen world that challenges traditional views of gender and society. Both exciting and fascinating, the adventures of Earth Ambassador Genly Ai on the planet Winter represent science fiction storytelling at its best!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first book i have read by Le Guin and i thought it was just ok. It was highly recommended to me but it was not the best. I felt the story moved very slow, and Instead of eliciting a strong bond with the characters, you see the story as textbook. It¿s this stiff objectiveness that prevents the read from forming a deep connection with the characters. As far as innovation, i can't say i saw any new sci fi thinking but the writing and the philosophical thoughts behind the embodiment of the dualistic pit falls of humanity in the Gethen race. If you are a reader then you wont mind this one. I will definitely read more from Le Guin
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the read about as much as any other. The idea of a both-sex civilization alone would probably keep me hooked to the book but LeGuin instead gives me other ideas to feast on. Religion, humankinds speeding about issues,and many many more. The reading gets tough from time to time but overall it was a very satisfying read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After all these years, a dream to read, and a marvel of imagination. Nothing else comes close.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She pulled out of his kiss and shivered at his touch. "Rip off my bra," she breathed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In the 70's, this was required reading for three classes. After re-reading it in my 60's, I found new insights that were not possible in my late teens/early 20's. When combined with Dr. Deborah Tanner's book, "He Said, She Said," the perspectives are truely worth the effort and thought required by this work.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this story down! This book changed my view of people. Challenging gender roles and norms long before social media had an influence on our society, Ursula Le Guin lovingly, but also brutally, takes you on a journey of discovery and acceptance. This book helped me better understand, love, adore and respect the opposite gender.
Aerik More than 1 year ago
This book won me over. I am no fan of Le Guin's distant prose, but this story is deep and powerful. It challenged me, and changed the way I look at the world, just a little bit. That's a good book.
sthefox More than 1 year ago
It is one of my favorite books I have read! The world and the characters are all so fascinating that I could not put this down. It is not only elegantly written but also very thought provoking. Loved it from start to end! 
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NizK More than 1 year ago
A wonderful book. I absolutely love anything from Ursula!
EdwardOtt More than 1 year ago
This is one of those books you want all your friends to read so that you can discuss it with them.
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