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The Left Hand of Darkness: 50th Anniversary Edition

(Book #4 in the Hainish Cycle Series)

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Book Overview

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION--WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY DAVID MITCHELL AND A NEW AFTERWORD BY CHARLIE JANE ANDERS Ursula K. Le Guin's groundbreaking work of science fiction--winner of the Hugo and Nebula... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

10 ratings

do you want a book you'll think about forever?

sometimes people will tell you about an author and it's like 'yeah ok but are they *really* any good?' ursula k le guin was one of those authors for me. but i am so very pleasantly surprised to say this is amazing, her writing is so thoughtful. the world felt complete and the characters wonderfully flawed. the quality of the book on arrival was also good but less important

An absolutely enthralling journey

I read this book nonstop until I fell asleep with it in my hands. It wasn’t for love of the characters, though by the end I loved them deeply. It was because the journey was so powerful. The writing and consistency of the way it crafts an entire universe of its owl making is awe inspiring. The foreign world described are so clearly written I could envision them perfectly in my mind. I did not find here what many did, views and ideas on gender. What I found here was a journey of acceptance and peace in the unknown and unknowable. A human on an alien planet, trying hard to understand customs and navigate a complex social construct that changes drastically between countries within the planet itself. While the idea of being gender neutral is indeed an important part of this story, it was not the main idea for me. What I experienced as a reader was more so the journey of the envoy and the caution he learns as he navigates through these differing nations that each have perils to be reckoned with. What I loved the most was the recognition that all humans are the same, no matter their colors or genders or lackthereof. The idea of Eckumen, a galaxy of unity across more than 80 planets, was what resonated with me. This journey, one being sent to unite a planet with this organization, the one man sent to change a world, was captivating. So often we feel so small as individuals that we forget the absolute power that can exist in the will of one. By the end of this book Genly was not the main character for me. The one I wept for and was hooked by, was Estraven. The complexities of the interrelationships were wonderful, full of depth and insight. And by the end, I was so invested in his fate and the fate of the mission he and Genly share that I went in to work late in order to finish the journey with them.

Genuinely and unironically one of the best books I've ever read

Masterfully crafted world with solid, tangible characters that open a window into the unique cultures they hail from. Very pointed yet tastefully handled criticism of gender politics in the 1960s. The protagonists have become very dear to my heart, and despite this very much not being a romance novel, Le Guin has crafted one of the most heart wrenching, intimate connections between two people I have ever read. The enormity of this story's impact is something that's difficult to describe and impossible to overstate. This is one of those books you never recover from. You've just gotta read it for yourself.

Not Neil Gaiman

Despite the listing, Neil Gaiman did not co-author this book. He was only 9 when it came out.

Absolutely stunning

This book came into my life as an unwanted suggestion, and is now my all time favorite. It is an immense novel, and wholly stunning. I recommend it to anyone with an interest in gender, politics, gender-politics, and foreign planets.

I just read it- I didn't know it was famous

The story of human civilization out in the future, sprawled across the cosmos and actually doing quite a bit better than most of us anticipated. There is one unique little world out on the fringe of everything, weather included, called Winter. It is the Siberia of planets, and the people are tough as nails with the little quirk of being kind of hermaphroditic. This is the story of an Observer who becomes involved in the life and politics of the planet, and is a study of human nature, of affection, of emotional paralysis, of tragedy. Science fiction is the backdrop used to make a study of human nature at once more vivid and less biased. It is flawlessly written, and while it is sometimes slow for the 21st century eye, it is a classic example of still waters running deep. And like many agnostics, Le Guin thinks more about God and eternity than most religious people, never hiding her inverted doubts that maybe there is a God, and allowing this undercurrent of uncertainty to play out in the book. Again, it is a masterful book, but it is not likely to be made into a video game any time soon.

Beautiful, if not quite perfect

I don't think it's necessary to resort to hyperbole when describing this book. In a word, it's beautiful. The language is intricate and delicate, as is the structure of the novel, the careful building of a mythology and culture from the ground up. The fact that it's a relatively short book is a reflection on Ursula Le Guin's formidable power as a writer: what she accomplishes in a short space is rarely seen in a much larger and weightier novel. Perhaps the most striking thing about it is the apparent ease with which legend is woven into the fabric of the story, so that the world and its people reveal themselves slowly and naturally to the reader. This many-threaded structure allows the reader to draw conclusions from mere hints, relating the obscure myths to the concrete story at hand. Much is implied without being stated outright, but this never obscures the story; if anything, it makes it stronger, clearer, and deeper. Every book has the odd quirk, and "The Left Hand of Darkness" isn't without its own. Although thoroughly modern in sensibilty, it was written in 1969, and in one minor way, that does show. To the modern reader, the amount of attention afforded the "unisexual" society described here feels a little bit out of proportion. Obviously our comfort with gender ambivalence and androgyny has increased over the last three or four decades; at any rate, I found no difficulty in thinking of the characters as simultaneously male and female -- it's especially easy to do when the writing is so compelling. As with many of Ursula Le Guin's other novels, the characters are a bit abstract. This is a result of the author's focus, rather than insufficient characterisation: Ursula Le Guin is definitely an ideas writer, and a language writer, rather than a character wrtiter. It's not that Genly Ai, Estraven and others are not believable; they are. It's just that Le Guin's characters are almost always created and harnessed to serve the story's ideas, rather than the other way around. The focus isn't on the life and times of an individual human being, but on the big ideas involved, and on their implications for mankind as a whole. There are virtually no attempts to dissect and examine any individual; as with the story itself, much remains hidden, hinted at, unknown. This is not an entire world, it is a single tale, woven from fragments of myth and narrative, but only the relevant ones. You come away satisfied with a beautifully crafted, intelligent, thought-provoking story -- but also, with a sense of having visited a place that keeps its secrets, with people who will keep theirs.

One of science fiction's most famous novels---a must-read

Ursula Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness has never been out of print since its publication. And it won major science fiction awards. With good reason...this is one book that should be making you click madly on the "buy this book" button if you haven't read it yet.The story is innovative: Genly Ai, an envoy from The Ekumen, is assigned the task of getting the planet Gethen to join with this consortium of planets. The purpose isn't trade--distances are so great that only the transmission of ideas is possible. Messages can travel great than light speed by virtue of the Ansible, a device that simultaneously transfers information.The Gethenians are unique among the sentient beings of the known planets; they are monosexual, undergoing a kind of estrus or heat once a month where they morph into female or male, completely by chance. Gethen is called Winter because it is perennially cold. The cold, and the ambiguous sexuality of the Gethenians makes for a hostile, foreign yet alluring environment. Genly Ai has allied himself with Estraven, an advisor to the King of Karhide, one of the nations on the planet of Gethen. But Estraven falls out of favor with the unstable king, and Ai is dragged into the snare of court intrigue. What started out as a peaceful mission of communication is now deadly dangerous.Ai finds himself inextricably entwined with Estraven, and the resulting adventure reads like the best science-fiction saga mixed with something like Earth's polar exploration adventures. I am not sure if the sexual device of a mostly-neuter people worked well here--supposedly Gethenians have both male and female attributes, but they seemed primarily male in the book. Nonetheless, this is one of science fiction's greatest adventures and tales of friendship and if you haven't read it, you are in for a huge treat.

An enduring classic you can read again and again

Le Guin is a master of writing; her chosen genre is science fiction, but more with the focus of exploring man's relationship to each other than to explore future possibilities. Nevertheless, Le Guin can create new worlds and new cultures that are unsurpassed by any other science fiction author. The Left Hand of Darkness is set on Gethen, or Winter, a planet that has arctic conditions most of the year. An envoy, Ai, from the Ekumen of Worlds is sent to explore whether Gethen would join the Ekumen and engage in intellectual exchange of ideas and technology. Gethen is also unique in that the people are unisexual, changing to female or male form on a monthly cycle called kemmer. How Le Guin handles a unisex race is one of the amazing parts of the book.Ai sets out to live on Gethen, first in the country of Karhide. He attempts to convince the (somewhat mad) king of the value of joining the Ekumen, helped by a counselor of the King, Estraven. But Estraven is undermined by another court counselor and is banished, and Ai is in terrible danger and doesn't realize it. As Ai explores the rest of Gethen and its varied societies, he is helped again and again by Estraven, whom he at first mistrusts. Their heroic trek across the Ice of Gethen reads like the best arctic explorers adventure from Earth. This is an exciting book, though the beginning is slow, as Ai begins to understand the strange society of Karhide and Gethen. As the adventure unfolds, you will not be able to put the book down. This is a classic that should be read by anyone who loves science fiction, and is a book that can be re-read many times with great enjoyment.

A trek to question one's perceptions.

This book won the 1969 Nebula Award and the 1970 Hugo Award for best science fiction novel of the year. I recall first reading this book when it first appeared and being stunned at the originality and the beauty. I have read every Hugo and Nebula winner (and most of the nominees) and this is still near the top. In this classic novel, all of the action takes place on the planet known as Gethen or Winter, a frozen world set in Le Guin's Hainish universe. All of the humanoid inhabitants of Winter are exactly the same as the humans of Earth except in the means of reproduction. They are all of a single sex and can assume either sex when in "heat." If one person of a couple becomes female, the other automatically becomes male. The culture and society of this world is shaped not only by the harsh environment but by this sexual structure. A main portion of the novel is concerned with the trek of a human ambassador and ethnologist, Genly Ai, across Winter's surface with a Getthenian. The man from Earth and the manwoman from Winter grow to know and understand each other. The novel not only raises issues about our perceptions of sex but the problems associated with cultural chauvinism. It is a book that all serious students of science fiction literature should read. For those earlier reviewers who awarded this book a low rating because it wasn't "classic" science fiction, you have to recall that psychology, sociology, and anthropology are all sciences (remember that the author's father, T. Kroeber, was the first Chairman of the Anthropology Department at U.C. Berkeley), just like physics, chemistry, or, in my case, biochemistry. And to the reviewer from Washington, D.C., (of March 3, 1999) who complained that Genly Ai was too uninteresting as the main character. Perhaps that was the point. Have you forgotten your Heisenberg?

The Left Hand of Darkness Mentions in Our Blog

The Left Hand of Darkness in Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Parable of the Sower
Celebrating the 30th Anniversary of Parable of the Sower
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • September 14, 2023

In 2020, 27 years after its original publication, Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower finally took its rightful place on the New York Times Best Seller list. Now, in celebration of its thirty year anniversary, we explore Butler's life and legacy and offer a recommended reading list for fans of the author, who passed away in 2006.

The Left Hand of Darkness in 'Tis the Season for Strange
'Tis the Season for Strange
Published by Ashly Moore Sheldon • November 24, 2022

Sci-fi and fantasy may not be the first genre that comes to mind when considering yuletide entertainment. But for a lot of us, it's a perfect fit. Think about it! These stories combine magic, adventure, and the wonder of the unknown. That sounds just like the holidays to us!

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