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So, this is one of those sci-fi books everyone should read. It's the second I've read in the Hainish Cycle but they aren't really a series just seemingly,ever so loosely, very loosely connected, at least for the two I've read so far. But they are both fantastic reads (the other I have read is The Dispossessed which is equally good but totally different.
The Left Hand of Darkness is a story of first contact, not in the traditional science fiction "first aliens to show up on earth" sort of way, but with the first humans making contact with another very distance planet and its peoples sort of way.
The planet alone is so different from what we are used to and the people are so very different in the way they think and live (not really different much physically or in the sorts of jobs they do and what not).
While reading this book, you'll be thinking on deep questions, some of which might be very timely these days, including,
- What is gender?
- What is patriotism?
- What is cold?
- What is monarchy?
The subject of refugees comes up a few times and it made me think even more about the current refugee situation we have here on earth. The subject of patriotism is mentioned several times and requires the reader to reflect on what this really is and how it shapes us.
This book was published before my fifth birthday and I am now over fifty, yet the themes feel like they fit right into many of society's current conundrums. Of course, some themes are clearly universal.
Have I mentioned that it is beautifully written? I actually listened to this as an audiobook from Audible and the narrator, George Guildall, is excellent.
If you have any interest at all in the human condition, in the interaction between people, and in deeper intertwined themes of diplomacy, refugees, patriotism, and brotherhood, then you should read this book. If you are breathing, then you should read this book or listen to the audiobook.
86 of 92 people found this review helpful
Some books you have to go back to once in awhile and Left Hand of Darkness is certainly worth multiple visits. Published in 1969 the book is one of the most influential science fiction books from the last century.
It has been reprinted at least 30 times and luckily the edition I picked up had an introduction by the author. In it Le Guin discusses two different types of science fiction. First there's the "extrapolative", which many if not most readers associate with the genre. "What will happen if technology continues to develop in this direction?" it asks. Le Guin admits that this type of fiction is often apocalyptic and depressing, perhaps why some people reject reading it. This book, she says, is more of a thought experiment in the tradition of Philip K. Dick or Mary Shelley.
In the book Genly Ai travels from earth to an ice-covered planet of humans called Gethen (also called Winter because of its tremendously cold climate). This is one of many planets seeded centuries before by a race known as the Hain. (Le Guin wrote several books set in the "Hainish" universe.) Genly has been sent as a sole envoy to invite Gethen to join a coalition of around 80 planets called the Ekumen who are united mostly for trade with some loose voluntary laws. After two years of proving he is, indeed, an alien and trying to convince the planet to join the coalition he finally is able to arrange a meeting with the king of Karhide, one of the planetary nations, through the help of the prime minister, Estraven. Genly fails to convince the king to join and Estraven is exiled shortly after.
Genly decides to try to work with one of the other nations on the planet, but there he's arrested and imprisoned by secret police. The exiled Estraven manages to pose as a guard and free him, and together they travel through the planet's severe cold to try to reach safety.
While the surface story is interesting and well-written, what makes the book truly unique is its examination of sexuality. The Gethenians have evolved an unusual sexual pattern. Every 26 days, in coordination with the moon, they go through a hormonal transformation. Some become female and others male and they mate. If the female becomes pregnant she remains pregnant through the birth of the child. Otherwise, both return to their asexual state. This gives Le Guin an opportunity to examine the influence of sexuality on culture. Genly has assumed that the human's constant availability for mating was one of the forces for wars and other conflicts. The Gethenians have border rivalries but war and killing are rare on the planet. These changes also put Genly into awkward situations, not always sure the people he interacts with are acting as friends or are experiencing a sexual transformation. Because of that, loyalty and personal interactions also become key themes through the book.
Le Guin is able to create unusual worlds that are different from many alien creations in science fiction, altering cultures to their very core as a way of reflecting on human values in a different light. After being in print for almost 50 years it still stands as a remarkable novel and among science fiction fans it is still regularly listed as one of the best sci-fi books of all time.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
A good story ruined by an awful audio performance. The reader has a very odd, heavy voice which saturates all 's' and 'r' sounds, making it very difficult to understand what he's saying. I gave up in frustration.
2 of 3 people found this review helpful
An excellent and seminal story - one of the greats of SF.
The narration took some getting used to at first - the narrator's voice can be slightly difficult to understand in places, but after the first few chapters I was used to it and no longer found it difficult. He did a good job of converting the emotional tone of some parts - particularly the last section of the book.