The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

(9.0/10)

“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.” 


This was written in the sixties, though it feels like it was written yesterday. Ursula K. Le Guin creates a vivid culture of ambisexual humanoids that come with a detailed history and culture. And it is truly fascinating to read about because such discussions and representations of gender and sex are strikingly relevant to modern society.

Genly Ai is a human envoy sent to the planet Gethen to persuade the natives to join an interplanetary trade alliance. Such a thing would benefit all involved as all cultures would expand intellectually and culturally. It’s about a shared exchange, about learning from one another in order to become better and more developed. The Gethenians as a people are gender neutral; they display no maleness or femaleness unless they go into kemmer (which is their biological mating cycle.) Whatever sex they display is entirely dependent on who they are partnering with at the time. 

A pervert is what Genly Ai comes across as. To the alien eyes of the Gethenians he looks like he’s in a permanent state of sexual arousal and they are totally confused and offended by it. They don’t trust him, and he must rely heavily on his diplomatic skills to ensure them of his genuine nature. Language barriers and misunderstandings cause several problems resulting in his imprisonment and near death. The point is, the novel highlights the need for effective communication and discourse for opposite cultures (and political systems) to reach an agreement, rather than branding the other a villain simply because they do not understand it in its differentness. We need to learn from the “other.”

However, for all the intellect the writing displayed, the plot was terribly slow for the first half. Very little happened, by way of action and dilemma. The progress that the book displays is a shifting of opinion, a development of perspective, as the two protagonists learn about each other’s culture and see their counterpoint as less alien: they begin to see the humanity in the other. And that’s kind of important because it transcends ideas of gender and sex, race and culture, looking only at what it means to be human and alive. Labels don’t matter, only the person matters. 

“And I saw then again, and for good, what I had always been afraid to see, and had pretended not to see in him: that he was a woman as well as a man. Any need to explain the sources of that fear vanished with the fear; what I was left with was at last, acceptance of him as he was.”

So, this is a book that will appeal only to a certain type of reader because it is quite difficult to read. Although it is clearly science-fiction, it breaks genre boundaries with its lack of standard tropes instead choosing to question existence itself. It’s not a story designed to sweep you away, but it is a story that will make you think. There’s certainly a lot of wisdom in these pages. 

Review by

12+

More Ursula Le Guin reviews

Gifts

by Ursula Le Guin

Orrec, the son of the Brantor of Caspromant, and Gry, daughter of the Brantors of Barre and Rodd, have grown up together, running half-wild across the Uplands. The people t [...]


Published: 0000

Score: 78

Our rating: 7.8 | 0 positive reader reviews

9+

The Earthsea Quartet

by Ursula Le Guin

The island of Gont is a land famous for wizards. Of these, some say the greatest - and surely the greatest voyager - is the man called Sparrowhawk. As a reckless, awkward b [...]


Published: 1993

Score: 114

Our rating: 10.0 | 14 positive reader reviews

12+

The Other Wind

by Ursula Le Guin

The sorcerer Alder dreams of his dead wife and is able to kiss her across the stone wall that separates our world from the land of the dead. This puts Alder and Earthsea in [...]


Published: 2001

Score: 94

Our rating: 9.0 | 4 positive reader reviews

12+

Tales From Earthsea

by Ursula Le Guin

A collection of five magical tales of Earthsea, the fantastical realm created by a master storyteller that has held readers enthralled for more than three decades. "Th [...]


Published: 2001

Score: 90

Our rating: 9.0 | 0 positive reader reviews

12+

The Lathe of Heaven

by Ursula Le Guin

George Orr is a mild and unremarkable man who finds the world a less than pleasant place to live: seven billion people jostle for living space and food. But George dreams d [...]


Published: 1971

Score: 91

Our rating: 9.1 | 0 positive reader reviews

15+

The Left Hand of Darkness reader reviews

9/10 from 1 reviews

Write a reader review

There are currently no reader reviews for this book. Why not be the first?

Your rating out of 10

Books you may also enjoy

Brave New World

by Aldous Huxley

Brave New World is a dystopian novel written in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley, and published in 1932. Largely set in a futuristic World State of genetically modified [...]


Published: 1932

Score: 95

Our rating: 9.5 | 0 positive reader reviews

12+

The Lost World

by Arthur Conan Doyle

It's London, 1907. Journalist Edward Malone, rejected by the woman he loves because he is too prosaic, decides to go in search of adventure and fame to prove himself wo [...]


Published: 1912

Score: 92

Our rating: 9.2 | 0 positive reader reviews

12+

The Martian Chronicles

by Ray Bradbury

The strange and wonderful tale of man’s experiences on Mars, filled with intense images and astonishing visions. Now part of the Voyager Classics collection. [...]


Published: 1984

Score: 90

Our rating: 9.0 | 0 positive reader reviews

12+

The Illustrated Man

by Ray Bradbury

That The Illustrated Man has remained in print since being published in 1951 is fair testimony to the universal appeal of Ray Bradbury's work. Only his second [...]


Published: 1951

Score: 87

Our rating: 8.7 | 0 positive reader reviews

12+