The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

I don’t know why I’ve never got around to this book or anything by LeGuin except maybe a short story in an anthology.   I enjoy science fiction,  but have a real problem with fantasy. Still,  it haunted me that I hadn’t read it because it was so lauded for so long.   So I did.

The Left Hand of Darkness
by Ursula LeGuin
1969/ 304 pages
read by George Guidal  9h 39m
rating:   5 / literary sci-fi fantasy

Ekumen is a  coalition of humanoid worlds and a male native,  Genly Ai, the novel’s protagonist, is sent to invite Gethen,  a group of nearby planets, to join the coalition which  is mainly about free trade. This mission gives LeGuin the opportunity to explore a variety of social, sexual and political arrangements on the planet of Gethen as well as their religious beliefs.  Like no war and no sexual genders –

During his journeys he has a couple of adventures  and most of the book is description of LeGuin’s fictional world.

Dualism vs oneness  is a huge theme  –  “Light is the left hand of darkness and the two are one”  is a part of Taoism which also doesn’t have Gods as Western religions know them.  One group of Gethen have a structured as an us vs them religion (darkness vs light = Christianity) while the another group is more unified – both light and dark are needed for enlightenment.   Feminism is another theme but also a dualism between men vs women or gender vs non-gendered.

Although I enjoyed parts of it,  overall I wasn’t happy with the book.  Maybe if I’d come across it back in the 1970s or something when the ideas were new,  but it  seems pretty bland by today’s standards. The narrator might have had something to do with the blandness.

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1 Response to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

  1. jameswharris says:

    It’s funny, but I have a problem with The Left Hand of Darkness too. It’s one of the most remembered books in science fiction. Out of 65 lists, it was possible to be on 48 of those lists, and it got on 43. See:

    The Left Hand of Darkness is also used as the best example of women writing science fiction. For me, it had impact when it came out, but doesn’t work well today in my old age.

    When Library of America wanted to publish Le Guin, she had them publish books of hers besides the famous ones. I’ve wondered if she believes her later books are better too.


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