Ive read this classic (winner of both the Hugo & Nebula awards) more than once before. Although well known for its exploration of alternate views on gender and sexuality, and it does discuss that, it, in the end, is really a story about humanity and the nature of friendship.
Genly Ai, an Envoy of the Ekumen, a sort of non-partisan organization that facilitates travel and communication between worlds, has volunteered to try bring the Karhide into the Ekumen. On the planet known as Winter, he is overhelmed an alienated by the cold and inhospitable weather, by the inscrutable social customs and baffling political machinations of the people of the country of Karhide, and perhaps most of all by the fact that the the people of Karhide are asexual for much of the time, only coming into heat or kemmer at certain periods at which time they could become either gender.
Following his mission, Ai meets Estraven, an official of Karhide who falls out of favor and is exiled the events that follow are both bitter political drama and action-adventure quest, during the course of which Ai and the reader learn more of the nature of humanity.
A truly excellent book.
I have been wanting to read this sci-fi classic for a while so I finally brought it on the plane with me. This is a very good book. I can't say it was the most enjoyable read, but it is an exquisite read...kind of like a work of fine art. In general it was hard to decide if this was a 4 or 5 star book. It wasn't personally my favorite book, but it was a very well put together book and a book that asks a lot of very deep questions.
Genly Ai is an ambassador to the planet Winter. Winter is a planet that has the unique distinction of being the only planet where the humans are both genders at once or have no gender at all depending on the moon cycle. Genly's goal is to bring Winter in contact and into trade agreements with the rest of galactic civilization. He starts his quest in the somewhat uncivilized nation of Karhide; where he is eventually driven to the countryside. Next he seeks to win over the more civilized and lawful nation of Orgoreyn. But which nation is really the more civilized of the two? Estraven, who starts the story as the chief adviser to the King of Karhide, ends up being Genly's companion for much of his journey...and at points the story is told from Estraven's viewpoint.
The story starts out a little slow and it has a lot of throwing around of terms that are unknown to the reader (as many sci-fi books do). Maybe a third of the way through the book the story really picks up and starts to get interesting. This is not the easiest book to read. The detail is meticulous and the reader must concentrate and really pay attention to what they are reading. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I wouldn't pick this book up for a fun/quick read.
The plot is well-woven and the worlds Le Guin build's are amazing. She has extensively developed language, culture, policy, and structure of the societies on Winter. The detail she took with this world building is just fantastic. The other amazing thing is that in this well woven story she manages to touch on a multitude of issues humanity faces now and will always face. Much of the issues she delves into are of a political nature, but many of them are also of a personal nature. Probably the most interesting issue she deals with throughout the book is how society would be changed if everyone was both genders or did not have a gender.
All in all it is an interesting read and the book is well done. Given how long ago the book was written it has aged pretty well. Some of the writing style is a little archaic, and as I had mentioned it is definitely not an easy or particularly fun read. Still, it is a good book for everyone to read because the ideas presented in it are intriguing and it is just such a classic work of sci-fi. Did this book make me want to run out and read everything by Le Guin? Not really, but if I am in the mood for a heavier sci-fi read I might consider it.
While the political machinations that make up a good deal of this book didn't interest me, the core story about people from two different cultures finally reaching an understanding of one another was deeply moving.
Perhaps my expectations were a little off when I approached Ursula Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness. I wanted to read an author's conception of a genderless society, and found myself nodding when I read Le Guin's introduction: for her, science fiction functions as a platform for thought-experiments. However, the story turns out to be more mythology, international political intrigue, and lots of unfamiliar terms as I followed Genly Ai, the lone human male emissary to the remote planet Winter (Gethen in native tongue) to convince them to join an intergalactic alliance...
But I enjoyed the book immensely. I got used to the story's shifting perspectives by chapter: sometimes it is narrated by Ai, others by another character or a document related to the mission. Although the book wasn't a detailed analysis of gender -- Gethenians are completely androgynous until they enter kemmer, or heat, either as male or female each time -- it dealt with topics equally poignant, such as bonds of friendship, between individuals and places, and between different aspects of oneself. Thus, Le Guin did address my original interests, obliquely, by telling a tale of how these things transcend gender. Its reputation as a groundbreaking work and winning of the Neubula and Hugo Awards (for best science fiction novel of the year, 1969-1970) are much deserved.
Bill S. reviewed The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, Bk 4) on
I was a huge fan of the Dune series by Frank Herbert, though I had read them about 30 years ago in my teens. This book has similar voice and style but was still quite unique in the world/universe it created. An interesting story, good drama and intrigue, and well developed characters. I felt the very end was a little weak, but the high bar set by the rest of the book.
I devoured this book rather quickly; I thought it was pretty good, had some interesting messages about life, and the meaning of humanity. It's not the fastest-moving novel I've ever read, but still a solid read.
I've read this book twice and found it deeply engrossing and thought provoking. I never find Le Guin "a quick read", even in her children's books. There is always a lot to ponder in her work, and her stories seem to be told in a quiet voice.
I don't know how I missed this book when I was younger or how Ursula Le Guin had so much insight in 1969 into issues that have become so very poignant today, such as sexual identity and climate change. "The Left Hand of Darkness" is an exquisite work of imagination, philosophy, and science. It is the kind of work that could only flow from someone, such as Le Guin, whose father was an anthropologist and whose mother was a writer. It is the story of an envoy from 80 unique worlds who comes alone to see if a world on the cusp of something new --very likely, a war -- has an interest in taking a more enlightened path. The inhabitants of this world are vividly imagined as having the capacity to become male or female, providing a whole new backdrop for the examination of sexual stereotypes, morality, and friendship. This work of science fiction is worthy of the many awards it has received.