The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Series)

The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Series)


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A deluxe hardcover edition of the queen of science fiction’s trailblazing novel about a planet full of genderless beings—part of Penguin Galaxy, a collectible series of six sci-fi/fantasy classics, featuring a series introduction by Neil Gaiman

Winner of the AIGA + Design Observer 50 Books | 50 Covers competition

A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary’s mission to Winter, an unknown alien world whose inhabitants can choose—and change—their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Exploring questions of psychology, society, and human emotion in an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of science fiction.

Penguin Galaxy
Six of our greatest masterworks of science fiction and fantasy, in dazzling collector-worthy hardcover editions, and featuring a series introduction by #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman, Penguin Galaxy represents a constellation of achievement in visionary fiction, lighting the way toward our knowledge of the universe, and of ourselves. From historical legends to mythic futures, monuments of world-building to mind-bending dystopias, these touchstones of human invention and storytelling ingenuity have transported millions of readers to distant realms, and will continue for generations to chart the frontiers of the imagination.
The Once and Future King by T. H. White
Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
Dune by Frank Herbert
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
Neuromancer by William Gibson

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143111597
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/25/2016
Series: Hainish Series
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 166,573
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Ursula K. Le Guin is the first author to win both the Hugo and Nebula awards twice. Her novels include Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, and The Dispossessed. Born in Berkeley, California, in 1929, Le Guin lives in Portland, Oregon.
Neil Gaiman (series introduction) is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty books for readers of all ages, including American Gods, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, The Graveyard Book, Coraline, and the Sandman series of graphic novels. He is Professor in the Arts at Bard College.

Alex Trochut (cover designer) is an award-winning artist, graphic designer, illustrator, and typographer. He has designed for The New York Times, The Guardian, Nike, Adidas, The Rolling Stones, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi and was nominated for a 2016 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package. Born in Barcelona, Spain, he lives in Brooklyn.


Portland, Oregon

Date of Birth:

October 21, 1929

Place of Birth:

Berkeley, California


B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

A Parade in Erhenrang

From the Archives of Hain. Transcript of Ansible Document 01-01101-934-2-Gethen: To the Stabile on Ollul: Report from Genly Ai, First Mobile on Gethen/Winter, Hainish Cycle 93, Ekumenical Year 1490-97.

I'll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust. Facts are no more solid, coherent, round, and real than pearls are. But both are sensitive.

    The story is not all mine, nor told by me alone. Indeed I am not sure whose story it is; you can judge better. But it is all one, and if at moments the facts seem to alter with an altered voice, why then you can choose the fact you like best; yet none of them are false, and it is all one story.

    It starts on the 44th diurnal of the Year 1491, which on the planet Winter in the nation Karhide was Odharhahad Tuwa or the twenty-second day of the third month of spring in the Year One. It is always the Year One here. Only the dating of every past and future year changes each New Year's Day, as one counts backwards or forwards from the unitary Now. So it was spring of the Year One in Erhenrang, capital city of Karhide, and I was in peril of my life, and did not know it.

    I was in a parade. I walked just behind the gossiwors and justbefore the king. It was raining.

    Rainclouds over dark towers, rain falling in deep streets, a dark storm-beaten city of stone, through which one vein of gold winds slowly. First come merchants, potentates, and artisans of the City Erhenrang, rank after rank, magnificently clothed, advancing through the rain as comfortably as fish through the sea. Their faces are keen and calm. They do not march in step. This is a parade with no soldiers, not even imitation soldiers.

    Next come the lords and mayors and representatives, one person, or five, or forty-five, or four hundred, from each Domain and Co-Domain of Karhide, a vast ornate procession that moves to the music of metal horns and hollow blocks of bone and wood and the dry, pure lilting of electric flutes. The various banners of the great Domains tangle in a rain-beaten confusion of color with the yellow pennants that bedeck the way, and the various musics of each group clash and interweave in many rhythms echoing in the deep stone street.

    Next, a troop of jugglers with polished spheres of gold which they hurl up high in flashing flights, and catch, and hurl again, making fountain-jets of bright jugglery. All at once, as if they had literally caught the light, the gold spheres blaze bright as glass: the sun is breaking through.

    Next, forty men in yellow, playing gossiwors. The gossiwor, played only in the king's presence, produces a preposterous disconsolate bellow. Forty of them played together shake one's reason, shake the towers of Erhenrang, shake down a last spatter of rain from the windy clouds. If this is the Royal Music no wonder the kings of Karhide are all mad.

    Next, the royal party, guards and functionaries and dignitaries of the city and the court, deputies, senators, chancellors, ambassadors, lords of the Kingdom, none of them keeping step or rank yet walking with great dignity; and among them is King Argaven XV, in white tunic and shirt and breeches, with leggings of saffron leather and a peaked yellow cap. A gold finger-ring is his only adornment and sign of office. Behind this group eight sturdy fellows bear the royal litter, rough with yellow sapphires, in which no king has ridden for centuries, a ceremonial relic of the Very-Long-Ago. By the litter walk eight guards armed with "foray guns," also relics of a more barbaric past but not empty ones, being loaded with pellets of soft iron. Death walks behind the king. Behind death come the students of the Artisan Schools, the Colleges, the Trades, and the King's Hearths, long lines of children and young people in white and red and gold and green; and finally a number of soft-running, slow, dark cars end the parade.

    The royal party, myself among them, gather on a platform of new timbers beside the unfinished Arch of the River Gate. The occasion of the parade is the completion of that arch, which completes the new Road and River Port of Erhenrang, a great operation of dredging and building and roadmaking which has taken five years, and will distinguish Argaven XV's reign in the annals of Karhide. We are all squeezed rather tight on the platform in our damp and massive finery. The rain is gone, the sun shines on us, the splendid, radiant, traitorous sun of Winter. I remark to the person on my left, "It's hot. It's really hot."

    The person on my left—a stocky dark Karhider with sleek and heavy hair, wearing a heavy overtunic of green leather worked with gold, and a heavy white shirt, and heavy breeches, and a neck-chain of heavy silver links a hand broad—this person, sweating heavily, replies, "So it is."

    All about us as we stand jammed on our platform lie the faces of the people of the city, upturned like a shoal of brown, round pebbles, mica-glittering with thousands of watching eyes.

    Now the king ascends a gangplank of raw timbers that leads from the platform up to the top of the arch whose unjoined piers tower over crown and wharves and river. As he mounts the crowd stirs and speaks in a vast murmur: "Argaven!" He makes no response. They expect none. Gossiwors blow a thunderous discordant blast, cease. Silence. The sun shines on city, river, crowd, and king. Masons below have set an electric winch going, and as the king mounts higher the keystone of the arch goes up past him in its sling, is raised, settled, and fitted almost soundlessly, great ton-weight block though it is, into the gap between the two piers, making them one, one thing, an arch. A mason with trowel and bucket awaits the king, up on the scaffolding; all the other workmen descend by rope ladders, like a swarm of fleas. The king and the mason kneel, high between the river and the sun, on their bit of planking. Taking the trowel the king begins to mortar the long joints of the keystone. He does not dab at it and give the trowel back to the mason, but sets to work methodically. The cement he uses is a pinkish color different from the rest of the mortarwork and after five or ten minutes of watching the king-bee work I ask the person on my left, "Are your keystones always set in a red cement?" For the same color is plain around the keystone of each arch of the Old Bridge, that soars beautifully over the river upstream from the arch.

    Wiping sweat from his dark forehead the man—man I must say, having said he and his—the man answers, "Very-long-ago a keystone was always set in with a mortar of ground bones mixed with blood. Human bones, human blood. Without the bloodbond the arch would fall, you see. We use the blood of animals, these days."

    So he often speaks, frank yet cautious, ironic, as if always aware that I see and judge as an alien: a singular awareness in one of so isolate a race and so high a rank. He is one of the most powerful men in the country; I am not sure of the proper historical equivalent of his position, vizier or prime minister or councillor; the Karhidish word for it means the King's Ear. He is lord of a Domain and lord of the Kingdom, a mover of great events. His name is Therem Harth rem ir Estraven.

    The king seems to be finished with his masonry work, and I rejoice; but crossing under the rise of the arch on his spiderweb of planks he starts in on the other side of the keystone, which after all has two sides. It doesn't do to be impatient in Karhide. They are anything but a phlegmatic people, yet they are obdurate, they are pertinacious, they finish plastering joints. The crowds on the Sess Embankment are content to watch the king work, but I am bored, and hot. I have never before been hot, on Winter; I never will be again; yet I fail to appreciate the event. I am dressed for the Ice Age and not for the sunshine, in layers and layers of clothing, woven plant-fiber, artificial fiber, fur, leather, a massive armor against the cold, within which I now wilt like a radish leaf. For distraction I look at the crowds and the other paraders drawn up around the platform, their Domain and Clan banners hanging still and bright in sunlight, and idly I ask Estraven what this banner is and that one and the other. He knows each one I ask about, though there are hundreds, some from remote domains, hearths and tribelets of the Pering Stormborder and Kerm Land.

    "I'm from Kerm Land myself," he says when I admire his knowledge. "Anyhow it's my business to know the Domains. They are Karhide. To govern this land is to govern its lords. Not that it's ever been done. Do you know the saying, Karhide is not a nation but a family quarrel?" I haven't, and I suspect that Estraven made it up; it has his stamp.

    At this point another member of the kyorremy, the upper chamber or parliament which Estraven heads, pushes and squeezes a way up close to him and begins talking to him. This is the king's cousin Pemmer Harge rem ir Tibe. His voice is very low as he speaks to Estraven, his posture faintly insolent, his smile frequent. Estraven, sweating like ice in the sun, stays slick and cold as ice, answering Tibe's murmurs aloud in a tone whose commonplace politeness makes the other look rather a fool. I listen, as I watch the king grouting away, but understand nothing except the animosity between Tibe and Estraven. It's nothing to do with me, in any case, and I am simply interested in the behavior of these people who rule a nation, in the old-fashioned sense, who govern the fortunes of twenty million other people. Power has become so subtle and complex a thing in the ways taken by the Ekumen that only a subtle mind can watch it work; here it is still limited, still visible. In Estraven, for instance, one feels the man's power as an augmentation of his character; he cannot make an empty gesture or say a word that is not listened to. He knows it, and the knowledge gives him more reality than most people own: a solidness of being, a substantiality, a human grandeur. Nothing succeeds like success. I don't trust Estraven, whose motives are forever obscure; I don't like him; yet I feel and respond to his authority as surely as I do to the warmth of the sun.

    Even as I think this the world's sun dims between clouds regathering, and soon a flaw of rain runs sparse and hard upriver, spattering the crowds on the Embankment, darkening the sky. As the king comes down the gangplank the light breaks through a last time, and his white figure and the great arch stand out a moment vivid and splendid against the stormdarkened south. The clouds close. A cold wind comes tearing up Port-and-Palace Street, the river goes gray, the trees on the Embankment shudder. The parade is over. Half an hour later it is snowing.

    As the king's car drove off up Port-and-Palace Street and the crowds began to move like a rocky shingle rolled by a slow tide, Estraven turned to me again and said, "Will you have supper with me tonight, Mr. Ai?" I accepted, with more surprise than pleasure. Estraven had done a great deal for me in the last six or eight months, but I did not expect or desire such a show of personal favor as an invitation to his house. Harge rem ir Tibe was still close to us, overhearing, and I felt that he was meant to overhear. Annoyed by this sense of effeminate intrigue I got off the platform and lost myself in the mob, crouching and slouching somewhat to do so. I'm not much taller than the Gethenian norm, but the difference is most noticeable in a crowd. That's him, look, there's the Envoy. Of course that was part of my job, but it was a part that got harder not easier as time went on; more and more often I longed for anonymity, for sameness. I craved to be like everybody else.

    A couple of blocks up Breweries Street I turned off toward my lodgings and suddenly, there where the crowd thinned out, found Tibe walking beside me.

    "A flawless event," said the king's cousin, smiling at me. His long, clean, yellow teeth appeared and disappeared in a yellow face all webbed, though he was not an old man, with fine, soft wrinkles.

    "A good augury for the success of the new Port," I said.

    "Yes indeed." More teeth.

    "The ceremony of the keystone is most impressive—"

    "Yes indeed. That ceremony descends to us from very-long-ago. But no doubt Lord Estraven explained all that to you."

    "Lord Estraven is most obliging."

    I was trying to speak insipidly, yet everything I said to Tibe seemed to take on a double meaning.

    "Oh very much indeed," said Tibe. "Indeed Lord Estraven is famous for his kindness to foreigners." He smiled again, and every tooth seemed to have a meaning, double, multiple, thirty-two different meanings.

    "Few foreigners are so foreign as I, Lord Tibe. I am very grateful for kindnesses."

    "Yes indeed, yes indeed! And gratitude's a noble, rare emotion, much praised by the poets. Rare above all here in Erhenrang, no doubt because it's impracticable. This is a hard age we live in, an ungrateful age. Things aren't as they were in our grandparents' days, are they?"

    "I scarcely know, sir, but I've heard the same lament on other worlds."

    Tibe stared at me for some while as if establishing lunacy. Then he brought out the long yellow teeth. "Ah yes! Yes indeed! I keep forgetting that you come from another planet. But of course that's not a matter you ever forget. Though no doubt life would be much sounder and simpler and safer for you here in Erhenrang if you could forget it, eh? Yes indeed! Here's my car, I had it wait here out of the way. I'd like to offer to drive you to your island, but must forego the privilege, as I'm due at the King's House very shortly and poor relations must be in good time, as the saying is, eh? Yes indeed!" said the king's cousin, climbing into his little black electric car, teeth bared across his shoulder at me, eyes veiled by a net of wrinkles.

    I walked on home to my island. Its front garden was revealed now that the last of the winter's snow had melted and the winter-doors, ten feet aboveground, were sealed off for a few months, till the autumn and the deep snow should return. Around at the side of the building in the mud and the ice and the quick, soft, rank spring growth of the garden, a young couple stood talking. Their right hands were clasped. They were in the first phase of kemmer. The large, soft snow danced about them as they stood barefoot in the icy mud, hands clasped, eyes all for each other. Spring on Winter.

    I had dinner at my island and at Fourth Hour striking on the gongs of Remmy Tower I was at the Palace ready for supper. Karhiders eat four solid meals a day, breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, along with a lot of adventitious nibbling and gobbling in between. There are no large meat-animals on Winter, and no mammalian products, milk, butter or cheese; the only high-protein, high-carbohydrate foods are the various kinds of eggs, fish, nuts, and the Hainish grains. A lowgrade diet for a bitter climate, and one must refuel often. I had got used to eating, as it seemed, every few minutes. It wasn't until later in that year that I discovered the Gethenians have perfected the technique not only of perpetually stuffing, but also of indefinitely starving.

    The snow still fell, a mild spring blizzard, much pleasanter than the relentless rain of the Thaw just past. I made my way to and through the Palace in the quiet and pale darkness of snowfall, losing my way only once. The Palace of Erhenrang is an inner city, a walled wilderness of palaces, towers, gardens, courtyards, cloisters, roofed bridgeways, roofless tunnel-walks, small forests and dungeon-keeps, the product of centuries of paranoia on a grand scale. Over it all rise the grim, red, elaborate walls of the Royal House, which though in perpetual use is inhabited by no one beside the king himself. Everyone else, servants, staff, lords, ministers, parliamentarians, guards or whatever, sleeps in another palace or fort or keep or barracks or house inside the walls. Estraven's house, sign of the king's high favor, was the Corner Red Dwelling, built 440 years ago for Harmes, beloved kemmering of Emran III, whose beauty is still celebrated, and who was abducted, mutilated, and rendered imbecile by hirelings of the Innerland Faction. Emran III died forty years after, still wreaking vengeance on his unhappy country: Emran the Illfated. The tragedy is so old that its horror has leached away and only a certain air of faithlessness and melancholy clings to the stones and shadows of the house. The garden was small and walled; serem-trees leaned over a rocky pool. In dim shafts of light from the windows of the house I saw snowflakes and the threadlike white sporecases of the trees falling softly together onto the dark water. Estraven stood waiting for me, bareheaded and coatless in the cold, watching that small secret ceaseless descent of snow and seeds in the night. He greeted me quietly and brought me into the house. There were no other guests.

    I wondered at this, but we went to table at once, and one does not talk business while eating; besides, my wonder was diverted to the meal, which was superb, even the eternal breadapples transmuted by a cook whose art I heartily praised. After supper, by the fire, we drank hot beer. On a world where a common table implement is a little device with which you crack the ice that has formed on your drink between drafts, hot beer is a thing you come to appreciate.

    Estraven had conversed amiably at table; now, sitting across the hearth from me, he was quiet. Though I had been nearly two years on Winter I was still far from being able to see the people of the planet through their own eyes. I tried to, but my efforts took the form of self-consciously seeing a Gethenian first as a man, then as a woman, forcing him into those categories so irrelevant to his nature and so essential to my own. Thus as I sipped my smoking sour beer I thought that at table Estraven's performance had been womanly, all charm and tact and lack of substance, specious and adroit. Was it in fact perhaps this soft supple femininity that I disliked and distrusted in him? For it was impossible to think of him as a woman, that dark, ironic, powerful presence near me in the firelit darkness, and yet whenever I thought of him as a man I felt a sense of falseness, of imposture: in him, or in my own attitude towards him? His voice was soft and rather resonant but not deep, scarcely a man's voice, but scarcely a woman's voice either ... but what was it saying?

    "I'm sorry," he was saying, "that I've had to forestall for so long this pleasure of having you in my house; and to that extent at least I'm glad there is no longer any question of patronage between us."

    I puzzled at this a while. He had certainly been my patron in court until now. Did he mean that the audience he had arranged for me with the king tomorrow had raised me to an equality with himself? "I don't think I follow you," I said.

    At that, he was silent, evidently also puzzled. "Well, you understand," he said at last, "being here ... you understand that I am no longer acting on your behalf with the king of course."

    He spoke as if ashamed of me, not of himself. Clearly there was a significance in his invitation and my acceptance of it which I had missed. But my blunder was in manners, his in morals. All I thought at first was that I had been right all along not to trust Estraven. He was not merely adroit and not merely powerful, he was faithless. All these months in Ehrenrang it had been he who listened to me, who answered my questions, sent physicians and engineers to verify the alienness of my physique and my ship, introduced me to people I needed to know, and gradually elevated me from my first year's status as a highly imaginative monster to my present recognition as the mysterious Envoy, about to be received by the king. Now, having got me up on that dangerous eminence, he suddenly and coolly announced he was withdrawing his support.

    "You've led me to rely on you—"

    "It was ill done."

    "Do you mean that, having arranged this audience, you haven't spoken in favor of my mission to the king, as you—" I had the sense to stop short of "promised."

    "I can't."

    I was very angry, but I met neither anger nor apology in him.

    "Will you tell me why?"

    After a while he said, "Yes," and then paused again. During the pause I began to think that an inept and undefended alien should not demand reasons from the prime minister of a kingdom, above all when he does not and perhaps never will understand the foundations of power and the workings of government in that kingdom. No doubt this was all a matter of shifgrethor—prestige, face, place, the pride-relationship, the untranslatable and all-important principle of social authority in Karhide and all civilizations of Gethen. And if it was I would not understand it.

    "Did you hear what the king said to me at the ceremony today?"


    Estraven leaned forward across the hearth, lifted the beer-jug out of the hot ashes, and refilled my tankard. He said nothing more, so I amplified, "The king didn't speak to you in my hearing."

    "Nor in mine," said he.

    I saw at last that I was missing another signal. Damning his effeminate deviousness, I said, "Are you trying to tell me, Lord Estraven, that you're out of favor with the king?"

    I think he was angry then, but he said nothing that showed it, only, "I'm not trying to tell you anything, Mr. Ai."

    "By God, I wish you would!"

    He looked at me curiously. "Well, then, put it this way. There are some persons in court who are, in your phrase, in favor with the king, but who do not favor your presence or your mission here."

    And so you're hurrying to join them, selling me out to save your skin, I thought, but there was no point in saying it. Estraven was a courtier, a politician, and I a fool to have trusted him. Even in a bisexual society the politician is very often something less than an integral man. His inviting me to dinner showed that he thought I would accept his betrayal as easily as he committed it. Clearly face-saving was more important than honesty. So I brought myself to say, "I'm sorry that your kindness to me has made trouble for you." Coals of fire. I enjoyed a flitting sense of moral superiority, but not for long; he was too incalculable.

    He sat back so that the firelight lay ruddy on his knees and his fine, strong, small hands and the silver tankard he held, but left his face in shadow: a dark face always shadowed by the thick lowgrowing hair and heavy brows and lashes, and by a somber blandness of expression. Can one read a cat's face, a seal's, an otter's? Some Gethenians, I thought, are like such animals, with deep bright eyes that do not change expression when you speak.

    "I've made trouble for myself," he answered, "by an act that had nothing to do with you, Mr. Ai. You know that Karhide and Orgoreyn have a dispute concerning a stretch of our border in the high North Fall near Sassinoth. Argaven's grandfather claimed the Sinoth Valley for Karhide, and the Commensals have never recognized the claim. A lot of snow out of one cloud, and it grows thicker, I've been helping some Karhidish farmers who live in the Valley to move back east across the old border, thinking the argument might settle itself if the Valley were simply left to the Orgota, who have lived there for several thousand years. I was in the Administration of the North Fall some years ago, and got to know some of those farmers. I dislike the thought of their being killed in forays, or sent to Voluntary Farms in Orgoreyn. Why not obviate the subject of dispute? ... But that's not a patriotic idea. In fact it's a cowardly one, and impugns the shifgrethor of the king himself."

    His ironies, and these ins and outs of a border-dispute with Orgoreyn, were of no interest to me. I returned to the matter that lay between us. Trust him or not, I might still get some use out of him. "I'm sorry," I said, "but it seems a pity that this question of a few farmers may be allowed to spoil the chances of my mission with the king. There's more at stake than a few miles of national boundary."

    "Yes. Much more. But perhaps the Ekumen, which is a hundred light-years from border to border, will be patient with us a while."

    "The Stabiles of the Ekumen are very patient men, sir. They'll wait a hundred years or five hundred for Karhide and the rest of Gethen to deliberate and consider whether or not to join the rest of mankind. I speak merely out of personal hope. And personal disappointment. I own that I thought that with your support—"

    "I too. Well, the Glaciers didn't freeze overnight ...." Cliché came ready to his lips, but his mind was elsewhere. He brooded. I imagined him moving me around with the other pawns in his power-game. "You came to my country," he said at last, "at a strange time. Things are changing; we are taking a new turning. No, not so much that, as following too far on the way we've been going. I thought that your presence, your mission, might prevent our going wrong, give us a new option entirely. But at the right moment—in the right place. It is all exceedingly chancy, Mr. Ai."

    Impatient with his generalities, I said, "You imply that this isn't the right moment. Would you advise me to cancel my audience?"

    My gaffe was even worse in Karhidish, but Estraven did not smile, or wince. "I'm afraid only the king has that privilege," he said mildly.

    "Oh God, yes. I didn't mean that." I put my head in my hands a moment. Brought up in the wide-open, free-wheeling society of Earth, I would never master the protocol, or the impassivity, so valued by Karhiders. I know what a king was, Earth's own history is full of them, but I had no experiential feel for privilege—no tact. I picked up my tankard and drank a hot and violent draft. "Well, I'll say less to the king than I intended to say, when I could count on you."


    "Why good?" I demanded.

    "Well, Mr. Ai, you're not insane. I'm not insane. But then neither of us is a king, you see ... I suppose that you intended to tell Argaven, rationally, that your mission here is to attempt to bring about an alliance between Gethen and the Ekumen. And, rationally, he knows that already; because, as you know, I told him. I urged your case with him, tried to interest him in you. It was ill done, ill timed. I forgot, being too interested myself, that he's a king, and does not see things rationally, but as a king. All I've told him means to him simply that his power is threatened, his kingdom is a dustmote in space, his kingship is a joke to men who rule a hundred worlds."

    "But the Ekumen doesn't rule, it co-ordinates. Its power is precisely the power of its member states and worlds. In alliance with the Ekumen, Karhide will become infinitely less threatened and more important than it's ever been."

    Estraven did not answer for a while. He sat gazing at the fire, whose flames winked, reflected, from his tankard and from the broad bright silver chain of office over his shoulders. The old house was silent around us. There had been a servant to attend our meal, but Karhiders, having no institutions of slavery or personal bondage, hire services not people, and the servants had all gone off to their own homes by now. Such a man as Estraven must have guards about him somewhere, for assassination is a lively institution in Karhide, but I had seen no guard, heard none. We were alone.

    I was alone, with a stranger, inside the walls of a dark palace, in a strange snow-changed city, in the heart of the Ice Age of an alien world.

    Everything I had said, tonight and ever since I came to Winter, suddenly appeared to me as both stupid and incredible. How could I expect this man or any other to believe my tales about other worlds, other races, a vague benevolent government somewhere off in outer space? It was all nonsense. I had appeared in Karhide in a queer kind of ship, and I differed physically from Gethenians in some respects; that wanted explaining. But my own explanations were preposterous. I did not, in that moment, believe them myself.

    "I believe you," said the stranger, the alien alone with me, and so strong had my access of self-alienation been that I looked up at him bewildered. "I'm afraid that Argaven also believes you. But he does not trust you. In part because he no longer trusts me. I have made mistakes, been careless. I cannot ask for your trust any longer, either, having put you in jeopardy. I forgot what a king is, forgot that the king in his own eyes is Karhide, forgot what patriotism is and that he is, of necessity, the perfect patriot. Let me ask you this, Mr. Ai: do you know, by your own experience, what patriotism is?"

    "No," I said, shaken by the force of that intense personality suddenly turning itself wholly upon me. "I don't think I do. If by patriotism you don't mean the love of one's homeland, for that I do know."

    "No, I don't mean love, when I say patriotism. I mean fear. The fear of the other. And its expressions are political, not poetical: hate, rivalry, aggression. It grows in us, that fear. It grows in us year by year. We've followed our road too far. And you, who come from a world that outgrew nations centuries ago, who hardly know what I'm talking about, who show us the new road—" He broke off. After a while he went on, in control again, cool and polite: "It's because of fear that I refuse to urge your cause with the king, now. But not fear for myself, Mr. Ai. I'm not acting patriotically. There are, after all, other nations on Gethen."

    I had no idea what he was driving at, but was sure that he did not mean what he seemed to mean. Of all the dark, obstructive, enigmatic souls I had met in this bleak city, his was the darkest. I would not play his labyrinthine game. I made no reply. After a while he went on, rather cautiously, "If I've understood you, your Ekumen is devoted essentially to the general interest of mankind. Now, for instance, the Orgota have experience in subordinating local interests to a general interest, while Karhide has almost none. And the Commensals of Orgoreyn are mostly sane men, if unintelligent, while the king of Karhide is not only insane but rather stupid."

    It was clear that Estraven had no loyalties at all. I said in faint disgust, "It must be difficult to serve him, if that's the case."

    "I'm not sure I've ever served the king," said the king's prime minister. "Or ever intended to. I'm not anyone's servant. A man must cast his own shadow...."

    The gongs in Remny Tower were striking Sixth Hour, midnight, and I took them as my excuse to go. As I was putting on my coat in the hallway he said, "I've lost my chance for the present, for I suppose you'll be leaving Ehrenrang—" why did he suppose so?—"but I trust a day will come when I can ask you questions again. There's so much I want to know. About your mind-speech, in particular; you'd scarcely begun to try to explain it to me."

    His curiosity seemed perfectly genuine. He had the effrontery of the powerful. His promise to help me had seemed genuine, too. I said yes, of course, whenever he liked, and that was the evening's end. He showed me out through the garden, where snow lay thin in the light of Gethen's big, dull, rufous moon. I shivered as we went out, for it was well below freezing, and he said with polite surprise, "You're cold?" To him of course it was a mild spring night.

    I was tired and downcast. I said, "I've been cold ever since I came to this world."

    "What do you call it, this world, in your language?"


    "You gave it no name of your own?"

    "Yes, the First Investigators did. They called it Winter."

    We had stopped in the gateway of the walled garden. Outside, the Palace grounds and roofs loomed in a dark snowy jumble lit here and there at various heights by the faint gold slits of windows. Standing under the narrow arch I glanced up, wondering if that keystone too was mortared with bone and blood. Estraven took leave of me and turned away; he was never fulsome in his greetings and farewells. I went off through the silent courts and alleys of the Palace, my boots crunching on the thin moonlit snow, and homeward through the deep streets of the city. I was cold, unconfident, obsessed by perfidy, and solitude, and fear.

Table of Contents

1. A Parade in Erhenrang1
2. The Place Inside the Blizzard22
3. The Mad King27
4. The Nineteenth Day43
5. The Domestication of Hunch47
6. One Way into Orgoreyn72
7. The Question of Sex89
8. Another Way into Orgoreyn98
9. Estraven the Traitor124
10. Conversations in Mishnory130
11. Soliloquies in Mishnory149
12. On Time and Darkness162
13. Down on the Farm165
14. The Escape184
15. To the Ice200
16. Between Drummer and Dremegole221
17. An Orgota Creation Myth237
18. On the Ice240
19. Homecoming263
20. A Fool's Errand285
The Gethenian Calendar andClock302

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Left Hand of Darkness 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 101 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I first read this book at 14, when an older friend passed it on to me. Even then, I was awed by the powerful story, the relationship between the main characters, & the unique culture Ms. LeGuin created. Now in my 60s, I have read & reread this book many times, & still find some new subtlety every time I pick it up again. This is the book I would take with me to a desert island; it's complex, poetic & thoughtful. It's not a quick read & on to the next pleasure. It requires commitment & patience, as it takes its time to unfold & build. Gently Ai is a normal human man who has been sent to the planet Gethan on a mission to contact & study the local culture. In Ms. LeGuin's universe, Gethan is one of many experimental colonies deserted on their planet after undergoing genetic alteration. Although these people are human, they have been genetically altered in some way then left to evolve. In Gethen's case, the entire population is hermaphroditic, neither male nor female, but with the ability to become either sex. During most of their lives, the people are basically neutral, but they have regular cycles, called Kemmer, where a couple will take on the aspects of male and female to produce children. Anyone can become either gender during each Kemmer. The social organization that occurs because of this is completely unique. There are no instinctive gender attributes such as those which are present on our society, & each person is taken entirely at face value. For Genly Ai, this is very disconcerting, & he finds interaction with these people very uncomfortable. One of the high Government officials, a person named Estraven, attempts to help him & is not initially successful, because the two people's ways of thinking are so different. When Estraven's advice puts Ai in danger, Estraven risks everything to save him. Forced together by extreme circumstances & making a journey where only cooperation will save them, the two become friends, thus showing that peoples' differences, no matter how extreme, can be overcome by understanding. This is made all the more apparent by the fact that Ai is black, & that this is mentioned only in passing, as something unimportant (although in the 60s, when this book was written, it was very important indeed). This book's message of tolerance, understanding and even love between two very different people is even more relevant today, as we wrestle with racial & sexual issues in our own society & must learn, as Genly Ai must do, how to open our minds to that which is different ... & yet still basically the same. I wish you the same joy & wonder in reading this as I have.
TY2 More than 1 year ago
I didn't expect to like this book, but it came to me highly recommended, so I gave it a try. I was rivetted. It's not just a science fiction novel, but a novel of human relationships. This is truely a classic piece of literature.
Darkloom More than 1 year ago
Re-reading The Left Hand of Darkness, I realized how little I remembered it.  I'd first read it many years ago and, frankly, I was a different person then.  I doubt that the slow pace of the first two-thirds of the book bothered me then.  That style of writing had not yet gone out of favor.  I knew that it was considered a very special book, but I confess I probably had no idea why. Older now,I started the novel with high expectations and soon wondered why.  By the end, I knew why.  As someone else said in a review, it's a beautiful novel.  It's challenging in its scope. Le Guin knows how to create alien cultures, how to place a stranger within that culture and show how one, or more, can learn to live within it.   The story is about alienness, aloneness, and love.  Hatred and cruelty.Survival and death.  It's also so very much about living and learning. The people of Winter (Gethan in the local languages) know that an alien has arrived on their world, although not everyone accepts that he's from another world.  Genly Ai is from the Ekumenic and he has come to offer Winter membership in that union.  He first presents himself and his proposal to the leaders of Karhide and finds himself relying on the prime minister, Therem Harth rem ir Estraven.  Their relationship is more than testy.  They distrust each other, even though Estraven accepts Ai's claim and promotes his mission. However, Karhide, its leaders and people are nothing like what Ai is used to.  He makes mistakes, but even Estraven makes mistakes complicating matters. The two find themselves on the outside and eventually dependent on each other for survival.  This relationship gives us the true nature of the alienness between the two races.  As they work together each learns there are differences, some of which make things difficult, but there are also similarities. They are both human, after all.  Le Guin's Terrans often become more like the aliens they encounter than they are like their own people.  This transition can be beautiful, but it is also often painful.  She creates cultures so vividly that the reality of them is powerful when one is lost within the pages of her stories.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Genly Ai, an envoy from the human galaxy is sent to the alien planet Winter/Gethen on a mission to bring the planet Winter into the fold of an evolving intergalactic civilization. He must do so by closing the gap between his own culture and the prejudices of those that he comes across. On a planet where people are of no sex, but have the ability to change into either gender, this is a large gap indeed. I found the novel fascinating and was amazed with Le Guin¿s intellectual and creative storytelling. I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a book that makes you sit back and ponder.
MaidMarion More than 1 year ago
It's not that the story is so fantastic on its own, it is how it makes you think about how we are so lashed into our male/female thinking. Everything in our world seems to be related to gender, and it really isn't a positive. While initially I thought how wierd, how awful, how ironic that "they" saw the normal male/female seperation as perveted, as the story concluded I began to see it from a different perspective. Le Guin managed to write a science fiction story that makes one look at reality in a new way. It definitely deserved the praise it recieved.
papicek More than 1 year ago
- Which is how I titled my Essentials List.

LeGuin has an uncanny ability to pack her prose with thought-provoking philosophical asides which still give me pause, as do her depictions of the intricacies of this utterly alien civilization. "The houses and islands and Hearths sit every which way, chaotic, in a profuse, prodigious confusion that suddenly culminates (as anarchy will do in Karhide) in splendor" still resonates. Perhaps I'm just farfetching though.

However, I confess that what I found riveting is their journey over the Ice. As one who yearly went winter-backpacking, I know first hand how huge the sound of wind is in the winter wilderness, and of nightime silences so profound that the tick of a falling ice crystal grabs your attention, and of "...the susurus of windblown snow...." I can attest to the immensity of the solitary winter landscape (and you attend to it, for it can hurt, kill, or cause you misery otherwise) as well as the constant preoccupation with the tiny details of comfort and survival, and with food, which equals strength, warmth, and well-being. I found her depiction of this wonderfully evocative. It is absolutely authentic.

Others may feel that the bond between Ai and Estraven is lacking in the end. I assure you that, apart from their dramatic situation, the comradeship, the otherworldly sharing, entailed with long winter treks is deep and lasting.

Difficult to share with others, nonetheless, this is a fat, multifaceted story which works well on many levels. I highly recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author of the Earthsea books brings readers to a frozen world that challenges traditional views of gender and society. Both exciting and fascinating, the adventures of Earth Ambassador Genly Ai on the planet Winter represent science fiction storytelling at its best!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After all these years, a dream to read, and a marvel of imagination. Nothing else comes close.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first book i have read by Le Guin and i thought it was just ok. It was highly recommended to me but it was not the best. I felt the story moved very slow, and Instead of eliciting a strong bond with the characters, you see the story as textbook. It¿s this stiff objectiveness that prevents the read from forming a deep connection with the characters. As far as innovation, i can't say i saw any new sci fi thinking but the writing and the philosophical thoughts behind the embodiment of the dualistic pit falls of humanity in the Gethen race. If you are a reader then you wont mind this one. I will definitely read more from Le Guin
Guest More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the read about as much as any other. The idea of a both-sex civilization alone would probably keep me hooked to the book but LeGuin instead gives me other ideas to feast on. Religion, humankinds speeding about issues,and many many more. The reading gets tough from time to time but overall it was a very satisfying read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, is a guidebook to the fictional world of Gethen, commonly known as Winter. While reading this novel, it immediately struck me that I could connect this to the ideas of gender and sexuality that are portrayed in the Gethen society along with society today as well. The construction of this story telling was different; it allowed the audience to dig deeper into what was actually being said. It helped me to look further into our own gender and sexuality that had been handed down to us since childhood. By the time I finished this novel, I felt as if I had actually been to the places that were being described. Le Guin displays that a science fiction/fantasy novel can be entertaining and enlightening at the same time. The Left Hand of Darkness expresses the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world where sexuality and gender are determined by external factors. The Gethenians physiology and androgyny is the central theme of the story. Throughout the discussion of this theme, I could not help but think that I was reading this from an actual scientific article that a researcher documented. As the plot thickens, there are many questions asked about theories on human nature. What could happen to the society if gender were removed? How does a society function if there is initially no distinction between masculinity and femininity? How does this society react when they are exposed to the outside world after an eternity of isolation? These questions are answered descriptively as the story advances. Leguin’s literary brilliance expands when she explores the inferences of this “thought experiment” from various angles. She examines love, loyalty, war, politics, and many more that shape the two nations of Karhide and Orgoreyn. Genly Ai’s mission to Gethen was solely to convince residents of the world to join the rest of mankind in exchange for ideas and technology. However, when he arrives he is puzzled by the society of Gethen, mainly because of their race of ambisexual beings. As the story proceeds, though, he begins to perceive a sense of understanding and fondness for this peculiar society. As humans, many people often ponder what the future of our society will consist of. With the use of creativity and imagination, we are capable of fabricating our own version of the future. To help us generate a glimpse into this coming time, science fiction novels are remarkably helpful. Most science fiction novels involve speculations based on present and or future advancements in science and technology. In The Left Hand of Darkness, the characteristics of a common science fiction novel are presented. However, this novel is simply not just about science and technology. Le Guin goes beyond the typical expectation of this genre. She keenly develops a story based on the science of culture, which was original and ingenious. By introducing the tale of Genly Ai, Estraven, and everything in between, the audience is able to imagine their diverse cultures and ways of life. As the audience dives into these parallel universes, it could pose many questions existing in our own society. With improving technology and science, is it possible that a world like this could dominate the one we associate ourselves with today?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin was first published in 1969. It takes a hypothetical setting on another planet, Gethen, also known as Winter. The book’s protagonist, Genly Ai, faces many challenges on his mission to get Gethen to join the Ekumen. But in order to do so, he must find a common ground between his own beliefs and those of a society who are genderless, that he encounters. Le Guin’s writing surprised me. I The Left Hand of Darkness to be a rather challenging book as I found myself questioning the ideas about gender and sexuality that have been apparent to me throughout my childhood. It is undeniable that the ideas that the book encompasses are completely and utterly mind-boggling. For instance, I was startled by the fact that once a month the people in the society of Gethen undergo kemmer, in which they can become either male or female. However, it is important for readers to be exposed to the challenges of particular human notions in regards to gender, gender roles, and sex. Moreover, the heart of the book is the journey between the two characters, Genly Ai and Estraven, from different worlds as they attempt to convince the kingdom to join the Ekumen. It focuses on the very complex relationship of Genly Ai and Estraven. Genly Ai brings gender assumption and biases to Gethen, since some of the residents are genderless, so in his mind he can’t trust them. However, this would endanger his mission because he needs to connect with these people in order to accomplish his mission. Thus, it is important for Genly Ai and Estraven to trust each other. In a profound way, Le Guin shows that The Left Hand of Darkness is not just about politics and gender, but a story about love and friendship. That being said, I recommend that if you didn’t read the book, you should and if you have read it, you should read it again in order to fully understand the challenging themes, ideas, and concepts. It is a spectacular work of science fiction, but The Left Hand of Darkness is not an easy read. Le Guin is very descriptive in her work and it requires a high level of concentration since every detail in the book has little stories behind it. Overall, I think it is a great book and a highly influential one. I enjoyed exploring all the cultural twists and turns in the book.
caseyb_ More than 1 year ago
The Left Hand of Darkness, written by Ursula K. Le Guin, was a very moving science fiction novel. It was published by the Penguin Group in 1969. The main character, Genly Ai, is a human envoy from a different colonization of unions known as the Eukmen. He is on a mission to go to the planet Gethen, also known as ‘Winter,’ where most of the story takes place. The purpose of this quest is to get the Gethenians to believe that he is an alien in an attempt to get the Gethenians to join this so-called embassy. In order to do this Ai needs to go through the King of Karhide, which is a kingdom in Gethen, and the Prime Minister of Karhide, Estraven. The central conflict in this novel is the differences among the Gethenians and Ai and how it affects the way they are capable of communicating and understanding one another. One of the main focuses in this novel over the course of Ai’s mission is that Gethenians are androgynous, which means they are genderless, until they enter a stage of ‘kemmering’ where they are either male or female. This books aims at showing how specific aspects of life, such as gender and biological sex influences interaction and can significantly impact the culture of a society, but in an enlightening way. It is truly fascinating how Le Guin ties all aspects of a different type of society in so the reader can understand and connect to something that is not like our society. The creation and depth of the Gethenian lifestyle is really intriguing and interesting to dissect. Le Guin’s writing is so powerful and conveys many deep concepts. The story has endless underlying messages and amazing takeaways. Ai and Estraven’s journey across the Ice is a scene so well-written the reader feels apart of this journey. One of the main messages incorporated in the texts shows that differences among people actually end up bringing everyone closer to each other. There is something very magical seeing the friendship between Ai and Estraven that proves a bond can be created despite being different. The Left Hand of Darkness explores relationships and friendships that will encourage the reader to accept others for who they are. It is a beautiful idea that Ai and Estraven were able to share the commonality of being each other’s friends all because of their differences. Although in the beginning of the novel it can be confusing with all the names of the characters and getting accustomed to the unique aspects to the Genthenians way of life, do not give up on this book. Even if you are not one for science-fiction, open your mind as I did. It will change your perspective on how you see people and there are many concepts that will resonate with you. This book is truly worth your time and is a must read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When the term science fiction is mentioned in discussion about a book, most people’s thoughts jump right to flying spaceships, intergalactic warfare, or humans and aliens lives colliding. Published by Ace Books in 1969, The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin is not your average sci-fi space story. Le Guin writes a very progressive novel for it’s time that plays out a story of communication, understanding, and friendship on the distant planet of Gethen. Although the story is a dense read riddled with unexplained “Gethenian” terms, the theme and character development throughout the story provides a thought-provoking and relevant read. The plot is focused on the development of two characters: Genly Ai and Estraven, along with some folklore-type historical stories thrown in to add context and provide additional insight. Genly Ai is a male envoy sent from another planet to convince the Gethen to join the “Ekumen”, a sort of league of worlds between planets. Genly Ai is introduced to Estraven, the prime minister of the country Karhide. He is supposed to help Genly Ai talk to the king of Karhide to persuade him toward the Ekumen, but Genly Ai quickly realizes his first mission will be harder than he thought. Le Guin’s novel explores the topic of angrogony and gender stereotypes and Genly Ai, a cis-male character, interacts with the genderfluid people of Gethen. Genly Ai has a hard time accepting their androgyny, and continuously misgenders the Gethenians, referring to them as “he” in the story. This also ties in with the topic of acceptance present in the novel. Genly Ai is a strange outsider to the Gethenians, and the Gethenians are strange outsiders to Genly Ai. Both parties work throughout the story to better understand and accept each other, proving to be a large challenge in the beginning of the story. Another central theme we see develop in the novel is communication. At first, Genly Ai cannot effectively communicate with the people of Gethen. Although he knows the language, the conversations between him and the Gethenians lack contextual understanding for both parties. In order for Genly Ai to complete his mission he needs to reach across the language barrier and gain the Gethenians trust for them to join the Ekumen. Throughout the novel we see a friendship blossom between Genly Ai and Estraven as they work to get Karhide to join the Ekumen, overcoming their initial hesitations toward each other. Le Guin in 1969 created a story that takes timeless issues that come with the process of colonization and implement them into a setting beyond our time. Her progressiveness makes The Left Hand of Darkness a timeless story with relevant issues that are still being discussed today, making the novel much more meaningful than your average sci-fi space story. Although the novel was a complex and dense read, it brought forth many important themes within the context of the story which impressed me. The immensely different setting and characters were complicated to follow at times but the overall plot development and emerging themes within the story left me thinking when I finished the book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin is a science fiction novel, published in 2000, which follows the story of Genly Ai, a man from the human galaxy, who ventures to Winters on a mission to convince its citizens to join Ekumen, a community of worlds. Genly Ai is faced with many issues throughout this journey which make his mission more complex, including genderless citizens and an ice age. Genly Ai struggles to grasp these concepts due to his preconceived ideas of what people are supposed to be which makes his ability to connect with the citizens complicated. Out of this stems a lot of mislabeling on behalf of both Genly Ai and the citizens of Winters. Le Guin’s novel intertwines several themes including politics, loyalty, religion, and more. However, many of these themes get overshadowed by the theme of gender explored throughout the novel. Many people who read the story tend to be fascinated by the concept that no one on Winters has an assigned gender until they mate once a month during Kemmer. It is quite unfortunate though because while that is extremely interesting, there are many other themes I found to be intriguing as well. Many people will say that The Left Hand of Darkness is a book that changed science fiction and perhaps changed the world even. They believe in a collection of classic science fiction novels, it must be included. Unfortunately, I had a different experience with this book. While I found the book to have an interesting take and appreciated some of the themes explored in it, I found it difficult to follow the plot line. It is definitely a book that requires a lot of focus and a lot of thinking. If you are not paying extra close attention in the beginning chapters of the book, you will find yourself lost later on. Personally, I find this to be a turn off when it comes to books. Some people read for pleasure and leisure, however, if you are leisurely reading this book, it will only cause confusion. This may be disappointing to some people. Overall, I find The Left Hand of Darkness to be a well thought out book with intriguing themes, plot twists, and characters. While it is not a book that particularly pertains to my interests, I can understand why other people enjoy it. Ursula K. Le Guin is definitely an outside-of-the-box writer and even though I did not enjoy the book personally, I would recommend it to someone who enjoys science fiction and thought-provoking novels.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In Le Guin’s Left Hand Of Darkness, she describes a story taking place on planet Gethen also known as Winter. Genly Ai, the protagonist in the story is on a mission to have planet Gethen join an alliance among 42 planets called the Ekumen. Genly Ai’s home, planet Earth is one of the planets in this alliance. Once Genly Ai lands on Gethen, he appears different from the Gethanians, as they appear different to him. Throughout the story Genly Ai works along side with Estraven, a politician who chooses to help Genly Ai. It is evident that Genly Ai is confused by the Gethenians gender as it is androgynous, and therefore loses trust with them. He thinks that the normal person is either male or female, not androgynous. Several themes in this book cover gender, sex roles, power, violence, and national identity. I believe that Genly Ai has trust issues with the Gethen’s because he is too young and inexperienced to understand their lifestyle. For example, the Gethen’s undergo a sexual cycle called “Kemmer” where they become either male or female every few weeks. Genly Ai is very confused by this, and doesn’t understand how men can also appear so feminine. Another way he is inexperienced is how easily he feels he can get Gethen to become part of the Ekuman. He doesn’t realize how strict and distrusting their government is. By the end of the book, I overall enjoyed the reading. At first, I did find it very confusing to learn the different places or worlds and the processes that happen on them. We are alien to the world the Gethanians live in. Although, once I understood the concepts of this book, it was very interesting to read. I like how descriptive Le Guin is, and how in the end she portrays broader themes of love and friendship. She also provides details on masculinity and femininity for us to better understand her book. I believe one of Le Guin’s main purposes to her book is to describe to the reader that any place could exist free of set sexual standards. She also proves that there is no set roles for each gender, as everyone on this planet can be who or what they choose. I definitely recommend this book to readers searching for an interesting book to read, and one that will cause them to think deeper about the meaning.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tired of the typical stories with the same settings, plot lines, and predictable endings? Are you looking for one of those good reads filled with action, political conflicts and even love? Something that will blow you out of this world? Well I am not entirely sure I can promise that, but in Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness, you will be on an entirely new planet! This novel takes place on a planet called Gethen which is inhabited by individuals who have no gender and live a very different life from that of the main character, Genly Ai. Ai is from planet earth and has taken on a mission on behalf of his people to try to convince Gethen to join the league of planets, also referred to as the Ekumen. Early on in his journey, Ai meets a Gethen named Estraven who is intertwined within Gethen’s politics. Estraven soon becomes not only an asset to Ai, but a very close companion. Genly Ai, being from earth sees himself completely all-knowing and fitting all the norms one must fit in any life. In this way he looks down upon his surrounding peers despite his mission to convince them to join the league. Ai ultimately views them as aliens as he is unable to get past their differences, the biggest being unable to understand their androgynous lives especially in relation to “kemmer” which is their mating season where an individual can either be male or female. Ai therefore perceives the Gethenians as aliens, but in retrospect they view him and all he stands for as foreign as well. This story explores prejudice and the importance of gender roles seen in the ways Ai holds onto his feelings of sexual identification which hinders his ability in connecting to the people of Gethen, further enhancing the problems he encounters along his journey. My opinion on the overall book is that it is interesting. I mean this in both a good and bad way. I think that the setting of Gethen and the fact that there are no existing genders, therefore no set expectations of sex upon its individuals, is something fascinating and a great way to intrigue a reader. I also believe that the narrator and his prejudices are an excellent aspect of the story especially as they taint his view on sexual natures, create problems in developing relationships necessary for his mission, and even hinder his ability to express love. On the other hand of enjoying these parts of the story, it was a little out there for my taste in literature and although I admire strange, some parts either felt too unrealistic such as mindspeech or they rubbed me the wrong way, for example the brought up incest in one section of the novel. Many parts of the story simply caused confusion and boredom for me rather than engagement or wanting to continue to follow the narrator along his mission and in his encounters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, published by the Berkley Publishing Group in 1969, is a science fiction novel that introduces concepts well ahead of its time, such as gender and feminism. This story takes place on the planet Gethen, which is on the outskirts of the galaxy, though it is referred to as Winter by the other 43 planets that are part of an alliance called the Ekumen. The two main characters developed throughout the story are Genly Ai and Therem Harth rem ir Estraven. Genly Ai is a young envoy from Earth who is sent to Gethen in order to get these people to join the Ekumen along with the other planets. When Genly Ai first arrives at Gethen and meets the prime minister, Estraven, he has a difficult time viewing him as androgynous because he brings his gender stereotypes from Earth to Gethen. Genly Ai views Estraven as a feminine male figure rather than as a gender neutral being which is the reason he distrusts and dislikes Estraven. Genly Ai is an alien in Gethen, being that he is from Earth, and Estraven is exiled because the king’s cousin convinced the king that Estraven committed treason. These two are more similar than it seems and it is important that Genly Ai is able to look beyond his preconceived ideas about gender and trust Estraven in order for the mission to be completed successfully. This book is definitely not an easy read and is geared towards those with an interest in science fiction and all of the concepts that genre has to offer such as exploration of other planets, time travel, and other forms of life. I personally do not gravitate towards this genre because science is not my passion or my strong suit so it was definitely a struggle trying to read the first few chapters of the book. There are also so many vocabulary words that are introduced right away and it is very overwhelming and makes it difficult to understand what is going on in the story. I had to read the first chapter multiple times in order to fully understand the premise of what the story was going to be about. There are also challenging concepts presented in this book such as kemmer, the mating period for the Gethen people in which they became either male or female, as well as the folklore stories that are spread throughout the book. As I progressed throughout the book it became easier to read because I had a better understanding of the basic concepts, though I still did not enjoy the reading. I would not recommend this book to others who share my disinterest in reading about gender, since this is an overarching theme of the book.
StefanY on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I guess that since I mentioned this in my review of The Earthsea Trilogy also by Ursula Le Guin I should most probably write a review for Left Hand of Darkness as well. Left Hand of Darkness is more of an exploration of human emotion/sexuality than straight Science Fiction. The story centers around an emissary who has been sent to a distant planet, called Winter, in order to convince them that joining the intergalactic federation is a good thing for their planet and their society. The people of the planet are both male and female, able to change their sex pretty much at will and our emissary must learn how to cope with this strange sexuality at the same time that his body is learning to cope with the extreme climate of this frozen planet. Overall, I thought that this novel had a grand concept that the author handled adeptly and really did make the reader think and consider human emotion and sexuality. Her storyline is engaging and her characters are well-fleshed out. My only problem with it is that her prose seemed very heavy-handed. I consider myself to have a fairly extensive vocabulary and it seemed that I was stumped by words often in this book. I normally don't have a problem when I come across a word that I don't know and I actually enjoy finding out the meaning of a new word, but the frequency with which this occurred was a bit frustrating. Even without the vocabulary that Le Guin uses in this novel, there were many times that I felt that the plot was plodding along especially when dealing with all of the philosophical and bureaucratic hurdles that the protagonist must go through in order to reach an understanding of these people with whom he must attempt to make some sort of alliance.The concept and storyline were enough for me to give this an above average rating, however had Le Guin's style matched that of her Earthsea Trilogy, I'm sure that I would have enjoyed the novel much more and given it a much higher rating.
sarjah on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure what I can say about this book without giving too much away. part political commentary, part social commentary? A human ambassador to a planet so far away that by the time he gets back home his entire family will be long dead. The natives most of the time are not gendered but turn either male or female depending on...? several factors really. LeGuin has a peculiar style of writing but if you only read one of her books read this one. This is the kind of Sci-fi that you can sink your teeth (and your brain) into its really a short book but very dense and a great story.
ryvre on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
After all I've heard about this book, I was underwhelmed. I spent most of the book wondering when it would get interesting. The world is pretty cool though.
MusicMom41 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I bought the special 25th anniversary edition when it first came out in 1994 fully intending to read it then. But that was the year of the big ¿upheaval¿ when after living 25 years in Savannah hubby was transferred to California. Somehow I never got around to reading it until I saw so many people on LT talking about it the last few months so I searched among the mess that my library has become recently and finally tackled it.I had a difficult time getting into the story so I had a slow beginning. I¿m not sure why, but I just couldn¿t seem to get into a flow with the story. Like Genly Ai I found the inhabitants of Winter to be difficult to understand and the strange words from that world really slowed me down. I did enjoy the interspersed chapters that gave myths and history of this strange world and Genly Ai¿s visit to the foretellers I found interesting. About 2/3 of the way through, after reading it for nearly a week, I finally put the book aside in order to finish reading Battle Cry of Freedom and a couple of lighter reads for relaxation.Last Sunday I finally decided I wanted to finish it so I could move on. The last third went very quickly for me and I finished it in an afternoon (those of you who know me realize that is fast reading for me!). Suddenly I seemed to connect with the two main characters and I really enjoyed the rest of the book. I¿m not sure if this part of the book was just more interesting or if my attitude had changed allowing me to appreciate the story. Perhaps, because I gave the story ¿a rest,¿ subconsciously I processed what I had read previously and the world didn¿t seem as strange to me any more. In the end, it was a satisfying read. Recommended
maryh10000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's a world where the people are asexual most of the time, and only take on male or female characteristics for a few days each month. And the same person can male one month and female the next. Well realized, detailed world.
catalogthis on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One-sentence plot summary: a human emissary arrives on the ice planet Gethen, populated by a people who are neither male, nor female, but both, and neither.I struggled through the beginning. Le Guin gets so enthralled with her own world-building that she neglects to provide her audience with a primer... the result is that the first few chapters read like Science Fiction Mad Libs, for example: "He {verb?}ed across {place?} in {month? continent? weather? vehicle?}. After I reached the end, I re-read some earlier passages and found them much easier -- like sledging during kroxet in Thern.Ultimately, what I found most interesting wasn't the ambisexual nature of Gethenians, but the contrast between the two primary states: Karhide and Orgoreyn. The former is "not a nation, but a family quarrel," while the latter is most definitely a nation, with all its attendant bureaucracy and xenophobia. As the primary narrator, the human Envoy, says: "I wondered, not for the first time, what patriotism is, what the love of country truly consists of... and how so real a love can become, too often, so foolish and vile a bigotry. Where does it go wrong?"
andreablythe on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Genly Ai is an emissary from a galaxy collective to Winter, a planet in which there is no gender division, the people are essentially androgynous (or perhaps asexual) except for specific times when they are in kemmer and take on one or another gender for the purpose of sex. While navigating the complicated and dangerous political workings of Winter, Genly must learn to let go of his assumptions surrounding gender roles if he hopes to survive. While this story was written in 1969, the need to reconsider our assumptions about gender identity is far from outdated. True, a lot has changed since that time. Women have more options; becoming a housewife is a choice instead of the standard, and so on. However, gender roles and definitions of what constitutes proper female vs. male behavior are still prevalent. There is not a perfect equality (and the reality is that there might not be such a thing). Books like The Left of Darkness allows us to look at our present assumptions of how things are and how we think things should be, and question them. This is a very good thing. Beyond the intellectual aspects of this book, the plot of political intrigue and the danger of trying to present new ideas to a society you don't fully understand is fascinating. Combine that with the sheer survival aspects of a world that is always in Winter and it's fantastic. Genly is an interesting character, and his growth and change in thinking is subtle, but clear by the end. This is a plainly enjoyable read, and one I would recommend picking up if you're looking for some classic scifi.