Title: The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Genre: Fantasy/ Sci-Fi
Publication date: 1969
The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an 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.
I think the Hainish Cycle is growing on me. After I got rid of the initial expectations of what a Sci-Fi from the ’70s should be like I actually started enjoying myself. And The Left Hand of Darkness was the peak of the series.
The longest so far, I found The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin to be a fantastic tale of a man that is thrown amid different cultures and struggles to understand them and to be understood. I love the fact that both the people of Karhide and Orgoreyn are so different in their biology and way of thinking and most of all I loved the fact that Le Guin threw unfamiliar words and concepts our way and didn’t stop to overexplain them. This allowed us to understand Genli Ai, the main character, much better; to walk in his shoes, so to speak, since we were confused and learning just as he was. We got to judge, misunderstand and grow frustrated with confusion only to slowly see things the way he saw them, grew along so that we can accept the difference in the people of that far-away planet and appreciate it.
The plot this time seemed balanced and even though there isn’t much action or battle it is not boring. We follow Genli as he is trying to establish an agreement and further a mutually beneficial relationship between Karhida (and after that the rest of the world on the Gethen planet) and the Ekumen, an union of 83 worlds. His first attempt fails and he loses all support so he decides to try his luck with the neighboring country – Orgoreyn.
Things get from bad to worse for him and he barely escapes death with the help of an unexpected ally. And while at first glance it looks like the book is all about the struggle and hardships of Genli Ai in attempt to get this treaty to happen it is so much more. It’s is actually a journey of learning to accept and appreciate the difference and the alien view of his new allies in this hostile world. In the beginning Genli is just like us, full of awe but also ignorance and lacking deep understanding of his task. But after spending some time among them and almost dying during the typical cold winter of the world, he finally starts to see things their way, even feel more like one of them even though biologically he is anything but.
There wasn’t that much of action in the book although Genli and Estraven, the former prime minister turned traitor of Karhide, went through hell and back in the middle of winter in order to save their lives. As with the other books the author spends more time describing landscapes and emotions rather than actions and adventures. The prose is as melodic as ever and the depth of her fantasy societies, their beliefs, religions, political systems etc is astounding.
This is probably the first book by Ursula Le Guin where I actually liked the main character. In her other ones I usually liked the supporting characters better or just finished the book because of the story itself. Here you can’t help but feel something for Genli – his joy at his small accomplishments, his pain and desperation, his loss and love. That’s pretty much all she needed to do with the other ones to make them so much better. I’m happy I got to read this book.
I would give The Left Hand of Darkness a 5/5 rating. It is not what I would expect from a Sci-Fi genre (even though it is technically a Sci-Fi/Fantasy blend) but that is what I loved about it. It was super different, it was thought-provoking and it involved the reader in a way that at the end you can’t help but feel changed by it.
What about you? What rating would you give? What are your thoughts and takes on The Left Hand of Darkness?