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Reviews of Left Hand of Darkness, the (1969)

Review by johnafair (2009-10-08)
This book joins together the best of genre science fiction - the development of the question 'What if...' and standard literature necessities of character development and plot.

It's in the development of the peoples of Gethen that's at the heart of this novel and, as usual, Le Guin has not forgotten that a country, never mind a world, is a huge and diverse place when viewed up close.

I have read a couple of times now and was fairly surprised to find that the bits that I had retained from the earlier read were fairly small parts of the whole novel - I had remembered the journey across the Ice but much of the central portions of the novel had disappeared from memory.

Highly recommended!

(This review refers to the 1969 version titled “The Left Hand of Darkness”)

Review by clong (2007-03-03)
I liked this book very much. From a pure storytelling point of view Le Guin presents a clean, well-constructed narrative about great events experienced by a small group of characters. The story flows through a series of episodes, the most compelling of which is a journey through an impassible arctic wilderness. The characters are well drawn and sympathetic, despite some challenges Le Guin set for herself in defining the inhabitants and society of the planet Winter.

But it is as a novel of ideas that The Left Hand of Darkness really shines. This is a book that takes on some very ambitious challenges, and largely succeeds in addressing them. It will certainly make you think about the nature of humans as individuals, social groups, and members of society as a whole, not to mention providing some very original insight into how gender impacts virtually everything we do. Much thought has clearly gone into developing the political, social and sexual structure of the truly unique world of Winter, and the peoples who live upon it.

Many people love this book; for others it heads directly into territory that seems out of place in a science fiction novel. But everyone should read it. Highly recommended.

Review by spiphany (2005-04-29)
I've read this three times and feel like I'm finally beginning to understand it. For some reason I've always found Le Guin's Hainish novels rather slow going, which isn't typical for me. But I've found that her work grows on one, and I've gradually come to appreciate the craftsmanship.

There's so much packed into the pages that perhaps it's not surprising the story sometimes seems rather dense. In Winter, Le Guin has created such a detailed world - I can't think of any other fictional world that is so fully, so completely realized. The society is heavily governed by rituals, every action is governed by the rules of 'shifgrethor' - that is, guarding against loss of face. Most of the story is told from the point of view of an off-worlder, Genry Ai, who (like me, I suspect) often finds these people baffling and impenetrable. Mixed in with his narrative are documents - transcriptions of folklore, scientific notes from the first team to visit Winter. And eventually, the journal of Argaven, who becomes his protector, and whose life oddly parallels a story from the local myths. Running through the book, as with many of Le Guin's works, is a vein of Eastern mystic philosophy: even outside of the religious communities, the Fastnesses, whose goal is to find uncertainty, nothingness, this worldview permeates the entire society of Winter.

Underlying all this, of course, is the element usually remarked upon first: the inhabitants of Winter themselves, who are androgynous. Le Guin uses this to explore not sexuality per se, but gender, and how it dominates even the smallest aspects of our perceptions and interactions. She manages it so well that the reader comes to share some of Genry's change of perspective when, at the end, he sees this unsexed state as being natural, and ourselves as trapped within a divided, unnatural state.

It's impossible to really do this book justice. Le Guin intertwines all these elements so well into a whole, the end of the story oddly reflecting the beginning. Part of the fascination is how everything works together, and seeing how it can be read on so many levels. Certainly it's the sort of thing you return to, finding more in it each time.

Review by ropie (2005-01-03)
In terms of convincing creation of a world, race and society, this is the best science fition novel I have ever read. The planet of Winter and its docile inhabitants are brilliantly conveyed, though the reader is never bogged down with excessive detail.

In parts a thoughtful and imaginative book, in others a tale of adventure, it succeeds on every level and could be re-read many times without losing any appeal.

Review by blueworld (2004-04-01)
This book is the pinnacle of soft SF. LeGuin asks, "what would society be like if..." and she answers creatively. Especially fascinating to those interested in cultural anthropology.

©Steven Jeffery /, 2012
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