The Left Hand of Darkness

I read a wide variety of books, and while I read more Fantasy novels than any other genre, I’ll check out pretty much any book that sounds interesting.  If you read a lot of genre fiction and follow it at all, there are a lot of books that you’ve heard of quite a few times even if you haven’t read them.  The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin is considered by many to be one of the best and most important books in the history of Science Fiction.

Book Stats

323 pages

Science Fiction

Stand Alone


The book is told from two separate POV characters, the first is Genly Ai, a human who is serving as an envoy to the world of Gethen from the Ekumen of Known Worlds.  The other is Estraven, a citizen of Gethen and a high ranking official in the country of Karhide.  There wasn’t much about Genly’s personality that really stood out for me that will make me remember him long after this book.  At the same, I could say the same thing about Estraven.  The main interest in the two characters was watching the interplay and the cultural clash between them throughout the course of the novel.


The book is set on the world of Gethen, which is (by human standards) barely habitable as the world is perpetually in winter.  The world is really interesting and it was well written.  For a decent part of this book the goal of the characters is to travel from one location to another, and the difficulties that the world caused in this measure made it interesting to read about.  The other main aspect of the world building is that the Gethenians have no gender.  They become either male or female once a month during their mating cycle and have no gender for the rest of the month.  The interplay between Genly’s human thoughts about gender differences is played very well in this book and really calls into question a lot of what we take for granted with our own gender differences.


The overall plot of this book is Genly’s goal of bringing Gethen into the Ekumen of known worlds.  In trying to do this, he is sent to Gethen alone (so that he cannot possibly be seen as a threat) to live with the Gethenians and to try and convince them to join the Ekumen.  Along with this, there is also a lot of political maneuvering with the various countries trying to either hide or promote knowledge of Genly being on the planet, as well as the idea of there being different worlds where ‘aliens’ live.  While both of those are the main story points, a large part of the plotting also deals with Genly trying to reconcile his own thoughts with a culture where everything that he takes for granted doesn’t apply.


This book is extremely well written, deals with a lot of interesting social and moral questions, and tells a very interesting story about two people from very different cultures coming to respect each other in spite of their differences.  It was also a really tough book to read.  I’ve said in other posts that I don’t follow politics, and while political intrigue is a very fertile field for a novel, it’s not one that works very well for me.  When I read Science Fiction, I prefer books that have a lighter tone than this one does.  This book was brilliantly written and fully deserving of all of the accolades that it has received, but it wasn’t for me.

Overall Grade

A brilliant book that didn’t work for me.  If you’re a big fan of Science Fiction you need to read this book.  If you’re more of a casual fan (like I am) you could probably pass this one by.


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1 Comment

  1. I’ve been seeing a lot of reviews on this author lately. I still haven’t read one. It seems like I should try just one of them. I do like politics so this one might work for me. Sorry you didn’t like it. .


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