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Book review: The left hand of darknessby Ursula K. Le Guin

A groundbreaking work of science fiction, 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.


Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction

This book needs to be read starting with its wonderful introduction, written by Le Guin herself. This part is so important, especially for those who from the advantage of society that has moved on after decades since the book came to be may view it as tame, as not going far enough, not being visionary in the way that calls to our wishes and current views.

Like some readers, Genly Ai, the protagonist of this brilliantly written leisurely-paced cerebral sci-fi classic, for a while just cannot seem to move past the ambisexuality aspect. Ai is an ambassador to the planet Gethen to convince its leaders to join the interplanetary union Ekumen. The inhabitants of Gethen differ from other humanoid races in two aspects: (1) they have adapted well to tolerate the Ice Age climate of their world, and (2) they are ambisexual. For the majority of lunar cycle they are essentially neuter, and for several days they enter a sexual phase, kemmer, during which they attain either male or female characteristics and become capable of sex.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a deep story of humanity, love, betrayal, alienation, and acceptance. But it is not an easy book to read. It is not meant to take you on an exciting whirlwind ride. Instead its aim is to make the readers think and reflect. It may be slow to start, but it’s hard to put down as well. I walked away from it feeling that a part of me has been changed forever – and for the better.


I walked away from it with more questions than I had when I started – and that’s a very good thing, as far as I am concerned.



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