The Left Hand of Darkness

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lefthand.gif

Ursula LeGuin

GENRES:
Sci-Fi, Feminist

SUMMARY:
Set on the planet Gethen or Winter, Left Hand of Darkness revolves around Genly Ai, an ambassador from the diplomatic intergalactic organization called the Ekumen. Ai is assigned to make contact with the Gethens and learn about their culture and physiology.

The Gethens have adapted to their perpetually wintery planet in minor physical aspects, but as a whole remain remarkably similar to humans in all but one respect. Every Gethen is genderless with the capability to transform into man or woman each time they go into heat, or kemmer as they call it. This phenomen is the fodder that allows LeGuin to raise subsequent issues of gender stereotype and sexual identity.

Due to the long-standing political situation between two neighboring countries on Winter, Ai finds himself battling the harsh elements as he travels across a vast ice field with a Gethen. It is during this time that Ai must confront his own gender stereotypes and prejudices towards the hermaphroditic aliens.

RESPONSE:
LeGuin's award-winning classic is deservedly so. It is a fine study of society, gender, and unconscious stereotypes wrapped in a pure science fiction story. If you decide to tackle this book, make sure you don't skim. In fact, most of the meaning within will come out probably after it's finished.

If you're looking for a fun fast-paced book, give this one a miss. If you look around at the various reviews for Left Hand you'll find a wide range of responses because it doesn't appeal to all types of sci-fi readers. LeGuin's story is quite slow, focusing mainly on character and theme development as well as detailed description of her ice world.

Personally, I'm glad I read the book. It raised a lot of issues, and it is a definite credit to the genre. However, I have to say that I did not have fun reading this book. With the exclusion of the Gethenians' hermaphroditic novelty, it was not entertaining... and usually, unless it's for class or to impress someone, the main reason most people read sci-fi is for its entertainment value.

POINT BLANK:
If you're willing to use your mind for a few hundred pages, definitely read it. If not, give it a miss and find another classic sci-fi to impress people that's more entertaining like Stranger in a Strange Land.