The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness coverCaidyn- 4.5/5

Now, I’m not a huge sci-fi person. Let me explain, though. I really like sci-fi when it’s done well. However, most books I’ve read that are sci-fi aren’t what I want. A lot of them are pretty misogynistic and, well, that’s not my thing. Either the books are misogynistic themselves or the authors are, and I am the type of person who doesn’t want to support the work of people who are like that.

But, this one was very good. It’s a really good look at a planet and the political tensions in it. That’s what most of the book is comprised of. Just explaining political tensions that then lead us down the rabbit hole to something bigger. Gender. A huge discussion on gender and gender roles. And it starts off hinting at it, then it continues on, going further and further in until the end when you’re left with a profound statement. Does gender truly matter? It impacts everything that we do and are allowed to do in our culture, but does it matter?

That was a huge topic back in the 1960s when this was written. Today it’s still a big topic as more people come out under the transgender umbrella. Transsexual (which is a dying term that some transpeople find offensive — I obviously don’t), non-binary, demigender, genderfluid, gender variant/nonconformity, Two Spirits, the Third Gender, etc, etc etc. There are so many that I can’t keep track of them. And, obviously, it’s a huge talking point in politics. Look at North Carolina’s bathroom bill. (And the one being proposed in Texas. And various other states, including Kansas.) The debate still rages even between the traditional binary of men and women, leaving out the trans part of it.

And this book is still relevant for all of it. I highly recommend it and I’m definitely going to have to read it again.

Chantel – 4.5/5

I gave this book a rating of 4.5 stars because it has a slow start with a lot of political intrigue because of this it took me some time to get into the book. Once I did, I was amazed. There were also POV shifts that weren’t obvious right away and was quite jarring. However, I’d highly recommend as an important piece of science fiction literature written by an incredible female author and as a look at gender from a 1960’s point of view.

My first exposure to Ursula K. Le Guin was a story called, “The Ones Who Walked Away From Omelas”. I highly recommend it. It was an amazing story about a utopia that has a moral dilemma, and that’s all I’ll say because I encourage everyone to go read it. It was an incredible story and sticks with me to this day. From then on, I wanted to read more by her and when I heard what The Left Hand of Darkness was about I was immediately interested. A planet where there are no assigned genders and no gender roles? Of course, I’m intrigued.

As I was reading the book, I found myself getting annoyed with the protagonist and his views on the people of Winter. As a progressive Millenial living in 2017, I thought the idea of a genderless planet was incredible and would be a wonderful place to live. It’s so easy to think of how people thought then and criticize, but I constantly had to remind myself of when the book was published and how people thought back during that time. Le Guin is simply reflecting the thoughts of her time and trying to open people’s minds. I felt that Genly’s journey through the book was excellent character development and it didn’t feel unnatural or forced.

For me, this book picked up about halfway through. There’s essentially two parts to this book and once that second part hit, I was sucked in completely. From that moment on until the end of the book was a beautiful story. The writing and world building that Le Guin provides us with is remarkable. She did in this novel what I felt she accomplished, on a smaller scale, in a short story and I know this book is very popular and well respected in the science fiction world and it’s deserved.

Discussion

While we both agreed on the merit of the book, we looked at it from different perspectives. Chantel wasn’t a fan of the political aspects of it whereas Caidyn was. Caidyn looked at it from the point of view of a transman while Chantel saw it from the perspective of a liberal, progressive, cis-woman. This book is open to many perspectives beyond those two. During the time period Le Guin wrote this, sci-fi was largely dominated by male writers and readers. Having a book that asserted a genderless world and had a main character imposing his gender pronouns on characters reflected the way most readers came from, taking not only Genly through dynamic character growth but also the reader. The reader would have to be engaged in the book and perhaps be repulsed by these “men” who are feminine. In a world that grows more and more inclusive (we hope) of different gender identities and expressions, Le Guin’s book offers a glimpse into the past and a reflection on how many people feel today as gender becomes more and more muddled in the eyes of the public.

Discussion Questions:

  • How is this book is still relevant?
  • Did Genly’s POV contribute to the book in any way other than what we named?
  • What themes would be similar or different if the book was published in 2017?
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One thought on “The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. Pingback: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood | BW Book Reviews

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