Book Review: The Left Hand Of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin(1969)

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Release: March 1969
These are troubling times; perpetually. Whatever is happening right now has much more poignancy and importance than past events. There are always massive and traumatic events that can be viewed and titled “troubled times”, but perception will always make the present more important. The past is a mirror for the future, allowing people to make correct and informed decisions in the present. Science Fiction does something similar. It gives people fiction that relates to the real world, and usually instills an understanding or a new perspective that allows individuals make better decisions, and hopefully avoid catastrophe. All too often, catastrophe is unavoidable; with the science fiction novels becoming a prediction of the future. There are countless Science Fiction novels, that are great fiction, but fail to reverberate the real world. Perhaps this is what makes a Science Fiction classic. Looking at the world today, the classics seem to stand with clear relation to the present. Books like Dune, Brave New World and 1984 fit perfectly as predictions and cautionary tales for today’s society. One book that seems to go unnoticed, is Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness; the topic of which has never been more fitting.

While Brave New World and 1984 stand as direct parallels to today’s world, The Left Hand of Darkness is more obscure. It is the topic and theming that is important, the universe in the book is a more abstract creation untied to the real world. It wouldn’t be a stretch for the world’s future to be similar to Brave New World or 1984; The Left Hand of Darkness isn’t a likely future. Instead it is a window through which certain social aspects can be viewed critically. The novel presents a universe with an assortment of ‘humans’ on a variety of worlds. A race from the world Hain populated the universe and their decendents are all the varieties of ‘humans’. The book focuses on one man’s journey to the world Gethen, where he hopes convince the people to join a league of ‘human’ planets. Genly Ai is a man from earth sent to these different ‘humans’ to teach them about the outside universe and bring them into the fold, so to speak.

What makes Genly’s journey so intriguing is his journey coming to grips with a drastically different society. He doesn’t know who to trust and struggles with a society that has developed around a race of ‘humans’ who are completely hermaphroditic. This is where the book shines a light on the real world. How much of human society is established because of gender divides? What would a world without gender be like? The book brings up that gender is an intrinsic part of being human, but it also points out how much present views of gender and sexuality are social constructs, without real baring on what it means to be a human. The aliens in The Left Hand Of Darkness are still humans; relatable and likeable humans, unhindered by their lack of gender. The book paints a picture where political intrigue and strife still exist, but without the added baggage of pointless gender issues.

The book is a marvel; one that should be more prevalent. It deserves to stand along side the classics; not just Science Fiction classics. Without hesitation, I’d give The Left Hand Of Darkness five stars; recommending everyone pick up this masterpiece of literature.

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