The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin


“A profound love between two people involves, after all, the power and chance of doing profound hurt.”

This was recommended to me due to how much I like Margaret Atwood, which meant I went in with high expectations. Unfortunately, it just felt too dry to be to my taste in science fiction. I don’t think it’s a bad book, and I’m glad I read it as I can’t remember anything else quite like it. I just never became truly invested in what was happening.On a frozen planet of sexless androgynists, an envoy from another world arrives offering them membership in an interstellar partnership. In the wrong hands a premise like this could come across as a wacky “Planet of Hats” (re:TvTrope) attempt at hamfisted political exploration, but Le Guin has an impressive take on the actual ramifications of a society like this.

While The Left Hand of Darkness raises a number of interesting issues, I never grew all that invested in the story. The only part which I don’t think will meld together in my mind into a long description of dry conversations in cold rooms is an exciting expedition over a country-long stretch of ice.

The prose was at times thoughtful and measured, but everything moves along at a weird pace. The diary format results in the description of events like an attack on a farm lacking tension, which works in some moments as there is a lot of stuff to take in, and this allows for enormous exposition dumps without feeling too forced. But I only ever grew attached to one character, Estraven, and during the rest of the novel I felt like I was watching a slow-paced documentary. The subjects were interesting, and there were some intelligent observations made, but everything felt detached. I’d recommend it to people who are more interested in world-building than I am, though.

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