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The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of DarknessUrsula K. Le GuinWalker and Company1969

From Wikipedia: The Left Hand of Darkness is a science fiction novel by U.S. writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Published in 1969, it became immensely popular, and established Le Guin’s status as a major author of science fiction. The novel is set in the fictional Hainish universe as part of the Hainish Cycle, a series of novels and short stories by Le Guin, which she introduced in the 1964 short story “The Dowry of the Angyar”.

The novel follows the story of Genly Ai, a human native of Terra, who is sent to the planet of Gethen as an envoy of the Ekumen, a loose confederation of planets. Ai’s mission is to persuade the nations of Gethen to join the Ekumen, but he is stymied by a lack of understanding of their culture. Individuals on Gethen are ambisexual, with no fixed sex; this has a strong influence on the culture of the planet, and creates a barrier of understanding for Ai.

The Left Hand of Darkness was among the first books in the genre now known as feminist science fiction and is the most famous examination of androgyny in science fiction. A major theme of the novel is the effect of sex and gender on culture and society, explored in particular through the relationship between Ai and Estraven, a Gethenian politician who trusts and helps Ai. When the book was first published, the gender theme touched off a feminist debate over the depiction of the ambisexual Gethenians. The novel also explores the interaction between the unfolding loyalties of its two main characters, the loneliness and rootlessness of Ai, and the contrast between the religions of Gethen’s two major nations.

Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness.