The Left Hand of Darkness Book Summary and Study Guide

Detailed plot synopsis reviews of The Left Hand of Darkness

The envoy Genly Ai has been sent to the planet Gethen to invite the inhabitants to join the Ecumen, a federation of worlds slowly reuniting after an inter-galactic war. Only, Gethen was the site of a genetic engineering experiment where all the inhabitants are humans capable of being either male or female, partly at will but partly by chance of circumstances each month.
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Genly arrives in Karhide where he is discovered by Lord Estraven, an astute politician. Estraven sees Genly as a chance for his people to learn and grow, but also as a solution to the threatening war with neighbouring Orgoreyn. Genly is about to be formally welcomed by king Argareyn, when everything goes wrong. The pro-war faction has won the kings favour, Estraven is exiled as a traitor and Genly departs on a tour of the country. He visits Orgoreyn in hope of a better reception, but ends up interned in a concentration camp. He is rescued by Estraven, who leads him across the ice cap to return to Karhide, where Estraven again arranges his welcome, now as an escapee from evil Orgoreyn. To do this, Estraven allows himself to be killed, as his return alive would have been an impossible condition for the king to accept.
The review of this Book prepared by David Pearce

Genly Ai, a human envoy from the Ekumen -- a loose confederation of more than 80 planets -- has come to Gethen (a cold and fairly primitive planet familiarly known as Winter) to investigate whether its various societies are ready to join the Ekumen. Though many of the inhabitants are disbelieving and suspicious of him, one counselor to King Argaven of the Karhide by the name of Estraven allies with Ai on his mission. Unfortunately, Estraven is outmaneuvered by other players, branded a traitor, and flees to rival nation Orgoreyn, whence Ai follows, but the human ends up in a prison camp himself. Estraven must break Ai out and take him across the frozen wastes back to Karhide to complete his mission. The fact that the inhabitants of Gethen go through periods of their lives as either sex is discussed but not belabored. LeGuin attempts to create whole societies, and systems of faith; the book is as much "anthropology," with folk tales and scientific studies of its subject peoples, as first-person narrative by the two principles, so some may find it tedious at times. (The protagonists spend 70 pages struggling through ice, snow, and volcanic fields.) It won the Hugo and Nebula awards for the best science fiction novel of the year after its publication in 1969.
The review of this Book prepared by David Loftus

Genly Ai is an envoy from the galactic civilization called the Ekumen, sent to the lost, frozen planet Winter to bring it into the Ekumenical fold.   Genly lives at first in Karhide, and there meets Estraven, who tries to help him navigate the culture of Winter, so different from his own - humanity on Winter is genderless. Genly only begins to understand this world and its society when he and Estraven must flee over the ice, to another kingdom, after political manuvering in Karhide puts them in danger.

Left Hand of Darkness was a groundbreaking novel in its time, and has left its influence on a whole generation of SF - so much so that the average reader now may see the book as derivative. It isn't. Much of what we read today derives from it.
The review of this Book prepared by Ivy

The Left Hand of Darkness is a hack-written gender-bender/survival epic based on an ice-world. The main character must come to terms with his sexual identity while trying to survive in a war-torn autocratic society of functional alternating hermaphrodites.
The review of this Book prepared by Brian R. Hughes

Chapter Analysis of The Left Hand of Darkness

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Plot & Themes

Composition of Book planning/preparing, gather info, debate puzzles/motives 20%Feelings, relationships, character bio/development 40%Descript. of society, phenomena (tech), places 40% Tone of book    -   sensitive (sigh....) FANTASY or SCIENCE FICTION?    -   science fiction story Political power play    -   Yes Political plotlets    -   preventing/managing clash/war between govts/kingdoms Is this an adult or child's book?    -   Adult or Young Adult Book Cultural problems, alien culture    -   Yes Culture clash-    -   one person from different culture of other persons Intense exploration of society's culture?    -   Yes

Main Character

Identity:    -   Male Profession/status:    -   diplomat Age:    -   20's-30's


Terrain    -   Mountains A substantial portion of this book takes place on a non-Earth planetary body:    -   humans in a primitive/fantasy society    -   humans in a contemporary society    -   inhabited by friendly aliens    -   unfriendly aliens    -   neutral aliens Planet outside solar system?    -   Yes

Writing Style

Accounts of torture and death?    -   generic/vague references to death/punishment scientific jargon? (SF only)    -   none/very little science jargon needed Sex in book?    -   Yes How much dialogue?    -   significantly more descript than dialog

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Ursula K. Le Guin Books Note: the views expressed here are only those of the reviewer(s).
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