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Publisher's Summary

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards.

A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing the aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

©1969 Ursula K. Le Guin (P)2016 Recorded Books

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Almost 50 and still amazing

Some books you have to go back to once in awhile and Left Hand of Darkness is certainly worth multiple visits. Published in 1969 the book is one of the most influential science fiction books from the last century. 

It has been reprinted at least 30 times and luckily the edition I picked up had an introduction by the author. In it Le Guin discusses two different types of science fiction. First there's the "extrapolative", which many if not most readers associate with the genre. "What will happen if technology continues to develop in this direction?" it asks. Le Guin admits that this type of fiction is often apocalyptic and depressing, perhaps why some people reject reading it. This book, she says, is more of a thought experiment in the tradition of Philip K. Dick or Mary Shelley. 

In the book Genly Ai travels from earth to an ice-covered planet of humans called Gethen (also called Winter because of its tremendously cold climate). This is one of many planets seeded centuries before by a race known as the Hain. (Le Guin wrote several books set in the "Hainish" universe.) Genly has been sent as a sole envoy to invite Gethen to join a coalition of around 80 planets called the Ekumen who are united mostly for trade with some loose voluntary laws. After two years of proving he is, indeed, an alien and trying to convince the planet to join the coalition he finally is able to arrange a meeting with the king of Karhide, one of the planetary nations, through the help of the prime minister, Estraven. Genly fails to convince the king to join and Estraven is exiled shortly after.

Genly decides to try to work with one of the other nations on the planet, but there he's arrested and imprisoned by secret police. The exiled Estraven manages to pose as a guard and free him, and together they travel through the planet's severe cold to try to reach safety.

While the surface story is interesting and well-written, what makes the book truly unique is its examination of sexuality. The Gethenians have evolved an unusual sexual pattern. Every 26 days, in coordination with the moon, they go through a hormonal transformation. Some become female and others male and they mate. If the female becomes pregnant she remains pregnant through the birth of the child. Otherwise, both return to their asexual state. This gives Le Guin an opportunity to examine the influence of sexuality on culture. Genly has assumed that the human's constant availability for mating was one of the forces for wars and other conflicts. The Gethenians have border rivalries but war and killing are rare on the planet. These changes also put Genly into awkward situations, not always sure the people he interacts with are acting as friends or are experiencing a sexual transformation. Because of that, loyalty and personal interactions also become key themes through the book.

Le Guin is able to create unusual worlds that are different from many alien creations in science fiction, altering cultures to their very core as a way of reflecting on human values in a different light. After being in print for almost 50 years it still stands as a remarkable novel and among science fiction fans it is still regularly listed as one of the best sci-fi books of all time.

58 of 60 people found this review helpful

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Many themes that are applicable to today's world

So, this is one of those sci-fi books everyone should read. It's the second I've read in the Hainish Cycle but they aren't really a series just seemingly,ever so loosely, very loosely connected, at least for the two I've read so far. But they are both fantastic reads (the other I have read is The Dispossessed which is equally good but totally different.

The Left Hand of Darkness is a story of first contact, not in the traditional science fiction "first aliens to show up on earth" sort of way, but with the first humans making contact with another very distance planet and its peoples sort of way.

The planet alone is so different from what we are used to and the people are so very different in the way they think and live (not really different much physically or in the sorts of jobs they do and what not).

While reading this book, you'll be thinking on deep questions, some of which might be very timely these days, including,
- What is gender?
- What is patriotism?
- What is cold?
- What is monarchy?

The subject of refugees comes up a few times and it made me think even more about the current refugee situation we have here on earth. The subject of patriotism is mentioned several times and requires the reader to reflect on what this really is and how it shapes us.

This book was published before my fifth birthday and I am now over fifty, yet the themes feel like they fit right into many of society's current conundrums. Of course, some themes are clearly universal.

Have I mentioned that it is beautifully written? I actually listened to this as an audiobook from Audible and the narrator, George Guildall, is excellent.

If you have any interest at all in the human condition, in the interaction between people, and in deeper intertwined themes of diplomacy, refugees, patriotism, and brotherhood, then you should read this book. If you are breathing, then you should read this book or listen to the audiobook.

124 of 131 people found this review helpful

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A wonderful book about dichotomies

This book addresses the yin and yang of patriotism vs globalism, male vs female, communism vs monarchy, light vs dark, trust vs distrust, love vs hate and many more dichotomies. Ursula Le Guin creates a distant world of androgynous people living in a frozen world. The tale unfolds through the growth of the relationship between two alien people who learn to love and trust each other in dire circumstances. Rich and engaging, this story that I've read and reread many times, is my favorite story of all time.

48 of 55 people found this review helpful

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Classic novel, terrible narration

I had read this novel years ago and enjoyed it immensely, and so was looking forward to returning to this favorite sci-fi story in audible format. However, the terrible narration spoiled the book for me. Guidall has a very choppy, staccato delivery, and his voice sounds thin, nasal, and asthmatic. This was perhaps the worst narration I've heard on Audible.com.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Science Fiction that isn't

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

I'm at the point where I can't get enough of Ursula Le Guin. I love science fiction, but grow tired of the militaristic stories that are so common. I'm still looking but I have a hard time finding an author that captures the human experience like she does, and many of the interactions could be people living on earth from different cultures. The setting of an alien going to make contact with a new world is important, but only adds to the universality of the story. Le Guin also explores gender and sexuality unlike anyone. I can just feel my mind expanding through her work. Unfortunately I have mostly only read her audio books, but my goal in this life is to read every work she has written. For now I will just relisten to the books I've read more than 10 years ago.

53 of 61 people found this review helpful

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Such a great story

One of the classics of hard science fiction that I always seemed to put off and am glad I took the time now. So ahead of its time and yet timeless. The reader was generally great, but at times it was hard to distinguish between the characters speaking.

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Breaking Alien Ice

The Left Hand of Darkness is often considered Ursula K. Le Guin's greatest novel, which high praise considering the author. The story is also almost unanimously considered a classic of the Science Fiction genera, up there with I Robot or Man in the High Castle. Personally, I adored this book.

As for George Guidall's performance, it's decent. He does a good job with the very alien vocabulary, but he puts very little passion into his performance and there is no attempt whatsoever to differentiate the characters. Still, that was never a deal breaker for me since the novel itself is so good. Overall, very highly recommended!

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Crystal
  • ALBANY, NY, United States
  • 03-20-18

Hard to Follow

I had difficulty following the story and figuring out the characters and the places. The narrator was dry and monotone. This story did not draw me in and I wouldn't be able to explain what it was about.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Stephanie
  • Beautiful Groveland, MA, United States
  • 03-02-18

Dull

I am over halfway through AND JUST REALIZED THAT THERE ARE MULTIPLE POINTS OF VIEW. I normally really like George Guidall, have even sought him out in the past, but sci-fi is definitely not his forté. I started wondering what this would have been like with a more virtuoso narration (recently finished The Force, which was so incredibly well read) very early on, tried to stick with it in honor of Le Guin. Failed utterly. The story’s premise is so interesting! The narration ruins it completely.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Worst narration I've heard yet.

The story was interesting, but it was overshadowed by what I think is the worst performance I've heard on audible yet. It sounded like he was gargling the words as he spoke and everything sounded jumbled.

13 of 16 people found this review helpful

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  • Penelope
  • 03-06-18

Complex story and some excellent philosophy

I found it slow to get attached to the characters but this reflected the challenge the main character had also, so I found it interesting. I enjoyed the androgynous concepts and lifestyles that were developed. The journey accross the snows I found entrancing.
I liked the narrators voice however I didnt recognise too much change in tone for the different characters so often struggled to keep up with who was who and added to the complexity of the story.

Overall I enjoyed the philosphies of the cultures and concepts of living in an ice age. I recommend it.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Gerard Brady
  • 02-05-18

An Inspirational Novel

A wonderful book. A thought-provoking novel which is a fantastic introduction to the work of a truly innovative writer.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • johny5
  • 02-03-18

A wonderful book<br />

A single envoy from a federation of planets is sent as an envoy in order to eatablish first contact on a cold myseterious world were everyone is androgynous, through this narrative device the author explores attitudes to feminity and masculinity on our own world. A profoundly illuminating story from a visionary and sadly missed writer.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Colin Dente
  • 06-26-17

A classic

An excellent and seminal story - one of the greats of SF.

The narration took some getting used to at first - the narrator's voice can be slightly difficult to understand in places, but after the first few chapters I was used to it and no longer found it difficult. He did a good job of converting the emotional tone of some parts - particularly the last section of the book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • El presidente
  • 02-07-17

awful audio performance

A good story ruined by an awful audio performance. The reader has a very odd, heavy voice which saturates all 's' and 'r' sounds, making it very difficult to understand what he's saying. I gave up in frustration.

5 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Flowform
  • 09-05-18

wonderful book, shame about the narration

I love The Left Hand of Darkness and have read it often, but found the narration very difficult in places: the lack of distinction between characters, the indistinct words (not only alien words but English too) sounding half swallowed at times, the hurrying over passages which warranted more care. Disappointed in the narration, but not in the story.

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  • Debbie Epstein
  • 03-24-18

Classic Ursula Le Guin

Left a Hand of Darkness has long been a favourite book of mine. I loved listening to this recording

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 04-03-18

A struggle to get through at times

Le Guin is a linguistic master, many great lines in this book. Average narration however.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Ken Brown
  • 08-02-18

a fantastic story by one of the greats

loved this story. well told. an interesting look into the issues of patriotism. get it.

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  • Amy Hopper
  • 05-25-18

Loved it

Amazing! So sorry to come to the end. Must read! This is not your usual science fiction, but a study of human nature.