Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

I tried to read The Left Hand of Darkness a few years ago and didn’t make it all that far into it.  It isn’t that it is bad in any way, in fact there are interesting points, but like some of the other books it is an attempt to write literary science fiction. Whether it is successful or not is largely irrelevant to me because that is not why I am reading science fiction. I do on occasion read literary fiction, but most of the time I don’t really care for it.  That is largely how I felt about The Left Hand of Darkness. It was never bad, but I never really cared about anything that happened either.

The story is interesting but there really is not all that much to it. The story follows a man who has been sent to the world of Winter to ask those who live there to join a sort of interstellar alliance. Since there is no faster than light travel visiting this world takes 17 years of travel. He is sent alone in order to avoid scaring any of the natives and with very little proof of who he is.  Much of the story is him trying to find people who he can trust and convince them that they should join this alliance. This shouldn’t be all that hard since there are no real rules except the exchange of ideas which would be a great aid to those on Winter.

The real heart of the story is not about that, but about the people of Winter. The real key to this is that the people spent most of their lives as neither female or male but neuter with brief moments of time when they become one or the other and which is more or less random. A person might be the father of several and the mother of several more. The primary value of this is to attempt to show just how much sexual politics enters into everything we think, say and do. Had this simply been a feminist book that would not have been all that interesting but because it was not simply about how women could rule better, Winter is not actually all that well run, just how different things would be if we were different.

While this is not written as the type of science fiction I like this is absolutely a story that could not have been told in any other way and I really did enjoy this story. The only issue with it is that it really doesn’t feel so much like it was written for fans of science fiction. This can be a good thing as I generally don’t want to just read adventure stories, but this just never really captured my imagination beyond simply thinking it was an interesting way of thinking about our world. Enough to recommend it to those who want to think, but not to those who want a quick fun story.