The Left Hand of Darkness

last updated 2019-12-06

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Continuing on my Le Guin streak, this was a great novel to follow A Wizard of Earthsea. It's remarkably different in tone, the intended audience seeming to be a more mature one. The tone is solemn, probing, and at times bleak.

The story explores a world called Winter, the inhabitants of which have the unique quality of being gender fluid biologically. The story is primarily told from the point of view of an emissary from another planet, who grapples with his own sexuality and transphobia.

It was immediately obvious how influential this story has become. Later works by authors like Jemisin mirror the structure of interleaving folklore and historic record into the narrative.

The version I read had a great foreword by Charlie Jane Anders and an afterword by the author herself. I liked this line from those analyses:

Predictions are uttered by prophets (free of charge), by clairvoyants (who usually charge a fee, and are therefore more honored in their day than prophets), and by futurologists (salaried). Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist’s business is lying.

And from the novel itself:

...with a musty chill on the air as if the drafts blew in not from other rooms but from other centuries.

This incredible anticar sentiment won my heart:

Gethenians could make their vehicles go faster, but they do not. If asked why not, they answer “Why?” Like asking Terrans why all our vehicles must go so fast; we answer “Why not?”

And how science fiction authors like Le Guin so clearly understood the relationship of nature and climate still astounds me.

CO2 released by the volcanoes into the atmosphere will in time serve as an insulator, holding in the long-wave heat-energy reflected from the earth, while permitting direct solar heat to enter undiminished. The average world temperature, he says, would in the end be raised some thirty degrees, till it attains 72°. I am glad I shall not be present.

In all, this was my favorite book of 2019. I closed out the year running an ultra marathon through two feet of snow. My thoughts returning to the book I had finished the night before: of Genly Ai and Estraven skiing hundreds of miles across the glacial north. Only their thoughts, and their company, keeping the biting cold at bay.

Compiled 2024-04-21