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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

What listeners say about The Left Hand of Darkness

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Best get the book. Narration hard to follow

Very deep into the book I realised the narrator switched characters and there had been no indication of the switch so I wasn’t properly following what was happening, and having to guess based on the story. I recall another section like that, but wonder if I’ve missed previous changed characters. I’ve found the entire thing hard to follow. Narrator has a soothing voice, but sounds too old for the main character’s voice and very breathy. I’ve made up my mind to get a hard copy and try again.

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Very hard to follow

The story is good, I think. hard to know because I've struggled with the narration the whole book.

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Still relevant SF

Intelligent rendering of character psychology and a facility with language that contrasts with the cardboard prose of much recent SF.

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A struggle to get through at times

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

2 people found this helpful

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one of her best

i had read this 15 years ago and it buried a few seeds in my brain. Le Guin explores many things about humanity including sexuality, foretelling the future. self-intetest versus broad vision, and loyalty versus betrayal She knows how to tell a story as well, the long arduous journey section is gripping. it was a pleasure to revisit such a thought-proviking work I liked the performance also

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Read page one before going on

She writes pretentious in a way I dont resonate with... I wanted to say people should drop the whole gender thing but it is so thinly veiled at times that you really cant. That doesn't mean she is writing it as fact but her view on the current world, and she knows this.

If you like this book you are probably either slightly autistic and like the writing or you believe you are philosophical.

Anyone hating this book, probably wants to believe the author is writing as though what she writes is fact.

Remember she is self aware enough to know that what she writes is just her observations of her own mini thought experiment based off her current world. She realises what she writes isnt the pure truth and just hopes the reader knows she knows this.

This book wasnt for me based just on its writing alone and if someone loves the books writing and story thats great. In the same way I cant hate you for the food you like.

BUT If you are liking or hating on the book for its whole thing on gender and quote it as either fact or heresy are just like someone criticizing a persons diary because the authors ideas point of view is not the same as yours.

Get off you high horse and start enjoying life and books for what you like instead or crying for injustice or those against it.

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wonderful

because the story is from Ai's perspective, it can be exposition heavy and with the book. I was finding it hard to start with. listening made it really accessible to me. Such an epic story. the narrator was wonderful.

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  • Kaz
  • 04-10-2019

Excellent story, but narration does not work well

I want to write a review for The Left Hand of Darkness because although unusual, I think it's an excellent book. But I'm finding that writing the review I'm stumbling. Why? Primarily because I listened to an audio version of this book, narrated by George Guidall rather than read it and I do not believe he was the best choice of narrator. Whilst his reading matched the more cerebral nature of the story and he had an easy style which suited the book, his breathing was a little laboured which distracted me often. And sadly, I must say this, his voice was too old for the main characters of the book. For example, the protagonist - the envoy - was supposed to be a Terran man, approximately in his 30th year, but the voice sounded more like a man of 70 years old and it did not 'gel'.

Having said why I didn't like this particular edition, I loved the premis and the actual writing. Ursula Le Guin is an exceptional writer and I can't wait to read other of her books – both in this series and others she has written. This crossover between science fiction and fantasy is superb.

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An unforgettable journey

I have mainly steered clear of fantasy and science fiction thinking it fanciful or boring and a waste of my precious reading time! I read this book as I had to teach it and it proved a revelation! At first I was annoyed by the preliminary numerals/ facts but then the story gripped me! Wonderful descriptions of Winter, the far-off planet visited by an earthling of the future and an utterly absorbing tale of two men with deep cultural differences complicating their trust. It becomes a desperate test of survival against the elements but Le Guin’s beautiful writing and deep characterisation transforms this tale into a profoundly moving experience which engaged even the most indifferent reader...
PS I also reread it to get the many details sorted but enjoyed the story even more!

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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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  • kwdayboise (Kim Day)
  • 07-06-2017

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.

175 people found this helpful

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  • James Tomasino
  • 15-04-2020

Ruined by the narration

The book is obviously excellent with beautifully crafted prose, world building, moral introspection and brilliant questions explored. The book follows multiple points of view to achieve these aims. That fact is important and yet I didn't realize it for half the book because the narrator makes no vocal distinction. He mumbles and crunches his aged voice over complex foreign terms and people. He moves without energy or passion and it stays the book into a plodding morass.

Read this instead of listening. Audible, make a new recording with more dynamic narration or multiple readers.

55 people found this helpful

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  • Aaron
  • 08-02-2018

Very Disappointed

For being such a classic this is a very disappointing book. The story drags on and is more focused on the political intrigue rather than what I would consider SciFi. The narrator is awful with the mumbling of words, awkward cadence, and almost an off hand way of speaking.

51 people found this helpful

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  • Sean P
  • 06-02-2018

This book requires MULTIPLE narrators

or one that can do multiple voices... otherwise this story is too difficult to follow

78 people found this helpful

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  • taylor davis
  • 26-04-2020

Bad reader

I love Ursula Le Guin but this book which I know is an incredible book is ruined by this horrible reader. I hope that audible or another company do another recording of the novel soon!

30 people found this helpful

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  • Marcus W. Hambright
  • 09-03-2018

Not a good audio book

I kept losing what was happening. The story seemed to switch from character to character without letting the reader know. The narrative also bored me, though the synopsis sounded like something I would enjoy. The author seemed to concern herself moreso with the philosophy of what an alien world and it’s peoples, cultures, etc were like in comparison to the narrator, but even this wasn’t very compelling for me. If 83 worlds had already joined a coalition, it would seem that sending a lone envoy to an alien world would be a lot better thought out than it is here. I listened to about half this book before I gave up. This is only the second audiobook I have given up on.

39 people found this helpful

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  • A. A. Baldwin
  • 01-03-2017

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.

156 people found this helpful

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  • David S. Mathew
  • 16-08-2017

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!

28 people found this helpful

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  • Stephanie
  • 02-03-2018

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.

43 people found this helpful

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  • pat
  • 25-03-2017

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.

63 people found this helpful

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  • Flowform
  • 05-09-2018

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.

11 people found this helpful

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  • Penelope
  • 06-03-2018

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.

10 people found this helpful

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  • johny5
  • 03-02-2018

A wonderful book

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.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Gerard Brady
  • 05-02-2018

An Inspirational Novel

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

3 people found this helpful

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  • Colin Dente
  • 26-06-2017

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.

3 people found this helpful

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  • El presidente
  • 07-02-2017

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.

15 people found this helpful

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  • Helen Priddle
  • 28-12-2019

Looked forward to this but spoiled by the reader

The voice literally sent me to sleep on several occasions. I had to concentrate really hard to take anything in. I’m not adverse to concentrating but this was tough. And there were different characters narrating but it was difficult to distinguish them until you’d really developed an ear. Such a shame as I’d been wanting to read some Le Guin and this seemed the best loved. I don’t feel it’s been done justice, sadly.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 26-04-2019

Great story!

Loved this book. Such a great tempo. Like a laidback Dune - less epic but leaves more to think about.
I liked the narrator too. His voice seems a bit wobbly to start but you tune into it, and then it sounds just right.
Definitely recommended!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Charlie
  • 16-03-2020

Awful narrator

I couldn't follow this book at all because I just couldn't tune in to the narrator! I found it so difficult to follow what he was saying I could hardly take the story in. something about his pace, tone, cadence, I don't know, but I began listening again to the same story by a different narrator and it was like hearing it anew! I had missed so much! So I can't carry on with this version unfortunately

1 person found this helpful

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  • Debbie Epstein
  • 24-03-2018

Classic Ursula Le Guin

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

2 people found this helpful

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