The Left Hand of Darkness

Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness Cover

The Left Hand of Darkness


An androgynous society where a person can be either male or female at different points of their life. Enter Genly Ai, an envoy from the larger galactic society known as the Ekumen of Known Worlds, whose mission is to bring the world of Gethen into the Ekumen (if he can convince them/if they desire).

The book is slow-going and boring at times; it does not have high adventure, space battles, magic, antagonistic aliens, or any of the usual sci-fi tropes. What it does have, however, is a very thought-provoking insight into what it means to be human -- and this, I think, is what the root of all science fiction should strive to be.

Le Guin asks the question, "What would society be like if there were no males or females?" Or, at least, if everyone was essentially the same with respect to sexual identity. Her conclusions are not much different than the planet of Gethen itself: largely cold, unfeeling, barren, relatively peaceful, and monotonous. But the capacity for love is still there, showing how important that is to human existence.

The book is not exciting and there are times when it can lose the reader in the drudgery of its descriptive passages, but it is transcendental in its metaphor. For that alone, it deserves to be on the list of great science fiction and what it has the potential to be.