Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness is a true classic of science fiction and an important piece of literature. Classes are taught about this book, a simple Google search will reveal hundreds of articles of true criticism of the book, essays that discuss its place in history, study guides, book discussion outlines, etc. Where does this leave me – should I attempt to say what other people, people who know way more than I do, have already said? Should this review become a simple book report? I say no – do the Google search. You will find great, interesting and important information about The Left Hand of Darkness and Ursula K. Le Guin. What I will discuss is its relevance today, over 40 years after it was replaced. I will discuss why the young(er) fan of SFF books should read this classic that was published before they were born.
The story itself is quite worthwhile even without the thematic prowess. By today’s standards, it’s short and to the point. Le Guin creates an exotic world in the planet Winter that is equally familiar and alien to our senses, like the people who inhabit it. The interplay of trust and perception with politics and an epic adventure across glacial wasteland makes for powerful moments.
So, does The Left Hand of Darkness stand up 40+ years later – emphatically, YES! This novel has a timeless feel about it and a wonderful subtly wrapped in important thoughts that are inherent to our society and species. We will always be a gendered society, but just what do these gender roles mean? And the dichotomies within can apply where they weren’t necessarily aimed – the Cold War of the planet Winter now reads much more like an interesting take on the differences between Democrats and Republicans in the US – and I’m sure that those from other places will find their own modern analogs if they wish. This book earns its write to be at or near the top of any ‘best of’ list and easily belongs in a series of Masterworks. 8.5/10
Note: This review was originally posted at The SF & Fantasy Masterworks Reading Project.