Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Four Stars)


Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Four Stars

“The unexpected is what makes life possible.”

Excellent. Le Guin demonstrates the verbal prowess that earned her early science fiction honors. Her later stuff reflects her hardening prejudices.

“Almost anything carried to its logical extreme becomes depressing, if not toxic.”

Better introduction than Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter. Read this; not that.

“The whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed on Winter. On Winter … one is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.”

Le Guin reminds us that the issue is not being manly men or feminine women–nor fem men and manly women, or whatever–but being totally human. Modern politics divides us into ever smaller categories, ignoring the vast commonality we share. What makes you and me alike (and different from whales, elephants and apes) is greater than how we differ.

“The life of every man is in the center of time. For he saw not what was nor what will be, but what is.”

She also makes the point that this culture counts time from the present, a thought-worthy construct. We all live as if time started when we became aware of it, when we were six to ten years old. Everything before and after is speculation. Even history isn’t real because we didn’t experience it. We only really experience now. And that only now.

“The truth is a matter of the imagination.”

La Quin demonstrates her famous inability to understand (or care about) numbers and abstractions. Faster delivery of goods and services should have survival value in a harsh environment. “… in stationary orbit about three hundred miles over [the planet].” (Good luck achieving that orbit.)

“The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what happens next.”


Further quotes of note:

“Our society, being troubled and bewildered, seeking guidance, sometimes puts an entirely mistaken trust in its artists, using them as prophets and futurologists.” (1969)

“I am not predicting or prescribing. I am describing.”

“One voice speaking the truth is a greater force than fleets and armies, given time; plenty of time.”

“Keep clear of factions. Tell your own lies, do your own deeds. And trust no one.”

“No man considers himself a traitor.”

“The imperative clarity of a hunch.”

“Not a man’s face and not a woman’s face, a human face.”

“[Redacted] knew when to act and how to act. Only he did not know when to stop.”

“Culture shock was nothing compared to the biological shock I suffered as a human male among human beings who were, five sixths of the time, hermaphrodite neuters.”

“Like all economic explanations it seems, under certain lights, to omit the main point.”

“An arsonist grandfather may bequeath one a nose for smelling smoke.”

“One alien is a curiosity, two are an invasion.”

“The snow of ignorance remains untrodden.”

“You can’t build up amino acids out of hydrogen atoms.”

“Every word he said rose out of a deeper silence.”

“… and darkness the right hand of light.”


One thought on “Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Four Stars)

  1. LeGuin was one of the first writers I came across in high school. Loved her work. Remarkable and great that she is still working. Thanks.

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