Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

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So I just finished reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin as part of my “Does it Hold Up Over Time” reading series. I remember reading this book for the first time in the 8th grade and feeling a little bewildered. I had already read The Lord of the Rings so I felt confident about tackling more serious science fiction and fantasy books. I was, however, unprepared for the mature themes and the depth of the social issues that run throughout this book.  Re-reading the novel today I can see why it is considered a classic of the science fiction genre.  The writing is superb– something I sensed as a middle school reader but can now more fully appreciate.  The real power of this book though is the way it addresses the complex issues of xenophobia and the importance of bridging cultural divides.  It is a testament to Le Guin’s skill in conveying the difficulties inherent in dealing with such issues that I often felt uncomfortable as the protagonist, Gently Ai, interacted with a culture that was sometimes similar but often very different than his own.  Can you say “androgynous aliens?” The Left Hand of Darkness has definitely stood the test of time and is worth checking out even if you’ve never cracked open a science fiction book. The BBC seems to agree as they recently aired a BBC Radio Play of the book.

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