Blurb Book Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (no spoilers, just ranting)

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I chose this book because I kept reading that the author’s work is wonderful and groundbreaking. It was written in 1969 so I told myself to read it with that in mind. I don’t normally like books written too long ago as they feature male protagonists in male worlds and I’ve had quite enough of that, thank you very much.

After I was done I found out this is the fourth book in the Hainish Cycle. I really wish I’d taken note of that before I started reading. Perhaps reading the Hainish Cycle books in order might have helped me understand this one better. Now, let’s get on the ranting.

I’ve been reading since before I started school, and with this book I had to stop and sound out far too many words. It was like learning a new language and then reading what is considered a classic in that language. Because of this, I had a remarkably difficult time comprehending what I read. I ended up reading the book out loud to myself, to force myself to read and listen to every word. The author’s sentence structure added to the problem. I found the order of words confusing and difficult to follow. Like it’d been translated and done poorly. I have no idea if this is normal for the author or just the style used for this book, but my brain hurt when I was done.

Keeping in mind this book was written in ’69, I hated the constant use of ‘he’ as a gender neutral pronoun. I know the author addressed this later on, after the book was published, but my brain had a really hard time thinking of these people as androgynous. Instead, I was constantly thinking that this was yet another book with all male characters. Every other sentence had me bending my mind to remind myself these are not technically men. That was unbelievably frustrating and drew my attention away from the plot, story, and characters.

The first third of the book felt like an infodump, although it wasn’t. The author described what the character was doing, but I had no sense of what the character had done. I felt like it was all setup until about halfway through, although flipping back through the pages I realized this wasn’t true. This might have been easier to understand if I’d read the previous three books in the series.

The idea of an androgynous species is interesting, but I didn’t get a feel for their culture at all. They still had a leader, still had a hierarchy. I did enjoy the lack of shame around sex, though, that was a fantastic diversion from reality. The setting of a world where it’s always winter was interesting, and the idea that the protagonist’s mission was to get the planet to join an intergalactic civilization was cool. But even then, I had a hard time with the concept. Excellent idea that first contact would be peaceful and inclusionary, but the idea doesn’t sit well with me. I’m far too used to stories about wanting resources from planets and causing wars and whatnot. But again, I tried to remember that this was written long ago.

I was disappointed. The book didn’t hold up to the hype for me, not at all. I might try the author’s work again, a different series or something, but first I need something more current.