Review: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

Title: The Left Hand of Darkness
Author: Ursula Le Guin
Publisher: Ace
Rating: 3/5 Stars
Paperback, 330 Pages
Published March 1987

Summary: A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can choose -and change - their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter's inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. 

I had to read this book for my college anthropology class a few weeks ago, and I wasn't expecting to enjoy it, because I've never been big on science fiction. However, after having to read it for a school assignment, it turned out to be a lot more interesting than I expected.

The story is super complex to explain without you having read it, but it explains the story of a man who comes down to a planet where there is no gender -- a concept that's really difficult to wrap our heads around in today's society. Not the fact that there are more than two genders -- that's pretty understandable -- but the fact that gender doesn't exist at all. So his story is basically him coming down to this planet and experiencing this entirely new way of life while trying to convince the planet's leaders to join an alliance.

I found the whole non-gender thing to be super interesting, even if it gave me a headache from being a bit confusing at times. The theory was that there was a mating season once a month, and people would just assume the roles (and the biological genitalia and such) of either a male or a female, and would mate accordingly. So basically, your mother could be a man a month from now. At one point, the king of the country was even pregnant with a child. It's something that sounds really silly and hard to comprehend for us, but when you sit down and think about it, it really makes you think -- especially about how gender is something that we have socially constructed, not something that is legitimate. 

(However, biological sex is a legitimate thing. That isn't to be confused with gender.)

All in all, the book was weird, but super interesting. It wasn't my favorite read ever, but it held my attention, and I found some aspects of it really intriguing. If you're somebody that's into science fiction and/or fantasy, I definitely recommend giving this book a read. It opened up a lot of deep, intriguing conversations during my class, and it helps you learn to understand others better -- because let me just say, having to read about a culture (granted, it was fictional, but this applies to any culture that is foreign to me in real life) that I view as "wrong" compared to mine really helps to change my world view. 

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