The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

I finally finished reading The Left Hand of Darkness this afternoon. It took me a week to get through it’s 93,000 words. True, it was a busy week, but so was last week, and I still managed to read The Terminal Experiment in two days. I probably can’t say too much about the book right now. It’s the kind of story that requires some digesting. But here are my initial thoughts.

I often try to compare what I’ve just read with something similar I’ve read in the past. I like making those kind of connections. Certainly Darkness is a world-building novel, which harks back to books like Dune. But Darkness was really nothing like Dune. There’s a big gender element to the story. Joanna Russ’ books are big on this too, but it’s been a long time since I’ve read something by Russ so it wouldn’t be fair to make a comparison. So what does the book remind me of?

Well, crazy as this will sound, the first thing I thought of while reading the book was Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s book, The Little Prince. Maybe it was the wanderings about, the strange interactions with people. I don’t know. Later, as the book progresses, I was reminded of Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird (which strausmouse will no doubt recall from high school). Again, it was the wandering about that made me think of that book. Finally, as the epic journey across the ice took place, I could not help but be reminded of The Call of the Wild by Jack London.

There was a strangeness to the book, the characters, that made them seem very alien, which is a credit to Le Guin. Yet, while most discussion of the book seems to hinge on its notions of gender, I focused more on the wanderings. The book, to me, was a story about wandering, roaming about, a journey of some kind. Only I was never clear on exactly what the journey was all about. I can see why the book won the awards it did, but it’s just not my kind of science fiction, I suppose. That is a flaw in me, certainly not in the book. I gave it 3 stars.