A biweekly series, The Ursula K. Le Guin Reread explores anew the transformative writing, exciting worlds, and radical stories that changed countless lives. This week we’ll be covering The Left Hand of Darkness, first published by Ace Books in 1969. My edition is Ace Books, 1999, and this installment of the reread covers pages 185 to the end (out of a total of 304 pages)
Gethen—Winter—is a world utterly alien to the vast majority of our earth’s population. The frozen wastes, heaving glaciers, icy crevasses, unending cold and snow are so far from the warmer climes that most humans inhabit that they stand out as exotic, other, exciting. Their ambisexuality aside, the people of Gethen also entice: they are an evolutionary branch of humankind suited to permanent winter, brought to sweats by the lowest setting on a small, portable heater in a tent buried in snow atop a mountain. For non-indigenous readers, the Gethenians likely conjure fetishized images of Inuit and igloos, or remind us of trivia about a language with thirty… no fifty—or was it a hundred?—words for snow. Perhaps the scene of two men (to Genly, at least, for a time) fleeing 800 miles across taiga, mountains, a glacier, running toward unsure safety in another country evokes the ironically cozy feeling of winter survival films like The Way Back (2010), Vertical Limit (2000), or, the gods of Kobol forbid, The Day After Tomorrow (2004).