Selections from One-Star Amazon Reviews of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness

Editorial note: The following citations come from one-star Amazon reviews Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Left Hand of DarknessI’ve preserved the reviewers’ original punctuation and spelling. I love Le Guin’s novel, by the way, and wrote about it here.  More one-star Amazon reviews].


 

I burned this book

I don’t have a college education

I started reading this book years ago

How they kemmer (Another word for mating)?

I find the use of made up language difficult to interpret

The Left Hand of Darkness it nothing but some sort of feminist garbage

After reading just over 100 pages of this utterly worthless book

no depth of character or feeling coming thu

I was just forced to read this book

I don’t care what her father did

I haven’t read hardly any Sci Fi

as good as a warm cup of milk

no story whatsoever

no plot

I’ve read a lot of scifi

I read couple of chapters

I was forced to read this novel

I will NOT be reading any more Sci Fi

I was a biology and psychology major in college back in the mid 70’s

I think she was trying to impress people back when she originally wrote the book

Ask youself why people keep on bringing up the fact that her father was an anthropologist?

Being an honors lit. student thu high scool and college, I am no stranger to classic lit

minor cultural concepts (language, religion, hierarchy)

there are no kemmering in a pornographic sense

I could NOT follow what was even going on

I’m still trying to read my way through

My taste is sophisticated

I love Sci Fi on TV

no excitement

I read 75%

just a description of a planet

He certainly isn’t particularly manful

Give me a setting that isn’t a prescription for Prozac waiting to happen!

the jumping from old folklore stories on the planet and the tale being told

she gives characters such crazy names that it’s hard to remember who’s who

I read up to the chapter where the main character was imprisoned, and I don’t care

Some cultures belong in a petri dish and should be treated with biocide rather than respect

a totalitarian pesthole notable only for the biological oddity of its people

Is Ursula Le Guin the worst writer in American history?

dated, cumbersome and boring

Enough said

boring

Hated it

It’s about an envoy

bizarre characters and other minor details

A good candidate for the first sci-fi book burning

The author should have gone into anthropology like her great father

Nothing but some dude wandering around curious about gender roles

This was purchased and read for a book club. Absolutely no one liked it

Simply put, this book is just a 60’s retread going through a mental exercise

It is just a silly exercise in exploring what a world without genders would be like

Is Shakespeare’s daughter a good storyteller just because her father was the greatest writer ever?

the culture she has created in this book is uninteresting, unbelieveable, and sounds like the more dismal parts of New Jersey anyway

The author waste a lot of pages on unnecessary side stories

Had NO idea what was going on throughout the entire book

The worst (psudo) ethnography I have ever read

Could NOT follow the author’s train of thought

and then they kemmered

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A riff on Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish novels

 

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“Are we not Men?”

— The Island of Dr. Moreau, H.G. Wells (1896)

“A country, a people…Those are strange and very difficult ideas.”

— Four Ways to Forgivenss, Ursula K. Le Guin (1995)

—Each of the novels in Ursula K. Le Guin’s so-called Hainish cycle obliquely addresses Wells’s question by tackling those strange and very difficult ideas of “a country, a people.” The best of these Hainish books do so in a manner that synthesizes high-adventure sci-fi fantasy with dialectical philosophy.

—What am I calling here “the best”? Well—

The Left Hand of Darkness

Planet of Exile/City of Illusions (treat as one novel in two discursive parts)

The Dispossessed

—(How oh how oh how dare I rank The Dispossessed—clearly a masterpiece, nay?—so low on that little list? It’s too dialectical, maybe? Too light on the, uh, high adventure stuff, on the fantasy and romance and sci-fi. Its ideas are too finely wrought, well thought out, expertly cooked (in contrast to the wonderful rawness of Rocannon’s World, for example). None of this is to dis The Dispossessed—it’s probably the best of the Hainish books, and the first one casual readers should attend to. (It was also the first one I read way back when in high school)).

—The novels in Le Guin’s so-called Hainish cycle are

Rocannon’s World (1966)

Planet of Exile (1966)

City of Illusions (1967)

The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

The Dispossessed (1974)

The Word for World is Forest (1976)

Four Ways to Forgiveness (1995)

The Telling (2000)

—Okay, so I decided to include For Ways to Forgiveness in the above list even though most people wouldn’t call it a “novel” — but its four stories (novellas, really) are interconnected and tell a discrete story of two interconnected planets that are part of the Hainish world. And I pulled a quote from it above. So.

—I read, or reread, Le Guin’s so-called Hainish cycle close to the chronological order proposed by the science fiction writer Ian Watson. I don’t necessarily recommend this order.

—(I keep modifying “Hainish cycle” with “so-called” because the books aren’t really a cycle. Le Guin’s world-building isn’t analogous to Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. (Except when her world-building is analogous). But let us return to order).

Le Guin on the subject:

People write me nice letters asking what order they ought to read my science fiction books in — the ones that are called the Hainish or Ekumen cycle or saga or something. The thing is, they aren’t a cycle or a saga. They do not form a coherent history. There are some clear connections among them, yes, but also some extremely murky ones. And some great discontinuities (like, what happened to “mindspeech” after Left Hand of Darkness? Who knows? Ask God, and she may tell you she didn’t believe in it any more.)

OK, so, very roughly, then:

Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions: where they fit in the “Hainish cycle” is anybody’s guess, but I’d read them first because they were written first. In them there is a “League of Worlds,” but the Ekumen does not yet exist.

—I agree with the author. Read this trilogy first. Read it as one strange book.

—(Or—again—pressed for time and wanting only the essential, read The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness—but you already knew that, no?).

Continue reading “A riff on Ursula K. Le Guin’s Hainish novels”

If civilization has an opposite, it is war (Ursula K. Le Guin)

Tibe spoke on the radio a good deal. Estraven when in power had never done so, and it was not in the Karhidish vein: their government was not a public performance, normally; it was covert and indirect. Tibe, however, orated. Hearing his voice on the air I saw again the long-toothed smile and the face masked with a net of fine wrinkles. His speeches were long and loud: praises of Karhide, disparagements of Orgoreyn vilifications of “disloyal factions,” discussions of the “integrity of the Kingdom’s borders,” lectures in history and ethics and economics, all in a ranting, canting, emotional tone that went shrill with vituperation or adulation. He talked much about pride of country and love of the parentland, but little about shifgrethor, personal pride or prestige. Had Karhide lost so much prestige in the Sinoth Valley business that the subject could not be brought up? No; for he often talked about the Sinoth Valley. I decided that he was deliberately avoiding talk of shifgrethor because he wished to rouse emotions of a more elemental, uncontrollable kind. He wanted to stir up something which the whole shifgrethor-pattern was a refinement upon, a sublimation of. He wanted his hearers to be frightened and angry. His themes were not pride and love at all, though he used the words perpetually; as he used them they meant self-praise and hate. He talked a great deal about Truth also, for he was, he said, “cutting down beneath the veneer of civilization.”

It is a durable, ubiquitous, specious metaphor, that one about veneer (or paint, or pliofilm, or whatever) hiding the nobler reality beneath. It can conceal a dozen fallacies at once. One of the most dangerous is the implication that civilization, being artificial, is unnatural: that it is the opposite of primitiveness… Of course there is no veneer, the process is one of growth, and primitiveness and civilization are degrees of the same thing. If civilization has an opposite, it is war. Of those two things, you have either one, or the other. Not both. It seemed to me as I listened to Tibe’s dull fierce speeches that what he sought to do by fear and by persuasion was to force his people to change a choice they had made before their history began, the choice between those opposites.

From Ursula Le Guin’s 1969 novel The Left Hand of Darkness. The bold emphases are mine—mea culpa, I couldn’t help it.