The Left Hand of Darkness is a story about Genly Ai, an envoy sent to the ice-bound planet Winter to convince its peoples to join the Ekumen. Winter is inhabited by people that are bi-gendered. Once a month they enter kemmer, a time where they change into a man or woman. The man/woman in kemmer pairs with an opposite gendered person also in kemmer in order to have children. With no tendency to favor becoming a man or a woman during kemmer, inhabitants of Winter can be fathers and mothers to several children.
This bi-genderedness is the attention getting concept in The Left Hand of Darkness, but it is really just background to the actual story. Ai's mission proves difficult when he gets caught in the web of internal and external political struggles in both Karhide and Orgota. But, he does make a friend, Estraven, a once powerful figure in the government of Karhide now banished. Their mutual struggles make up the plot of this sci-fi classic.
A winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards, I had high expectations for The Left Hand of Darkness. I was disappointed, for the book did not meet my expectations. The bi-genderedness of the inhabitants of Winter is, without a doubt, brilliant. But for me it wasn't enough to carry the entire novel. The plot, while decent, did not really excite. In the end, I found The Left Hand of Darkness to be a mediocre read.
I read The Left Hand of Darkness for: