This was a great book. The depth of detail regarding Gethen society as well as the adaptations made to live on a planet in the middle of an ice age is fantastic. The many words for snow and weather and description of the trek over the glacier back to Karhide at the end of book lend so much detail that you become convinced that the planet Gethen exists. Much like Dune & the Freemens in that regard. The story is told in the first person primarily from the perspective of Genly Ai a human male Mobile (first contact specialist) from a loose knit federation of some 83 worlds called the Ekumen. However, there are chapters extracted from the journal of Estreven, a native Karhider so the first person perspective changes to him/her. The difference in their perspectives, their interpretations of political intrigue and how they handle the cold weather is well done. Two important factors make the Gethens stand apart – their dual gender (neither male nor female, but can become either once every lunar cycle), and with the Karhide nation the custom of shifgrethor (dignity saving social tactics). I think this is considered “soft” science fiction, because technology and physics play little to no role in this story. In fact Gethen progress is incredibly slow – they never experienced the explosive launch into the industrial age that Earth did. The slow technological progress, the lack of war is never explained definitively (good) as a result of the harsh weather or lack of an aggressive sex. It is left open to contemplation. I can easily see why this book is ranked among the all-time best SF novels. Hugo and Nebula award winner.
(Amazon) The Left Hand of Darkness