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Ekumen location
Created byUrsula K. Le Guin
GenreScience fiction novel
TypeIce planet
Notable locations
  • Karhide
  • Orgoreyn

Gethen, also called Winter, is a fictional planet in Ursula K. Le Guin's Ekumen universe. It is the setting for her science fiction novel The Left Hand of Darkness.[1][2]

The planet[edit]

Gethen appears to have a surface gravity more or less similar to Earth and a human-compatible atmosphere (the Earth envoy sent there shows no sign of discomfort).[3] Because of its cold climate, the planet is sometimes called "Winter".[4]

Gethen's axis is not tilted (as is the case with Earth), but a relatively high orbital eccentricity produces global seasons.[5] At the time of the story, Gethen is in the midst of an Ice Age. The poles and a large portion of the land around them are permanently covered with glaciers, and even in the inhabited areas the climate can be extremely cold. In some places, it is impossible to travel in winter, since the snow covers all roads.

The people[edit]

Gethenians are physically and culturally adapted to cold; they tend to be of robust build and short stature, and they are familiar with the caloric yield of many different types of food. (The physical adaptations might be a product of genetic manipulation by the Hain, the species that "seeded" many worlds in the Ekumen with humanoid lifeforms.)

Gethen has no large land animals, and Gethenians do not farm animals for meat or milk; most are essentially pescetarians. They farm crops, gather eggs, fish, and hunt land animals for their skins and fur.[6]

The inhabitants of Gethen are androgynes, biologically intersex humans; for approximately three weeks of each month they are biologically neuter, and for the remaining week are male or female, as determined by pheromonal negotiation with an interested sex partner. Thus each individual can both sire and bear children.[7][2]

As for their appearance, Le Guin explains;

In my first big science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, the only person from Earth is a black man, and everybody else in the book is Inuit (or Tibetan) brown.[8]

Calendar and timekeeping[edit]

Gethen orbits its primary star once every 0.96 Earth years (8401 Earth hours). The planet rotates around its axis in 23.08 earth hours, so a Gethenian year consists of 364 local days.[9]

The only natural satellite of the planet revolves around it in 26 local days, which constitutes a month. The year is divided into 14 of these lunar months. By fortunate coincidence, the deviation between this lunisolar calendar and the true solar year is small enough to require a correction only once every 200 years. Thus the days are synchronized with the moon phase every month.[10]

Each day in a month has a unique name. Days are not grouped in weeks, but the month is evenly divided in two halves of 13 days each (the names of the days in the second half are derived regularly from those of the first half).[10]

Gethenians further divide each day into ten parts or "hours", the first one starting at noon.[11]

A very curious concept of dating is employed in Gethen, though this is only explained briefly in the book: the years are not numbered sequentially in increasing order, but the current year is always referred to as "Year One", and the others are counted as years before or after this standpoint. Historical records employ well-known events to mark (fixed) past dates.[9]


Gethen has four continents and an archipelago. Two of the continents, Orgoreyn and Karhide, are connected. The action of the novel takes place here. The other continents are Sith and the Antarctic continent, Perunter. The planet is covered with ice everywhere beyond 45 degrees, and often down to 30 degrees.

Appearances in Le Guin's fiction[edit]

The main description of the people and culture is The Left Hand of Darkness, published in 1969. It gives their myths and legends, set amidst the story of a visitor from Earth.[1]

Winter's King is a short story written earlier, first published in 1969, and appearing in revised form in the 1975 collection The Wind's Twelve Quarters. It tells the story of Argaven, a Gethenian who visits another planet.[12]

Coming of Age in Karhide, first published in 1995, appears in the 2002 short story collection The Birthday of the World. It takes place after the events of Winter's King. It is mostly about an ordinary Gethenian discovering sex.[13][14]

Another short story, The Shobies' Story, appears in the 1994 collection A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. Here, Gethenians are part of a mixed Ekumen expedition to a new planet. Since they are now integrated into the Ekumen, it must take place after the other tales.[15]


  • Le Guin, Ursula K. (1969). The Left Hand of Darkness. New York, New York, USA: Penguin Putnam Inc. ISBN 0-441-47812-3. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  • — (1975). The Wind's Twelve Quarters. New York, New York, USA: Harper & Row. ISBN 0-553-02907-X. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  • — (1994). A Fisherman of the Inland Sea. New York, New York, USA: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-105491-7. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png
  • — (2002). The Birthday of the World and Other Stories. New York, New York, USA: Harper Collins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-621253-7. Search this book on Amazon.com Logo.png

See also[edit]

  • The Left Hand of Darkness


  1. 1.0 1.1 Le Guin 1969.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Sarah LeFanu (January 3, 2004). "The king is pregnant". The Guardian. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  3. Le Guin 1969, p. 121.
  4. Le Guin 1969, p. 6.
  5. Le Guin 1969, p. 213-214.
  6. Le Guin 1969, pp. 10,214.
  7. Le Guin 1969, pp. 89-91.
  8. Ursula K. Le Guin (December 16, 2004). "A Whitewashed Earthsea". Slate. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Le Guin 1969, p. 302.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Le Guin 1969, p. 303.
  11. Le Guin 1969, pp. 303-304.
  12. Le Guin 1975, pp. 85-108.
  13. Le Guin 2002, pp. 1-22.
  14. Ligaya Mishan (July 24, 2009). "First Contact: A Talk with Ursula K. Le Guin". The New Yorker. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  15. Le Guin 1994, pp. 81-113.

External links[edit]

This article "Gethen" is from Wikipedia. The list of its authors can be seen in its historical and/or the page Edithistory:Gethen. Articles copied from Draft Namespace on Wikipedia could be seen on the Draft Namespace of Wikipedia and not main one.

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