If you thought Sci-Fi is only about the future..., February 25, 2006
Reviewer: L. Kravitz "Reader/Thinker" (Israel)
It's long been known that since the advent of science fiction, man kind's greatest inventions were foretold in books and stories. In recent decades the focus of this genre has shifted from technology to sociology and psychology. This book, though published more than 30 years ago, is a prime example of how relevant this kind of writing is to our lives today. Even more importantly, with corporation-led globalization, and the protest and antagonism that it breeds, the lessons of this book are becoming more important by the day. The boundary between Utopia and Distopia is never clear (especially in LeGuin's writings), and this story serves to emphasize the differences between a couple of tracks we as a race may choose to follow. Never unbiased, LeGuin takes a strong moral stand, and brings some convincing arguments toward her case. Still, this is a very enjoyable read, but take care- it will make you think more than you might want to.
The Dispossessed was about twin planets--one rich in natural resources, and the other possessing a harsh climate and some minerals. Revolutionaries from the rich planet had colonized the poorer one, and at the outset of the novel had been there 150 years or so. Their social experiment was in the main successful, though like revolutions in the author's present, the anarchists had conflict over fostering talent and difference in a society that depended for justice on the enforcement of social approval. The protagonist, Shevek, is an unusual person, a genius, in a society that is about equality. The book follows his struggles to figure out his place.
LeGuin published The Dispossessed, which is apparently part of the same universe as The Left Hand of Darkness, in 1974. I am also reading some of her later books, and it's clear that she better able later in her career to express ideas in the context of the plot, without having to plant long speeches in her character's mouths. On the other hand, in 1974 she was still in the process of feeling her way toward a new political position, and that is very exciting to witness. I was 8 in 1974 and I remember in a vague way some of the political realities that shaped this book.
The Hainish series, of which The Dispossed is one novel, is not one I read in order. I read The Left Hand of Darkness first, which was the fourth she published, and The Telling, the last book in the cycle to date. I think they each stand up well to being read out of the context of the series.
I found this book to be an interesting mixture of Golden Age science fiction and New Wave examination of modern life. The general depiction of life on Urras is reminiscent of Asimov's sort of hand-wavy descriptions of some of the societies in his robot novels (please note that I say this with affection). Also, space travel is described with little detail--it is the reason we call this book science fiction, but it's not central to the story.
Le Guin's characters, however, are much more deeply fleshed out than most of the stuff coming out of the 1950s. _The Dispossessed_ is first and foremost a story of *people*--real people that have sex, use the toilet, and maybe go a little crazy. The attention to the inner life of her characters sets Le Guin's writing apart. And while I'm jaded enough to think that her depiction of the anarchist society of Urras might be a little rosy and that of Annares a bit two-dimensional, the fact is that Le Guin was quite successful in transporting me into this universe and holding me there.
Illuminating, Inspiring, Beautiful, October 21, 2003
Reviewer: Jeff W. Krueger (Portland, Oregon)
Whether or not THE DISPOSSESED passes as good sci-fi, I know not. I am not very knowledgeable of what SF fans look for in a book. As a novel, and as a philosophical exploration of authoritarianism, anarchism, capitalism, communism, revolution and utopianism -- this book is first-rate. The questions Le Guin grapples with here are by no means simple. Even great philosophers, like Marx and Bakunin, had difficultly imagining what an ACTUAL society would look like without bosses and owners. But through the gripping tale of an anarchist caught between two fundamentally different worlds, Le Guin seeks answers to many of the questions these philosophers left untouched. How would an anarchist society function? What would it take as its fundamental principles? What problems would that society have? What would a "propertarian" capitalist society appear from the perspective of an anarchist? Without offering any quick or final answers, Le Guin sheds light on these issues and beckons the reader to imagine the possibility of another world. After all, the evolution of culture here on planet earth was why Le Guin wrote this book in the first place. Inspiring, moving and transformative, this book was a pleasure. Thank you, Ursula. You have successfully removed another brick from the wall.
"Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. he will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Anarres, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change."