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.
This classic work of Le Guin's was published in 1974 and it is definitely a work of its time although it is in some ways just as timely today. It's the story of Shevek who grew up in a society who abandoned their planet, Urras and established a new life on its moon, Anarres, 170 years previously. The people on Anarres fled because of oppression and founded a "utopia" there where no one owns property, there is no government or police, no laws, and where everyone supposedly can do as one pleases. However, Shevek and others on Anarres see flaws in how the society is straying and how some seem to seek power and oppression over others. He is a physicist who is working on a theory that may revolutionize space travel but his ideas are suppressed on Anarres so he decides to travel to the home planet, Urras, to try to get his theory recognized and try to break down walls between the two planets.
The primary theme of the novel is an illustration of the merits and dangers of anarchy and socialism but other themes include gender equality, time theory, and the nature of freedom. When Shevek travels to Urras, he is kept away from the lower classes of society and it seems that he is only wanted for his theories. But he does manage to see the other classes, many who applaud the original settlers of Anarres and want to go there even though that planet is mostly a desert and living conditions are hard in the extreme. Shevek also ultimately wants to return when he sees Urras as it is. He decides that "there is nothing on Urras that Anarresti need! We left with empty hands, and we were right. We took nothing. Because there is nothing here but States and their weapons, the rich and their lies, and the poor and their misery. There is no way to act rightly, with a clear heart on Urras. There is nothing you can do that profit does not enter into, and fear of loss, and the wish for power. You cannot say good morning without knowing which of you is superior to the other, or trying to prove it. You cannot act like a brother to other people, you must manipulate them, or command them, or obey them, or trick them...There is no freedom!"
The book really argues both sides of the political spectrum and the dangers of both socialism and capitalism. Overall, very thought provoking but sometimes preachy. I used to read a lot of sci-fi back in the 70s but somehow I never read any of Le Guin's works. I guess I should read more of her!
"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."