The Dispossessed: A Novel by Ursula Le Guin

The Dispossessed: A Novel by Ursula Le GuinSummary: A brilliant physicist leaves his insular utopian community to study in the world that his world rebelled against. And he learns the weaknesses of both political systems. 

Anarres is a desert moon to Urras. Several hundred years ago, miners rebelled against their home world and created their own anarchist utopia, a ‘non-authoritarian communism’ where there is no property, but there is a shared sense of cooperation against the harsh world. Urras, is a rich and beautiful world, but where virtual slavery controls the vast majority of the population and where women are restricted to the home.

Except for minor trading and some scientific conversations, there is no contact between the worlds. Shevek, a brilliant physicist seeking to understand the connection between time and space, is given a physics prize by Urras and becomes the first person to travel between the worlds since the separation.

This is largely a book of political ideas. It is a critique of both communism and capitalism unchecked. It is a critique of feminism and anti-feminist ideas. It is a critique of the split between individualism and the forced common good. There is a plot and some action at the end of the book. But primarily this is the story of Shevek, starting with his travel to Urras and proceeding to the future with flashback to his early life.

Published in 1974, this is a cold war book. Both worlds are unrealized utopias. The Anarrians have taught shared responsibility, every 10 days they have to contribute a day of work to the common good, a computer matches each person to the type of work they want to do, or they can choose to do no work at all. From their childhood they are taught shared responsibility and the evils of property. They are raised in kibbutz like dormitories. Adults, usually live in adult dormitories. Sex is free, but consensual. Marriage is possible but rare (it is thought of as a sort of privatized relationship, as is parents directly raising children).

Shevek learns that both communities tend toward power, but in different expressions. Both communities want to restrict ideas that limit the growth of the insider’s power. Both limit full thriving of its members.

The Dispossessed is part of a series of novels (Hannish Cycle) that explore different worlds in the same universe, but are not linked in story (at least that is my understanding). This wasn’t a super exciting book, but it was well written and it still read well despite being more than 40 years old. The Dispossessed is part of the classic canon of science fiction. It makes me want to read more of the Hannish Cycle but unless you like your sci fi focused on political ideas, this may not be your style of sci fi.

The Dispossessed: A Novel by Ursula Le Guin Purchase Links: Paperback, 
Kindle Edition, Audiobook

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: