The Dispossessed

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Hardcover, USA, 1st edition.

The Dispossessed, later titled The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia, is a science fiction utopian novel by Ursula K. Le Guin published in May, 1974. It is the sixth book in the Hainish Cycle.

The story is set in the future on a planet with an inhabited moon. 200 years before the story beings, a group of anarchists were sent to live on a planet's harsh Earth-like moon so that they would stop threatening the capitalist patriarch majority with revolution. After many generations of separation, the anarchists have built a utopian society for themselves, which, although life is difficult and austere, has completely eliminated poverty and crime, and everyone is free to pursue their own desires. Shevek, a genius physicist, comes to realize that the freedoms they claim to have are actually limited in a systemic way which is causing their world to stagnate, so he travels to the unholy world of the capitalist profiteers with the hope of bringing his utopia to them, while, at the same time, broadening the minds of his own world.

Personal

Own?No
Read?Audio drama by the Vanishing Point / Audiobook read by Tim Treloar.
Finished2010s / 2022-08-03

Eager to expand my knowledge of female authors, especially in the science fiction genre, I tried reading some of Le Guin's work. I loved her novelette, Very Far Away from Anywhere Else, so I tried one of her most popular novels, Left Hand of Darkness, but I couldn't get into it. I listened an audio drama adaption of this book in the 2010s, which was interesting, but hard to follow. I next tried The Lathe of Heaven, which I finished, but didn't much care for. Not wanting to give up on Le Guin, I heard that this was one of her most awarded books, and, not knowing it was part of a series, started reading it. I found it rather enjoyable.

Review

Overall:

Rating-7.svg

— This section contains spoilers! —

Good

  • I like how Le Guin created two diametrically opposed worlds where each believes they're the height of civilization while simultaneously being blind to all their own flaws. The description of the plutocratic nightmare that is Urras is shockingly similar to the USA, but her depiction of the "utopian" Anarres is just as off-putting. Parent's never develop a bond with their children, and, despite the lack of a government, gifted people are stifled by the organization's refusal to strive for betterment and people worship the ghost of their founder like a prophet. I like that neither extreme is very enjoyable. However, all the problems of Anarres exist in Urras tenfold despite their best efforts to sweep them under the rug, and most of the problems of Anarres are due to the environment not their society.
  • I like how, having full control over reproduction and disease, the Anarresti are encouraged to experiment with their sexuality at an early age, even with homosexual sex, and often use sex as a means of solidifying friendships.
  • The scene where the boys try to emulate a prison, and realize very quickly just how terrifying they are, is pretty powerful.
  • I like how Vea explains that, while the men think they run the patriarchal world of Urras, it is really the women who make up their minds for them. And, throughout the book, her clever and subtle ways make it clear she's right.

Bad

  • Much of Shevek's words about civilization and revolution are just sanctimonious drivel, and I expect more hard science from a physicist. Saying, "...you cannot make the revolution. You can only be the revolution. It is in your spirit, or it is nowhere," shouldn't be very meaningful to a secular society.
  • I typically don't like it when authors jump around in time in their books, and The Dispossessed does so between every chapter, and occasionally within a chapter. The way Le Guin does this helps add to the contrast between Anarres and Urras, but I still found it confusing for the first couple chapters. I also found the later Anarres chapters to be a bit dull since I already knew what was coming.
  • The ending is a bit of a cop out which leaves everything unresolved. I probably wouldn't have cared for a happy-go-lucky ending, or a depressing ending either, but I didn't find this one very fulfilling.

Ugly

  • Nothing.

Media

Covers

Quotes

  • "There's a point, around the age of twenty, when you have to choose whether to be like everybody else the rest of your life, or to make a virtue of your peculiarities."
  • "You can't crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them."
  • "The individual cannot bargain with the State. The State recognizes no coinage but power: and it issues the coins itself."
  • "Like all walls it was ambiguous, two faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side you were on."
  • "The idea is like grass. It craves light, likes crowds, thrives on crossbreeding, grows better for being stepped on."
  • "It is hard to swear when sex is not dirty and blasphemy does not exist."

Adaptations

Links

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