Review- Le Guin, “The Dispossessed”


Ursula Le Guin, “The Dispossessed” (1974) – a shameful gap in my scifi reading, filled! Like it’s series predecessor, The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed is less about any particular plot and more about journeying through Le Guin’s worlds. We see the twin worlds, one, Urras, not unlike earth in the mid-20th century, the other, Anarres, a stark desert planet settled by “Odonians” (what we would call anarcho-syndicalists) through the eyes of Shevek, an Anarresti physicist. Anarres feels real- you get the feeling Le Guin has been to more than a few leftist meetings, and the scraps of history of the Odonian movement she describes sound emotionally real to those of us who know the history of liberation movements (including rocky relations with socialists). There’s an exhilaration of stark freedom and openness to Anarres that never falls into sentimentality. Shevek experiences the bad side of libertarian (in the old sense) life on a desert planet- material deprivation, and abetted by it, pressure towards social conformity and ideological purity made worse by being customary and informal rather than legal. But Urras, while richer, isn’t better, with its wealth inequities and great power politics threatening to suck Shevek in and expropriate his work. I’m not sure I got the physics Shevek was meant to be working on, and to the extent there’s a real plot, it’s about what will become of his discoveries. It sounded like mysticism a few degrees higher than the usual scifi quantum-unobtainium stuff. But Le Guin’s larger point seemed to be that seeming opposites, like Anarres and Urras or physics and philosophy, need each other to be whole. Le Guin’s gift is taking that kind of point and making great scifi worlds out of them. *****

Review- Le Guin, “The Dispossessed”

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