Friday, 28 March 2014

The Dispossessed Is A Good Book

Or why you should read The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin,

The Dispossessed is a utopian Science Fiction novel about binary contrasts and the human spirit. The novel is set in the twin planets Urras and Anarras in the Tau Ceti star system. Despite their proximity, the two planets are diametric opposites: Urras, is a lush, fertile garden world of plentiful resources while Anarras is a hostile, arid world rich in minerals but poor in natural life. While both planets are inhabited by the Cetain species, the cultures of the two worlds are radically different. Urras is mostly an aggressively capitalist planet, divided into warring nation-states which are governed by vaguely authoritarian governments. Urrasti society, as a result, is very much divided between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the repressed. Anarres, in contrast, is a world without governments, ownership, commerce, or hierarchies. Anarresti society, based on the collectivist/anarchist philosophy of Odo, is defined around equality, sharing, achieving personal happiness, and surviving the harsh Anarras environment and the collective poverty of the world. The two worlds, Urras and Anarres, despite their proximity are, aside from some minor trade, completely isolated from each other and have been for generations. It is against this contrasting background that the novel tells the story of the brilliant Anarresti theoretical physicist Shevek, who in his quest to achieve a General Temporal Theory, must consult alien physicists and chooses to travel to Urras to pursue his research. And in doing so Shevek becomes a lens to explore both societies, both halves of the binary, and in so doing examines what it means to be human in a society. It's a brilliantly smart and humane work of fiction.

I would recommend The Dispossessed to any Science Fiction fan: if you have pretensions of being a serious Sci-fi reader this is a must read book. It's beautifully written, emotionally deep, and painfully intelligent (although in a very accessible way). It is also one of the most astute political explorations I've ever read, and unlike most landmark social speculation novels it does't rely on dystopia. Instead it's a frank look at different societies in a way that is aware that few societies are completely shit: most, for all their problems, also have strengths, and the way The Dispossessed uses and breaks its binaries is really mindful of that. It's pretty refreshing. And so I would also recommend this book to anyone into fiction with a heavy element of social meditation because this is Sci-fi built for political nerds. The Dispossessed is also a novel that I would recommend to people looking for more great Sci-fi by women authors. Part of why I picked this book up was having it pointed out/realizing just how few women authors I read and a desire to find out if I'm missing out on some great Sci-fi. And, well, The Dispossessed is exactly the kind of novel I was afraid I was missing out on.

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