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The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Dispossessed (1974)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Hainish Cycle (5), Hainish Cycle, Chronological (1)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6,443135597 (4.14)1 / 396
  1. 60
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (Algybama)
  2. 20
    Rocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin (andomck)
    andomck: Both are books in the Hainish Cycle.
  3. 31
    His Master's Voice by Stanisław Lem (TMrozewski)
    TMrozewski: Both deal with the social and cultural roots of science.
  4. 10
    Island by Aldous Huxley (themulhern)
    themulhern: Two utopian books. The advantage of LeGuin's is that it doesn't have anything worth exploiting and it is a rocket flight away.
  5. 00
    New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (LamontCranston)
  6. 11
    Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock (andomck)
    andomck: Brooding,introspective sci fi/fantasy
  7. 00
    Doctor Mirabilis by James Blish (jpers36)
    jpers36: Life story of a genius physicist destined to revolutionize a stagnant culture with his radical scientific insights.
  8. 00
    Distress by Greg Egan (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: These books share isolated anarchist communities and discoveries in physics that change everything.
  9. 56
    The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: A different moon, a different anti-authoritarian community, but the same experience of thinking about other ways to run human societies
  10. 02
    The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick (MyriadBooks)
  11. 24
    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (LamontCranston)
  12. 217
    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (lauranav)
1970s (69)
Unread books (1,020)

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English (130)  French (2)  German (1)  Turkish (1)  Spanish (1)  All (135)
Showing 1-5 of 130 (next | show all)
The Dispossessed -- which has not been out of print since its original publication in 1974 -- is one of Le Guin's most famous works, and both entertaining and intellectually challenging.

It is a book of opposites: a Utopian novel that doesn't refuse to expose the flaws of its model society; a feminist-themed narrative with a male protagonist; a social commentary that presents communal cooperation as the truest human ideal, yet focuses on the inevitable separateness of the creative individual within such a structure. Through these dichotomies, Le Guin examines the tension between human aspiration and human nature, between what can be dreamed and what can be achieved.

The setting is on twin planets of Anarres and Urras, both of which see the other as a moon. This dichotomy is demonstrated with Anarres as an inhospitable planet that has been settled by revolutionaries from Urras who left behind the capitalist life on their home planet to found a new society on the moon. The resulting community is an extreme communal society where everything is shared and nothing is owned individually. Urras, on the other hand, is a world that somewhat resembles our own – a male dominated capitalist society where women have absolutely no official role in politics, science or education.

Urras and Anarres have very little contact between each other beyond the rocket ships that export minerals from Anarres. Visitors from Urras are forbidden from crossing beyond the walls of the rocket port. The hero of the novel is the physicist Shevek who visits Urras as a sort of unofficial ambassador with an agenda to bring about increased co-operation and communication between the two worlds. This theme of two drastically contrasting cultures intentionally isolated from each is reminiscent of Arthur C. Carke’s The City and the Stars where Alvin escapes from a immortal pleasure-filled life in the city of Diaspar.

Both of these novels involve a man returning back to his ‘home’ society in an attempt to reconcile the philosophies of ‘home’ and ‘colony’ to solve the problems of both. The teachings of these novels is clear – fleeing and isolating oneself from a corrupted society is not a solution. I wouldn’t pursue the comparison very far though; the novels are too different for that. The story is told from the point of view of Shevek and alternates between two timelines; one starting when he flees from Anarres under a cloud of disapproval from his fellow citizens who taunt him as a ‘profiteer’ and the other starting from his childhood and moving toward the point when he leaves Anarres.

The first narrative, based almost entirely on Urras, is driven forward by the reader's curiosity about when (and if) Shevek makes it back home and under what circumstances. The second storyline, which is based on Anarres is interesting because although we know that Shevek made it off Anarres we are not told how he managed it and what happened to his family.

Some of the conversations and speeches on the Anarresti brand of communalism are intense and provide food for thought. This larger theme, together with Le Guin's mature mastery of her craft, give The Dispossessed a universality that has prevented it from becoming dated, despite its roots in the political issues of its time (the communal counterculture of the late 60s and early 70s, the original women's movement). This novel achieves more than the typical genre work with serious ideas and literary merit, thus deserving the several awards with which it was rewarded. ( )
1 vote jwhenderson | Mar 22, 2017 |
This book tells the story of Shevek, a brilliant physicist who developed the Principle of Simultaneity - a theory that would revolutionise interstellar communications in the form of the ansible, an instantaneous communications device found in many of Le Guin's novels. But the story is also a strong commentary on political systems, particularly the anarchic communal system that Shevek was born into and grew up in, where there is no government, equality is the expected norm, but incumbency and power games prevail. At 40, Shevek moves from his home planet to its sister planet and the country of A-Io, that is male dominated, where the political system is supposedly democratic but inequality is rife, power is everything, and money rules. A-Io's main rival, Thu, is an autocratic communist country, where power is just as dominant. A third country, Benbili, is ruled by a dictator, but experiences a coup. A-Io sends troops and weapons to back the dictator, while Thu sends troops and weapons to back the rebels resulting in a proxy war.

This book was written in the early 1970s at a time when the Vietnam War was waning in popularity in the US, President Nixon was on the nose, and the rivalry between the capitalist US and the communist Soviet Union was reflected in the proxy war in Vietnam. But the lessons about power and its abuse, money and property as reflected in the inequality between the haves and have nots, and ideology are strong and just as relevant today as they were over 40 years ago.

The story is one of hope: for change, for the future, for overcoming resistance and the power of the elite and the incumbent. But it is also a lesson that if we don't recognise the dangers inherent in overbearing centralised power and bureaucracy then we are doomed to live our lives as outcasts in poverty. This lesson is especially relevant today in a fast changing world with strong central governments wanting to limit our freedom. I give the story 5 stars.

Finally, it's worth reading the Wikipedia entry for this book to get other viewpoints and reactions to this story. ( )
1 vote Bruce_McNair | Feb 3, 2017 |
Anarres vs. Urras - Ambiguous Walls: “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin Published 1994.
“There was a wall. It did not look important…But the idea was real…Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon the which side of it you were on”.
In “The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin
"Call me Shevek. Some years ago, never mind how many, I set out to be the tedious, most hypocritical, unreal character in all of fiction. That I failed is of little consequence. But here, for your records is some of the bare facts of how I failed.
Manuel, Manuel, Manuel. I don't drink booze? But I got drunk at a party, ejaculated all over a woman's dress (Did Bill Clinton read my tale?) and then promptly threw up. Did you skip some of my story? I am not amused! When I saw I was causing distress on page 75 to those very different to myself, I stopped. Am I not sympathetic? I make jokes. 'You have your anarchist. What are you going to do with him?' and so on...but I won't dwell on the point. ;) And now having read the novel again after about 10 years, I am even fonder of it that I was back then. Chapter 5 is like a distilled version of “The Brothers Karamazov” and the whole is a more serious, thoughtful “Stranger in a Strange Land”.
So, yes, Manuel, Shevek is quite like me in many ways, but since I've never had a single alcoholic drink in my life, I am even more unreliable as a character!!
And so this orphan is all alone without even a cardboard character to keep me company. ;)"
If you're into vintage SF, read the rest of the review on my blog. ( )
1 vote antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
awesome anarchist utopia/dystopia novel. One of my favorite sci-fi books ever. ( )
1 vote Gordon.Edgar | Nov 29, 2016 |
When people ask me why I read Science Fiction my answer is one word: Ideas. As a genre, SF is, more than anything, about ideas. In The Dispossesed, Ursula K LeGuin tackles one of the biggest ideas - what would an anarchist society be like?

She sets the story of Shevek, most brilliant physicist of his age, in such a society, based on the tough, arid world of Annares, a moon orbiting the planet Urras.

Urras is an allegory of Earth. Here is a world with two conflicting superpowers ( A-Io, an uber-capitalist society of vast riches and disaffected poor; Thu, a totalitarian socialist state) as well as numerous smaller countries like Benbili, military dictatorships such as have been found in South America and Africa.

The original Settlers of Annares, who call themselves Odonians after their inspirational leader, Odo, left A-Io 160 years before the time of this story and founded and anarchist society based on mutual aid. No laws, no central government, no profit, no wages, no money. It is a brave vision of one kind of Utopia.

Yet Le Guin does not present it as a perfect society. By contrasting Shevek's sojourn on Urras with the story of his life on Annares, she shows the warts on both societies. Annares is not perfect because human beings are flawed. Petty jealousies and a drift towards bureaucracy threaten the anarchist dream. Yet the poor of Urras look upon it as a beacon of hope. That a place exists where mankind can live in peace and brotherhood, working for the good of society as a whole, not just their own gain.

Shevek is a complex character. He is not a natural leader. He merely wants his work, his theories, to be available to all - not just Urras and Annares, but all the known worlds and races. A-Io simply see his work as a means to help them gain an advantage over their neighbours. War and profit are all they see.

His fight against the inertia of his own society and his submersion in the capitalist nightmare of A-Io is ultimately quite moving. What he has to leave behind, what he must risk for what he believes in, these are not easy choices. But he is seeking the truth, his truth, and to share that Truth with the universe involves sacrifice.

So, why do I read Science Fiction? Because of books like this. Books filled with beautiful, flawed humanity. And ideas. ( )
1 vote David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ursula K. Le Guinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Burns, JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Craft, KinukoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ducak, DaniloCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ebel, AlexCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyytäjä, KaleviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagetti, CarloForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AnthonyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valla, RiccardoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winkowski, FredCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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There was a wall.
You shall not go down twice to the same river, nor can you go home again. That he knew; indeed it was the basis of his view of the world. Yet from that acceptance of transience he evolved his vast theory, wherein what is most changeable is shown to be fullest of eternity, and your relationship to the river, and the river's relationship to you and to itself, turns out to be at once more complex and more reassuring than a mere lack of identity. You can go home again, the General Temporal Theory asserts, so long as you understand that home is a place where you have never been.
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Book description
The protagonist Shevek is a physicist attempting to develop a General Temporal Theory. Anarres is in theory a society without government or coercive authoritarian institutions. Yet in pursuing research that deviates from his society's current consensus understanding, Shevek begins to come up against very real obstacles. Shevek gradually develops an understanding that the revolution which brought his world into being is stagnating, and power structures are beginning to exist where there were none before. He therefore embarks on the risky journey to the original planet, Urras, seeking to open dialog between the worlds and to spread his theories freely outside of Anarres. The novel details his struggles on both Urras and his homeworld of Anarres.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061054887, Mass Market Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:08 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Shevek, a brilliant physicist attempts to reunite two planets cut off from each other by centuries of distrust.

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