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The Dispossessed (1974)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Hainish Cycle, Chronological (1), Hainish Cycle (6)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
9,506238668 (4.15)1 / 515
"A bleak moon settled by utopian anarchists, Anarres has long been isolated from other worlds, including its mother planet, Urras--a civilization of warring nations, great poverty, and immense wealth. Now Shevek, a brilliant physicist, is determined to reunite the two planets, which have been divided by centuries of distrust. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have kept them apart. To visit Urras--to learn, to teach, to share--will require great sacrifice and risks, which Shevek willingly accepts. But the ambitious scientist's gift is soon seen as a threat, and in the profound conflict that ensues, he must reexamine his beliefs even as he ignites the fires of change." -- taken from Harper Collins website.… (more)
  1. 71
    The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin (Algybama)
  2. 41
    His Master's Voice by Stanisław Lem (TMrozewski)
    TMrozewski: Both deal with the social and cultural roots of science.
  3. 20
    Embassytown by China Miéville (sparemethecensor)
  4. 20
    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. 20
    Rocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin (andomck)
    andomck: Both are books in the Hainish Cycle.
  6. 10
    New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (LamontCranston)
  7. 10
    Distress by Greg Egan (aulsmith)
    aulsmith: These books share isolated anarchist communities and discoveries in physics that change everything.
  8. 10
    Doctor Mirabilis by James Blish (jpers36)
    jpers36: Life story of a genius physicist destined to revolutionize a stagnant culture with his radical scientific insights.
  9. 00
    The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks (themulhern)
    themulhern: Two opposing cultures collide in both works. Urras = The Empire but their opposites (Annares and The Culture) have very little in common. Annares is determined by scarcity, the Culture by its lack.
  10. 00
    Amatka by Karin Tidbeck (andomck)
  11. 11
    Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock (andomck)
    andomck: Brooding,introspective sci fi/fantasy
  12. 66
    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
  13. 02
    The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick (MyriadBooks)
  14. 25
    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (LamontCranston)
  15. 318
    Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (lauranav)
1970s (51)
Walls (2)
Utopia (1)

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» See also 515 mentions

English (229)  French (2)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Turkish (1)  All languages (236)
Showing 1-5 of 229 (next | show all)
I found it a bit preachy and slow moving. The Wizard of Earthsea books by her are imho significantly better. ( )
  lcl999 | Sep 15, 2022 |
Obra prima, onde as tensões sociais-organizacionais de uma lua-enclave anarquista são contrastadas com as de um planeta plutocrata capitalista, na alternância de duas fases da vida do brilhante físico Shevek, uma em cada locação. Mais que ideias (mas há algumas delas, como a do nome único, e diversas considerações linguísticas - a vida reflete formas de vida, afinal), o livro é impressionante pela linguagem e atenção aos detalhes da psicologia e formação social humana e as relações que compõe cada personagem e situação. Assim, é claro que há pressões, moralismos e repressão mesmo em um enclave anarquista (não há "não-organização", a espontaneidade é construída), há aposta e anseios complexos entre os "proprietiers", além de amor além possessividade ou não-possessividade.

Parte do ciclo Hainish. ( )
  henrique_iwao | Sep 8, 2022 |
This novel developed a number of interesting ideas. I enjoyed thinking about what promises mean in a society of anarchists. I found the musings about giving up the idea of whether or not someone is deserving to be insightful. Many of the other ideas were quite clearly the product of their times.

But the description above contains the essence of my lower rating. The ideas were the most interesting part of the work. The story and the character were interesting, but academically so. I never really felt immersed. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
The Dispossessed is a science fiction novel written in 1974 by Ursula K. Le Guin as part of the Hainish Cycle. It follows the life of Shevek, a young Annaresti physicist working on a general theory of time as he travels across two worlds and two visions of society.

Urras is a planet in the star system of Tau Ceti with a large satellite moon called Annares. The main planet is as fertile and rich as its satellite is arid and desolate. Life and civilization hadevolved on Urras for about 10 millenia when a group of anarchists called “Odonians” left and settled on the moon of Annares. From that moment on, no Urrasti was allowed to visit Annares and no Annaresti ever went back to Urras. These were the terms of the “Closure of the Settlement”. And yet 200 years later, Shevek, for the first time defies these terms and flies to Urras in the hope of opening channels of communications between the two worlds. The story of his journey on Urras starts where the story his life of Annares stops. Odd chapters are for Urras, even ones for Annares. Much like the physics of Shevek, the narrative is both linear and circular, sequential and simultaneous. On Annares it follows, linearly, the life of Shevek from the crib to his struggles with academia and the fuzzy power structure of his governmentless society. On Urras the plot takes on a somewhat quicker pace with some political espionnage and action that leads him to seek refuge at the embassy of planet Earth (“Terra”) in the Council for World Government while he makes a breakthrough in his theory of time. He eventually comes back full circle to Annares.

There is something odd, intriguing perhaps, with a book about the future written in the past. Fifty years is not so long, but long enough for the science fiction genre. This story could have been hopelessly out of date, dealing with car phones and space invaders. It’s not. It’s hard to tell if we are closer to Le Guin or Shevek, closer to the 1970s or closer to a Utopian future. Special relativity tells us that we experience time dilation as we travel. Maybe The Dispossessed is a light speed rocket on its way to Tau Ceti. The world around it ages, but nothing inside the rocket does. But I think of Le Guin’s book as more like a time capsule, a little tin box burried in the back of the garden with a story inside. It brings back memories of time past, of a juvenile way of thinking, a long lost optimism about society. Free. Without walls. The ideas are still fresh, vibrant. Le Guin’s reflection about Ecology could have been written yesterday. Annares’ relationship between men and women are an inspiration. The politics and the power structure could be debated endlessly. It’s intricate and ornate. You want to ask questions. You want to be in room with the council of the PDC!

There is a lot to cover when you create a new world from scratch like Le Guin did. The book explores the organization of this Utopian society with a meticulous – quasi encyclopedic - attention. The science fiction is almost there by coincidence. There is no AI, no Laser battles. But there is a new language and a computer that tells you what job to do. The catalogue is fairly exhaustive without being overbearing. The story flows easily thanks to a colourful cast of characters: sad, inspiring, funny, humane... Tirin (his doomed school friend), Odo (the political activist and leader of the Odonian movement), Sabul (Shevek’s tyrannical and jealous physics boss) and Vea (mysterious agent of the government on Urras). I cover below just a few themes that are touched upon in the book.

1_ Time Line and place of the Dispossesed in the Hainish Cycle:
The Hainish are a peaceful minded people that have been civilized for thousands of millennia. They achieved un-paralleled technological prowesses such as the interstellar drive which allows them to travel great distances nearly as fast as light. About 1 million years ago they went on colonizing the universe. It is thought that both Cetians (humans on Uras and Annares) and Terrans (humans from planet Earth) come from Hain. At the end of The Dispossessed, we learn that there are 9 known world in the universe. Together they form the CWG (Council for World Government). This number of habitable planets is much lower than the 83 that form the Ekumenical in the Left Hand of Darkness (which is consistent with the Dispossessed being chronologically anterior to the Left Hand of Darkness). So there is a connection between The Dispossessed and other novels from Ursula Le Guin. Shevek’s solution to the General Temporal Theory for example is the idea behind the Ansible device which is reused in the Left hand of Darkness and Rocannon’s world. However Le Guin declared that she never planned the Hainish cycle from the get go, and we should not be surprised to find inconsistencies here and there.

I found it useful to keep an approximative timeline of events on Urras and Annares (and extrapolate to Earth’s own events when possible). The history of Urras goes back at least 10 millennia (“the self plundering of the ninth and early tenth millenia had left the lodes of Urras empty”) though their system for recording recent history only uses 3 digits, and the earliest date mentioned is Laia Asieo Odo’s birth date: 698. Below is a rough timeline of the various events taking place before and during the Dispossessed. (T is for Earth’s timeline, U is Urras’ and A is for Annares’)

c500(U): Einstein publishes his paper on General Relativity in Terra in 1905 (T) (“Several hundred years ago”).
c640 (U): Earth population peaks at 9bn before experiencing a massive collapse (maybe circa 2040 (T))
660(U): The Council for World Government’s (CWG) seat is established in Rodarred, Avan Province, A-IO, Urras.
738(U): First Urrasti mining settlement on Annares at the foot of the Ne Thera mountain.
740(U): Year of the great uprising in Nio Esseia, Urras
769(U): Odo dies
771(U): Fall of the Thu government. Offer is made by CWG to give the Moon to the International Society of Odonians. From that moment on 12 ships will ferry 1 million people to the moon in about 20 years. This is about 100 people per ship per flight (each flight takes 4.5 days). That sounds a bit large given the of current state space technology on planet Earth in 2022, but plausible if they already have interstellar drives.
791(U): Immigration is closed except for freight ships of the Trade Agreement. Year zero of the Annares chronology: 0(A)
136(A): Shevek is born
163(A): Beginning of drought on Annares
164(A): Shevek publishes Principles of Simultaneity
Sadik: the daughter of Takver and Shevek is born
T. and S. are separated for 4 years due to different emergency assignments (Northeast for Takver and Southwest for Shevek)
168(A): T. and S. reunited in Chakar. Decide to go back to Abennay
170(A): T. and S. form a syndicate of initiatives with Bedap. Publish books and build a transmitter to contact Urras directly.
173(A): Proposal to send one Annaresti to Urras.
174(A): Nine or ten month after his arrival, Shevek attends a party at Vea Doem Oiie’s place. Shortly after that event, he participates in a strike and seeks refuge at Terran embassy. He eventually returns to Annares aboard a Hainish ship commanded by a Terran: the Davenant.

2_ Politics and power structures:
There are 3 nation states in present day Urras: A-Io, Thu, Benbili and of course there is Annares which does not have a state per se. The name for the physical moon and its society / nation are used interchangeably. A-Io is, loosely speaking, a capitalist state with standard property rights and economic incentives. Social mobility is limited: the underclass has few opportunities to access university education or quality healthcare. In contrast, Thu is a socialist state, but unlike Annares, it is highly hierarchical. It uses the money economy and most likely is a repressive state. Even though she is a native of A-IO, Odo’s influence gave birth to a revolution in Thu in 769 which ultimately lead to the fall of the government there. A-IO and Thu compete for influence and wage a proxy war in Benbili, a dictatorship in the southern hemisphere of Urras. A-Io and Thu are symbols of the west vs the communist bloc. Benbili is perhaps a proxy for Vietnam. Annares is trully something new.

The Odonian movement’s beginnings are a little fuzzy. They are mentionned in “The day before the revolution” (a short prequel to “The Dispossessed”).
Laia and Taviri Odo Asieo are a couple of union leaders and intellectuals who devote their time and effort to defending workers rights in or around the year 730. Taviri wrote “Syndical Organization in Revolutionary Transitions” in 741, and Laia is the author of a manuscript called the “Society without government”. Both of them participate in demonstrations against the government. During one such demonstration on Capitol Square, some fighting with government forces erupts. Taviri is shot dead and Laia is sent to prison in the fort in Drio. There she writes “Prison Letters” and “Analogy”. The latter is turned into a book and becomes the backbone of Odonism. After 9 years of prison she is freed. Odonism spreads through society. Eventually it leads to the revolution in Thu, but Odo dies the day before the revolution. The movement becomes sufficiently popular that the CWG offers them the Moon, “Buying them off with a world, before they fatally undermined the authority of law and national sovereignty on Urras.”

There is no government on Annares. Nominally. But, as Shevek explains there is the PDC (Production and Distribution Coordination) whose job, through the divlab computer, it is to coordinate smaller organizations such as “Syndicates, federatives and individuals, who do productive work. They do not govern persons; they administer production. They have no authority either to support me. They can only tell us the public opinion of us – where we stand in the social conscience.” So this is it, the PDC while having no explicit coercion powers governs people through the soft power of public shaming. If you are a good Odonian, you do as the PDC tells you. This concept is highlighted in chapter 10 (which, in many ways, is the key to the book). This is when Shevek and Takver reunite after 4 years of separation, after the drought and after a series of emergency work posting far from each other. It is not fully clear to them why they were kept from each other for so long. After all they could have quit their posting. No one and nothing, not even the PDC, prevents you from packing up and going wherever you please. In fact the nuchnibbi (see section 4) often do so. The reason as they suddenly realize is more insidious: “The social conscience completely dominates the individual conscience, instead of striking a balance with it. We don’t cooperate-we obey. We fear being outcast, being called lazy, dysfunctional, egoizing”.
This is a turning point in the book. From that moment onwards, Takver, Shevek and their tiny band of rebels decide to take down the walls of this society.
“What are you going to do? asked Takver, a thrill of agreeable excitement in her voice.”
“Go to Abbenay with you and start a syndicate, a printing syndicate. Print the Principles, uncut. And whatever else we like. Bedap’s Sketch of Open Education, that the PDC wouldn’t circulate. And Tirin’s play.”
This rebellion however is not really aimed at taking down Odonianism. Instead it aims at rectifying a system gone astray, that betrayed the central idea of Odo’s Analogy: The idea that an individual should pursue the work he can do best, therefore providing his best contribution to society. Annares fell short of true ideals of Odo, and it is up to them to fix it.

How is this fight taking place?
The beauty of the system on Annares is that it is not a repressive or strong system at all. Whether they realize it or not, Annaresti, are ill-equiped to fend off any threat from the outside or the inside. On the outside their main defence mechanism is the interplanetary void that separates them from the rest of humanity. Their only “army” is made of the 12 old ships that were given to them 200 years ago and which still orbit the moon. Their real deterrent is the trade agreement by which the Urrasti obtain the Annaresti Ore cheaper than if they had to invade Annares and dig it themselves. Perhaps it is Oiie, a physicist and colleague of Shevek on Urras, who is the most insightful regarding the inherent fragility of Annaresti’s organization: “[Their] social order functions without apparent government because there were so few of them and because they had no neighbor states. When their property was threatened by an aggressive rival, they would either wake up to the reality or be wiped out”.
On the inside, the system is also slow to catch up on the threat that Shevek’s syndicate of initiative represents. By the time they discuss sending someone to Urras, they have had the time to publish their books, to contact not only A-IO but also Thu and Benbilli. This happens of course because by design there is no formal system, no chain of command, no seat of ultimate decision making. In practice some proposals are discussed at PDC meetings. The “council” can then vote on them, but crucially it has no power of enforcement. The traditional shaming tactic does not work because the syndicate of initiative has the moral high ground. It claims to follow strictly the principle of Odonianism. On the contrary, it accuses the PDC of assuming authority which is anti-Odonian. But the irony of it all, the beautiful visciousness is that this battle pits Shevek against his own mother (who had abandonned him as a child): Rulag!
In the end, the camp against the syndicate of initiative is not organized enough. Even when a mob resorts to attacking Shevek on its way to Urras, it is irresolute and therefore fails to stop him. The story stops when Shevek comes back to Annares. The debate between “traditionalists” and the syndicate of initiatives has not abated. The threat of violence is still very much present so it is unclear what happens next. Both camps have had time to organize by now.

What happens next in A-IO?
The last picture we get from Urras is that of Shevek in the Terran Embassy so we don’t know what happens after Shevek leaves A-IO to Annares. However, the country is in trouble: outside its borders it is engaged in a proxy war with Thu, and inside its borders it just repressed a very large demonstration of the underclass in blood. Moreover its plan to subvert Shevek’s scientific discoveries and therefore to obtain a technological advantage over the Hainish people backfired. And yet, as ambassador Keng remarks: “ The government here is not despotic. The rich are very rich indeed, but the poor are not so very poor. They are neither enslaved nor starving”. So it is conceivable that the government of A-IO survives this episode with some democratic tweaks rather than a full on revolution.

3_ Economy, ecology and the individual
Le Guin’s book is not a treatise of economics, so we should not expect to see every single aspect of the Odonian economic revolution spelt out precisely. And yet, more than any other science fiction book, her story goes to great length to describe the relationship between competing objectives under constraints, between the individual and the group, between the city and its environment.

“Decentralization had been an essential element in Odo’s plan for the society. “The natural limit to the size of a community lay in its dependence on its own immediate region for essential food and power”. This in itself suggests the Odonian economy is meant to remain a small economy that cannot specialize and attain its maximum efficiency through specialization. However this is contradicted by the intention to create networks that can exchange goods and ideas. The network is not meant to “run from the top down”. So it cannot be a centralized economy. At the same time, it cannot be a capitalist bottom up economy either as there would be “no capital, no establishment for the self-perpetuating machinery of bureaucracy and the dominance drive of individuals seeking to become captains, bosses, chief of state.” So we don’t quite know the extent to which the economy is meant to remain local vs global, top down vs bottom up. As the population of Annares is still small (20 odd million people) this issue has not yet come to the fore.
It is also not clear how prioritization and allocation of resources are organized. A large role is given to the divlab computer to perform this task of DIViding LABor duties and matching needs with resources. How exactly this allocation is performed is not explained, neither is the formula by which resources and capital are allocated. Should time and effort be directed to the construction of a barge or to the upgrade of the Divlab computer? There is something slightly terrifying when a computer regiments the life of people, and yet Annaresti do not seem to harbour any hard feelings towards their divlab machine: it is a simple matching tool with no nefarious AI abilities.

So what is the Odonian recipe for economics? It seems to combine a degree of asceticism (“Excess is excrement”) with a deep sense of human solidarity and mutual help. Nothing is worse than egoizing. “where there is property there is theft”. So there is no property and no laws. Community share every thing. There are refectories where food is served and dormitories where people can sleep in individual rooms of multiple rooms. There are learning centres and factories.
The theoretical basis for this organization is cooperation and function. Function is what you are best at for the whole, for the community or for the organism, as opposed to what you are the best for yourself. When Sabul and Shevek argue in chapter 8 about the absence of job posting for Shevek, the argument of Sabul relies on the fact that Shevek’s Physics work is not functional to the community. While Shevek may be good at Physics, there is no Physics to be done. The priority is elsewhere during an existential crisis like a drought. In a sense, the concept of cooperation shapes the function. “The delight of [..] anyone doing needed work and doing it well-this durable joy is perhaps the deepest source of human affection, and of sociality as a whole”. There ought to be harmony between work done and the need for it.

How well has this society done?
Annaresti have survived, against the odds. In fact their population rose steadily from 1MM to 20MM in 7 generations suggesting about 3 children per women. They avoided major conflicts with the home planet, any major epidemics and still enjoy a fairly high technology, although most of it is probably imported from Urras in exchange for mined Ore pretty much like a resource rich developing country with a unique political system. It is hard to imagine how they could have fared better.

What is interesting is how quaint these musings on economics and politics look to us in 2022. How very little of it pervades into the political discourse of our times. Who is still championing a planned economy or communal living? So it is both out of date and also very pertinent to the idea of erecting new walls and new barriers. Did Brexit create a mini Annares? What about the walls on the borders with Mexico?
What has not lost any bit of its relevance is the discourse on Ecology.
Annaresti are surviving just. There are only two native crops: ground holum and mene-grass. The “Old World” grains have been imported and only grew around Abbenay and the warm shores of the Keran sea. Annares has no native land animals: only sea animals in two unconnected Oceans (hence the increased diversity). The PDC embarked in a few large scale projects such as the afforrestation of the West Temaenian Littoral.
This hardship is both a blessing and a curse to Annaresti. While it threatens their existence, it also reinforces the bond between them. When the drought hits Annares, “There was an undercurrent of joy, in that sense, in Abbenay that summer.[..]The old tag of solidarity had come alive again.”
Compare and contrast with the ecological wealth of Urras. The main planet went through 2000 years of “self plundering” and yet, it is amazingly rich and verdant. Water is not a constraint. “The surface of Urras was five-sixths water.[..] No need to economize”.
The technology on Annares is fairly rudimentary and does not pollute. They have roads but transport is organized mostly by train or dirigeable, and of course they have a few Spaceships that orbit the moon. This is almost a world according to Jules Vernes. There is no mention of individual cars and planes. While people can use the phone in case of emergency, Shevek and Takver, like most people, communicate through letters. There are fishing communities but no apparent over-fishing. There is agriculture but no over-farming. All in all it is a small community in which ecological pressure are only exogenous. They abide by the Odonian principle of relying mostly on their own immediate region for essential food and power.

There is a small mention of Terran Ecology too. And it’s very grim. Population on earth peaked at about 9bn and then collapse to half a billion according to ambassador Kang. The climate is “always hot”, there are “no more Forests”, and the place is covered with “the little pieces of plastic”. Terrans survived but only just and then again this was accomplished through “total centralization”. “The absolute regimentation of each life towards the goal of racial survival”. Le Guin’s message sounds like a prescient warning now that we have had the benefit of 50 extra years to watch climate change in action. Some demographic projections estimate that population will reach 9bn around 2040, so this allows us to calibrate more or less the time line with our Terran calendar (hence the dates followed by “T”).

4_ Language:
Annaresti speak Pravic, Urrasti Speak Ioti. Pravic was a language invented by Farigv with computer assistance. According to the ambassador Keng “It is the only rationally invented language”. Le Guin does not delve into the history of the language but we can conjecture that it was put together during the settlement era as “Settlers had to learn Pravic as adults”. Farigv did not include any swear words in the dictionary and therefore all curse words, such as “Hell” come from Ioti. But this can lead to confusion: Takver thought that Hell meant the manure depot in Round Valley. Also, as Shevek discovers when, much to his chagrin, Takver is posted far away from their home “it is hard to swear when sex is not dirty and blasphemy does not exist”. Also, foreign concepts such as betting or prisons must borrow from Ioti. Conversely, the word for work and play is the same in Pravic reflecting on Odo’s approach to work ethic which tends towards cooperation. That is not to say that drudgery does not exist. It does. One of my favourite Pravic word is “Kleggish”, an assignment so dull you don’t want to do it. But the best is “nuchnib” (pl. nuchnibbi): people who don’t work hard, don’t cooperate, evade their work assignments. Nuchnibbi are ostracized and usually have to move on. During a dinner with Oiie on Urras, Shevek realizes that in a sense he has become a nuchnib himself. Only he moved on further than any other nuchnibbi before.

Ioti is the official language of A-Io, but it may be spoken throughout Urras as Chifoilisk (a native of Thu) speaks naturally Ioti. Moreover the Syndicate of initiative contacted all 3 nations on Urras and it can only have done so in Ioti since no one outside Annares speaks Pravic. Someone who does not speak Iotic, or does not speak it naturally, however is Efor: Shevek’s Iotic servant / footman at his Ieu Eun university housing. Efor can speak Ioti but is much more comfortable in the city’s dialect full of apocopations (I had to look that word up in the dictionary). This is also the language of choice of the Tabloid newspapers which can morph into extraordinary forms: “The birdseed paper was excited into its hugest typeface. Spelling and grammar fell by the wayside; it read like Efor talking: > It was the verbal mode of the Nioti, past and future rammed into one highly charged, unstable present tense.” Past, future, and the unstable present. The theme of time is a strong marker of the book. This is the subject of Shevek’s hard core physics but Le Guin also explores (playfully) this topic in the more day to day area of language and grammar.

There is also a tiny bit of English, when the Terran Embassy personnel says “Mai God”!

5_ Tirin:
He is the unsung hero of the book: The “inventor destroyer” as Takver calls him. He, who thinks first of going to Urras, he, who is persecuted by a state that knows no prison and no repression. He is the martyr of Annares. Indeed, Shevek’s adventure starts when he, Tirin, Bedap and a few other twelve year olds are in school in Wide Plains. Tirin is the ring leader of their little group. They just discovered during a history class the concept of prison from reading the life of Odo and Tirin comes up with the idea of making a prison. One of their friends even volunteers to get locked in. Tirin looked at them, derisive. “You’re all crazy. Who wants to actually get locked into a place like that? What for?”. Making the prison had been his idea, and it sufficed him; he never realized that imagination does not suffice some people...”
Next while lying on the grass, they speak about Urras. To some extent the young students of Annares are fed negative propaganda about the propertied class on Urras. And yet again Tirin questions the wisdom of this manufactured hatred. “What are we so afraid of?” .. “That what PDC wants to prevent is not just some of them coming here, but some of us wanting to go there”
“Go to Urras?” Shevek said startled.
So the seed has been planted. In a sense, the rest of the book is the just dominoes falling in line and people fulfilling their destiny.
However, Tirin’s destiny is not a pleasant one. He follows up on his idea of interplanetary travel with a play about an Urrasti that comes to Annares. That play is too controversial for the times. Too scandalous. Too far fetched for the good people of Annares. Worse: unlike the syndicate of initiative, Tirin is not organized and does not know how to fight back. He is sent to an asylum. As Shevel realized later, on Urras: “..[Tirin] had always backed down, poor damned soul, and he had always been right.”

6_ Where are Urras and Annares?
Urras is a planet in the system of Tau Ceti. Tau Ceti is a real star about 12 light year away from Earth in the constellation Cetus. It is relatively similar if somewhat less massive than our sun. Le Guin could not have known that but astronomers have found recently at least 4 “super earth” planets in this system two of which are possibly in the “Habitable zone”. Is it possible for a planet to have a habitable moon? Well Titan (Saturn) has a relatively thick atmosphere and our moon has some water (underground), so the possibility of a habitable moon is not completely far fetched.

7_ The General Theory of Time.
It is hard to write about science. It is harder still to write about science in a science fiction book. And the science in The Dispossessed is maybe the weakest side of the story. So what is the incredible physics that Shevek is working on? He is initially working on a coherent theory of simultaneity, then on a unified theory of time which is eventually called a General Temporal Theory. It is not totally clear what it is all about but it aims at combining, and perhaps reconciling, sequency, simultaneity, and causality. Some of its aspects remind us of Special Relativity and the failure of simultaneity between different frames of reference. There are funny references to a Terran scientist called Ainsetain whose work was done several hundred years ago and still contains “fresh ideas”. However what was missing from Ainsetain work was the “Saeba variables”, “the theories of infinite velocity and the complex causes.” But apparently Shevek understands these useful variables and “the coexistence of succession could be handled by a Saeban transformation series.” Here you go. So still not very clear but in the end he found a way to send information across space instantaneously, and this discovery will lead to the creation of a device called the “Ansible” which is used in a few other novels of the Hainish cycle.

8_ What is missing from Cetian society?
Le Guin went really far and deep in her effort to catalogue the life in both Annares and A-IO’s society. Still two components seem to be missing either intentionally or perhaps by lack of time in her story:
Religion: there is a chapel on the campus of Ieu Eun university but hardly any mention of organized faith. I would have expected some form of religion if only to highlight a contrast with Annares.
Sport: none, except at the beginning of chapter 8 when Shevek, Takver and 4 other friends have a conversation on the Athletic Fields of Abennay’s North Park.

Shevek’s accomplishments are mixed. If his goal was to break the walls and promote cultural exchanges between Urras and Annares, then this is a complete failure. The Iotti government welcome him and hosted him for a year and got an insurrection in return. Its motives might have been somewhat interested but then again few sovereign governments would pass on the possibility to obtain a technological advantage over its rivals. As for Shevek, most visiting professors have to acknowledge their grant donnors in one way or the other, so it is somewhat disingeneous of him to expect no contribution at all from him to A-IO. He could argue that he did give them the physics of the General Theory of Time, just not exclusively. If the government opts for a hard repression of the insurrection, it may even find it expedient to invade Annares, which might be catastrophic for both sides.

Likewise, Shevek and the syndicate of initiatives have shaken the foundation of the social contract on Annares: “Do as the PDC tells you and you will be fed and housed and taken care of when you are sick.” It is possible that this criticism, the first ever experienced by Odonians from within their ranks is enough to destroy the fabric of the society. Moreover this comes at a time when demographic pressures make it ever more difficult to preserve the delicate equilibrium of Odonianism. It is hard to imagine a society of 100MM people that could collaborate seamlessly as it does now, without the money economy, without labour specialization, and without a certain degree of property rights. So it is likely that the solidarity on which the Odonian society relies so heavily gets eroded gradually. Is it a slow mutation that preserves the positive aspects of life on Annares or does it also lead to civil unrest and persecution?

This is where the General Theory of Time comes to the rescue. It puts Annares on the map. This is such a scientic breakthrough that the CWG and later the Ekumen will need to pay attention to Annares. This is no longer a technological backwater run by hippies. If the syndicate of initiatives asks for the help of Hain, it would most likely get it. It is plausible that Annares next favourite trading partner is Hain or Terra rather than A-IO.

The beauty of The Dispossessed lies in its wealth of details. It is so rich, so intricate, so plausible that it sucks you in. Its themes are permanent and resonnate with all of us. It addresses the fundamental principle of the social contract of our societies. Science Fiction novels tend to do that. They present us with a Gedankenexperiment that teases out what could happen to our world. It’s just that The Dispossessed does it to an extent rarely seen before. Le Guin likes to compare and contrast. She used that device already in the Left Hand of Darkness by highlighting the differences between Karhide and Mishnory. She does it again in The Dispossessed but contrasting Annares and Urras, like two siblings. The portrait she draws of Annares is subtle, tender. She loves Annares without being besotted. She loves Annares without hating Urras. She created a world that is within our grasp, attractive and risky. Speaking to a Urrasti colleague, Shevek said “we are perhaps your future”. I feel like, speaking to us, Terrans, Le Guin is saying “they are perhaps our future”. ( )
7 vote A_Blue_Mountain | Jul 5, 2022 |
Sometimes reality is more enlightening than fiction. Although some might categorize this book as science fiction, I think of it as more social fiction, as the science is irrelevant, and social structures are what matter. That said, I think Le Guin's book would have been much more powerful if it was non-fiction. In the book, she contrasts a "communitarian" and a capitalist society. There are plenty of real-world examples to draw from. I'm left wondering why she didn't choose one of these. Maybe this book was groundbreaking when it was published, but reading it almost fifty years later, I'm left not seeing how it adds anything to the discourse. The worlds she builds are not particularly remarkable or enlivening.

The book is the life story of a physicists. Although one of the key plot devices regards theories of time, the author never actually fully articulates the protagonist's theory. This feels like a major hole in the story. If your protagonist spends all their time pondering something, as the reader, I want to know what it is exactly that they're pondering!

There is an episode of sexual assault, perpetrated by the protagonist. This episode feels unnecessary to the plot, and for this reason, feels unethical to include, as it normalizes sexual assault. Additionally, there is no healing following this incident; the protagonist never even interacts with this woman again, and we hear nothing about the long-term impacts of the incident on her life. I find it irresponsible of Le Guin to have included this episode, as it perpetuates harmful interpersonal dynamics.

The story isn't arranged chronologically. As it is a book with time as a subject, you might think the author would adopt a chronology that reinforces conceptions of time core to the book. This is not the case. Instead, the chapters are arranged arbitrarily, according to an odd-even pattern (the Wikipedia article on this book further describes the chronology Le Guin adopted).Le Guin's chronology ends up distracting and confusing the read rather than bringing them deeper into the concepts she's describing. ( )
1 vote willszal | Jun 21, 2022 |
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Doch wollte Le Guin mit den Habenichtsen und ihrem Planeten weder ideale Menschen schildern, noch eine ideale Gesellschaft. Zu deutlich zeichnet sie die Schwächen und Mängel beider. Nicht nur die Urrasti, auch viele der Menschen auf Anarres sind hab- und machtgierig, intrigant und Karrieristen, obwohl es dort offiziell weder eine Hierarchie noch Eigentum gibt. Doch dafür werden die Anarresti gelegentlich "gezwungen, auf eigenen Wunsch für einige Zeit wegzugehen", weil die Gesellschaft sie andernorts braucht - oder auch, weil sie einem Mächtigeren im Weg sind. "Ein Paar, das eine Partnerschaft einging, tat dies in voller Kenntnis der Tatsache, dass es jederzeit durch die Erfordernisse der Arbeitsteilung getrennt werden konnte." Es gibt Zwangsarbeit, und Dissidenten werden schon mal zur "Therapie" auf einsame Inseln verbracht, und schon im ersten Teil des Romans stellt Shevek resignierend fest, "dass man für niemanden etwas tun kann. Wir können uns nicht gegenseitig retten. Nicht mal uns selber."

» Add other authors (120 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Le Guin, Ursula K.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bontrup, HiltrudTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burns, JimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Craft, KinukoCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ducak, DaniloCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ebel, AlexCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ewyck, Annemarie vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Körber, JoachimTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leslie, DonNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nölle, KarenTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyytäjä, KaleviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pagetti, CarloForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Roberts, AnthonyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sârbulescu, EmilTranslatorsecondary 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.
Like all power seekers, Pae was amazingly shortsighted. There was a trivial, abortive quality to his mind; it lacked depth, affect, imagination. It was, in fact, a primitive instrument.
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"A bleak moon settled by utopian anarchists, Anarres has long been isolated from other worlds, including its mother planet, Urras--a civilization of warring nations, great poverty, and immense wealth. Now Shevek, a brilliant physicist, is determined to reunite the two planets, which have been divided by centuries of distrust. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have kept them apart. To visit Urras--to learn, to teach, to share--will require great sacrifice and risks, which Shevek willingly accepts. But the ambitious scientist's gift is soon seen as a threat, and in the profound conflict that ensues, he must reexamine his beliefs even as he ignites the fires of change." -- taken from Harper Collins website.

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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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