The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Paperback, 1994

Call number



Harper Voyager (1994), Edition: Reprint, 400 pages


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.

Media reviews

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,
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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."
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User reviews

LibraryThing member elmyra
A long time ago I read a quote (which I now can't find again for the life of me) which went along the following lines: The books that truly touch us, move us and influence us are the books which are one or two steps further down the same road that we're on. This was one such book for me.

26 is quite
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late in life to discover Ursula K. Le Guin. My excuse is that where I grew it, it was mostly her fantasy that was translated, rather than her SciFi work, and during my teenage years I'd pretty much sworn off fantasy. Having now discovered her, I want to get my hands on every piece of SF she's ever written, and I might well give some of the fantasy a go too.

I took a good two weeks to get through the 319 pages of "The Dispossessed". Partly, I was doing other stuff, and partly I found it a really dense book to read. Le Guin touches on so many topics and issues I care about, and does it in such a skillful way, that often I found myself stopping and thinking something through for a good few minutes before I could continue to read. Here are some, in no particular order, with no claim to coherence, of my own thoughts.

The main message of the book is around class and ideology. In some ways it is very much a Cold War novel, with Urras modelled directly on Cold-War-Earth. Now, while I knew that SF was often used as a tool to spread subversive messages under Communism, I'd never realised that the phenomenon had a flip side on the other side of the Iron Curtain. This novel sure as hell shows that.

One of the elements I particularly liked about the depiction of the Cold War, with the nations of A-Io and Thu standing for the US and the USSR respectively, is that Le Guin chose not to show us Thu directly. And while there was no real story reason to go into Thu, I feel there's something else behind this too: Coming from the other side of the Iron Curtain as I do, I rather suspect that I would have been upset by any attempt by a western author to comment on the internal workings of a communist country. There just is no way that she could have done it in the same depth, with the same amount of sensitivity as she treated the capitalist counterpart she had direct experience of, and it is to Le Guin's credit that she chose not to try.

Second to the communism/capitalism/anarchy discussion is probably the issue of gender. On Anarres, men and women are truly equal. On Urras, they very much are not. There are a few details, a few lines Le Guin uses to illustrate that dichotomy which encapsulate so much of the issue and so much feminist thought in so few words. There is the discussion among the Urrasti physicists of how they should use women as lab technicians to allow men to focus on the truly productive and creative sides of physics. It serves as a good reminder of how women were seen in western society not that long ago. Shevek's constant bewilderment at Vea's attitude - she won't open a door, she has to have it opened for her; she won't even offer to share the bill at dinner - is wonderful. He even wonders if Vea might be a prostitute, before he figures out that what she expects of him is "chivalry". And there is of course Vea's reaction to being told that Anarresti women don't shave - anywhere! - which made me whince because I can identify with both sides of that one.

If ideology and gender are the two main themes of the novel, there are a number of other ones presented more subtly though in no way with less impact. There is a strong environmental/sustainability message which rings particularly true to the 21st century reader. There is a lot of subtle but ever-present commentary on the power of language to shape thought. There is an interesting side note on race - the Terran ambassador is Indian, and for an SF work of the 70s, "The Dispossessed" is well ahead of its time on that.

The one area where the novel bears a touch of criticism is in its treatment of homosexuality. We are told that homosexuality is perfectly normal and accepted on Anarres. But really, we are never shown it. The one character of whom we know that he is gay lives the kind of life that was almost socially accepted in western society when the novel was written: he has no long-term partner, he throws his energy into other things, and that's pretty much all we know about him. In some ways, this makes sense when viewed in the context of Anarresti society where being partnered appears to be by far the less common option. And yet, Shevek, the main character, has what is reasonably close to our understanding of a family, with a long-term partner and two children. Bedap on the other hand seems to be spending all his time at work, with his group of friends or in politics. He does, towards the end of the book, realise that he would like a partnership, he would like his life to change, but it would have been nice to see a gay character in a happy and stable relationship. Still, had I been a teenager in the 70s I'm sure I'd have been glad of any gay characters in any fiction, as a way of validating my own universe.

Much in the same way as most travel writing tells you rather more about the traveller and where they come from than it ever can about the country travelled, any social commentary or social science fiction tells you a lot more about the society the author is living in than about any fictional world they're creating. That, however, is for me the ultimate test for good science fiction: it should hold up a mirror to humanity and make us think about ourselves. This book definitely does that.
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LibraryThing member kukulaj
What is freedom? Is freedom produced by a particular way of managing social relationships? Is freedom a result of the absence of socially imposed rules? Perhaps freedom can simply be defined as such an absence! Must rules be formulated as legal codes and enfoced by uniformed police, if they are to
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impede freedom?

Le Guin's novel explores these issues. Her conclusion seems to be that rules spontaneously arise in any group and become internalized. Freedom more a matter of acting in a way that is not constrained by these internalized rules.

This book was written in the early 1970s. I wonder if it was really a commentary on Mao's China. It would be interesting to compare this to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Rand has a hero who is has the courage to break the constraints of American society. Le Guin's hero seems more to be breaking the shackles of Maoist society - at least, Maoist society as idealized by the hippies of 1970.

I was in high school in Lake Forest, Illinois back then. We had a brilliant hippy in our school. We had a team in the high school quiz show on local TV. We had a bus load of kids going down to Chicago, along with the team, for the competition. One of the quiz question was about the thousand mile march. Our brilliant hippy hero, long hair and bare feet, pounced on the buzzer and shouted, fist raised: Chairman Mao! Yes! Another point for the Lake Forest team!

Yeah, Mao for us hippies was a bit like Stalin for the previous generation. An embarrassing mistake for sure, but a deeper puzzle too. What went wrong?

Le Guin tells us - the constant revolution from which freedom arises, it is an individual affair, not a social affair.

How to structure society to be most conducive to individual freedom, that is one nice question. Then, what responsibility does the free individual have to help promote those conditions so that others can achieve freedom too? But the real question, I think, is: given that freedom is an individual achievement, to whatever extent supported or discouraged by social conditions - how does an individual achieve that freedom? Freedom is freedom from constraint. What forms the prison bars that constrain us? Yes, the police can constrain us. Yes, internalized social rules constrain us. OK, even our internalized parent figures constrain us. If we break through these constraints - do we then dash out and follow our impulses? What is this individuality that might become free? Perhaps whatever it is that defines us as a distinct individual, that very boundary of "me, mine" and "not me, not mine" could be the ultimate prison! If the freedom we seek is the freedom to manifest our individuality, maybe that freedom is an illusion - nothing more than the freedom to paint our prison cell any color we like.

I didn't find all that much depth to Le Guin's exploration of freedom. It opens up the question and shuffles a few papers. It barely hints at the range of the terrain. But it's well written, an excellent novel. Almost dangerous, if a person were to be seduced by the satisfying style into thinking that Le Guin has thought the matter through and supplied a good answer.

Funny, though. What seems to correspond today to the idealistic anarchy of 1970 - perhaps that would be deregulation, some kind of libertarianism. I fear that today's reader of this novel will find it even more like Atlas Shrugged that folks would have back in 1975 when people could still remember dreaming of communes.

What we need today is another novel like this, where our hero lives in the Utopia dreamed of by the Tea Party folks. Whatever freedom they dream of, that seems to be the freedom whose limits we need to understand today, before the prison gates are locked tight.
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LibraryThing member daschaich
An Exploration of Government and Humanity: As his anarchist society threatens to degenerate into hierarchy and authoritarianism, brilliant physicist/philosopher Shevek decides to shake things up in an attempt to jump-start the revolution that must be lived every day. So he heads off to the
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capitalist world of Urras - the historical home of his people from which they fled into self-imposed exile nearly 200 years earlier - in order to trade the extremely powerful "Grand Temporal Theory" that exists only in his head for a chance to forge connections between the people of Urras and the anarchists of nearby Annares.

However, being an anarchist, Shevek is not a very good trader. He quickly finds himself trapped in an invisible prison, carefully isolated from the restless masses of Urras, while the leaders of Urras try to get the Grand Temporal Theory from him in order to establish their rule over the entirety of known space. Breaking out of his luxurious jail, Shevek joins up with socialist revolutionaries and tries to make sure his life's work is not misused.

"The Dispossessed" is written in an interesting fashion, with flashbacks covering the course of Shevek's life routinely interrupting the narrative. While some might be annoyed by the story's resulting disjointedness, I personally was not bothered. The flashbacks let Le Guin explore her ideas of how an anarchist society would operate, how life, love and politics would work in a government-less world. For me, being able to explore the conflicts and tensions between society and the individual, between centralization and autonomy, between responsibility and freedom - this proved nearly as interesting as the plot itself.

Although "The Dispossessed" is technically a work of science fiction, it seems to be primarily an exploration of society and the human spirit. The physics that forms the base of the plot is presented more as philosophy than hard science and the level of technology on Urras and Annares seems hardly more advanced than what exists today. Overall, this book has excellent characters, a good plot, and a whole approach that is sure to make you think about government, society, and humanity itself. Five stars.
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LibraryThing member seldombites
This is an excellent example of extreme culture shock. How well could a man raised in an anarchist society (even one considered a rebel and a traitor) function in a capitalist society? This is the catalyst that Le Guin uses to highlight the faults and follies of our society. The story begins on the
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world of Annarres, where we see the much hated and maligned Shevek boarding a shuttle to Urras. Subsequently, the chapters alternate between Shevek’s past on Annarres and his present on Urras, highlighting his struggle to align the two.

I don’t think I am reading too deeply when I say that world of Urras could represent our present – decadent, corrupt and with strict hierarchies based on wealth. Annarres and Earth (home to the Terrans), meanwhile, present us with two possible futures – one desolate and totalitarian, ruled rigidly in an effort to ensure the survival of the human race; the other just as concerned with survival, but offering more freedom and individual choice. To the Terrans, who have devastated their world, Urras is a paradise of flora, fauna, wealth and plenty. To the people of Annarres, who have been raised believing in the rights, freedoms and worth of every individual, Urras represents a hell of poverty, profiteering, inequities and the rule of the many by the few.

This book is very well written. The world’s are believable and the characters peopling them seem more real than even those we see on the news. Reactions and emotions are as logical as reactions and emotions can be, and by the end of the story the reader is emotionally attached to the main character, Shevek. While the ending occurs in a perfectly logical place, I found myself disappointed, as I really wanted to know what happens next.

The Dispossessed is an excellent and entertaining read. I highly recommend it to anyone from young adult to old age pensioner. I guarantee this book will leave you thoughtful, and will present you with a definite message. Whether that message is one of hope or despair, I will let you decide.
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LibraryThing member andreablythe
Shevek grew up in a society of anarchists, a near utopian society on the moon of Urras in which everyone is equal, there is no monetary system, and all goods are shared equally and fairly. However, it is also a society that has begun to reject new principles and ideas, making life difficult for
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Shevek, who wishes to explore the new boundaries of physics.

In order to follow the path of physics, Shevek has to turn away from his home to Urras, the planet the anarchist society abandoned hundreds of years before so that they could have their freedom. Urras is a world upon divided by cultures and countries, many at war with each other. Capitalism is king there, where there are drastic differences between the classes and just about anything is for sale.

One might think the focus of this novel is politics, from sexual politics to economic politics, -- and that would be true. Politics, philosophy, and and physics all play large roles here and are the subject of much discussion between the characters, each who have very strong points of view. Nothing is simple, however, and Sevek learns that his anarchist society is not as perfect as he believed, nor is the capitalistic society of Urras nearly as wicked as he imagined. There is good and evil in everything.

But even more story, this is a novel about a man who is lost, who is looking for a place to belong. His deep, deep loneliness and feelings of being disconnected from either world are very true and moving. Without this connection to Shevek, the story would be too tangled in philosophy and politics. Shevek's journey -- physical, intellectual, and emotion -- is really what makes this story come alive.
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LibraryThing member Ailinel
Easily identifiable as a Le Guin work, this story is non-chronological and manages to fully realize two societies without providing detailed descriptions of every imaginable aspect of them. Instead, situations, events, beliefs, and paradigms shared by characters work to plunge the reader into alien
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cultures with the sort of 'instant immersion' method used in modern language studies. The tale follows Shevek, a brilliant physicist who has lived his life on an isolated moon colony with a group of dissidents, anarchists who lift their home planet several generations ago. As the novel opens he is leaving to return to the home planet (a place filled with profiteers and social classes) to complete his theory of Simultaneity, and to try to share cultures and unite two isolated worlds. As the novel remarks:

"He was alone, here, because he came from a self-exiled society. He had alwavs been alone on his own world because he had exiled himself from his society. The Settlers had taken one step away. He had taken two. He stood by himself, because he had taken the metaphysical risk.

And he had been fool enough to think that he might serve to bring together two worlds to which he did not belong."

Through Shevek's eyes the reader sees the advantages and disadvantages of a communal society and a capitalist society, the tendency of bureaucracy (and hierarchies) to creep into groups, the resolute way in which people blind themselves to the truth of the world around them, and the changes that immersion in a new culture, in the other, will bring. He goes forth, throughout his life, with empty hands, a stranger and a brother even as he completes a theory that will change all of the communicating Hainish worlds.

The novel's near perfect ending includes the poignant statement, "But he had not brought anything. His hands were empty, as they had always been."

Acute, poignant, world building and society building-- the novel does not preach or provide allegory. Rather it creates, without condoning or condemning the worlds or those who populate them. It leaves the reader not only lacking all of the answers, but feeling that they don't even have all of the questions. When it finished my chest ached, yet I wanted nothing changed about where or how the novel stopped. The tale is unapologetic, eloquent, and beautiful.
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LibraryThing member thelorelei
Ursula K Le Guin believes in the intelligence of her readers. As such, I can always count on a challenge from her work. Here, she juxtaposes a "utopian" moon against the traditional classist planet its population left behind. Because humans will seek power even within a supposedly hierarchy-less
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society, the scientific hegemony has effectively gagged Shevek, our protagonist. In order to spread his ideas to where they will actually be utilized, he risks his life in traveling back to the misogynist, corrupt planet from whence his ancestors fled, breaking a generations-long embargo of silence. This is a deep exploration of political idealism, of academic censorship, and of the child-like concept of "the grass is greener on the other side." Le Guin provides no pat conclusions, allowing the reader to make his or her own. Or not, as the case may be. Some situations defy conclusions.
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LibraryThing member Larou
While The Dispossessed is not quite the consensus novel Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle is – mainly due to its purposely controversial subject matter which I imagine will not go down well with many people, and likely was not intended to – I think that even those having issues with
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the novel will agree that it is one of the seminal works of Science Fiction and like few others shows what the genre at its best is capable of.

The basic premise seems simple enough – two planets, two societies with diametrically opposed politico-economical systems (Anarres is an anarchy, Urras has a variety of states and political systems, but has a pervasive capitalist economy), and a protagonist who crosses from one into the other, thus giving the reader a perspective on both. This also pretty much describes the basic plot of the novel, of which there isn’t a lot – The Dispossessed is very emphatically a novel of ideas, and any reader who cannot get passionate about them will likely be left cold by it. There is a bare minimum of plot (tbe story of Shevek’s life on Anarres, his attempt to reconcile the two planets without being instrumentalized on Urras), but in the main the narrative consists either of people talking about concepts or of people thinking about concepts. The astonishing achievement of The Dispossessed is that despite of this, the novel does not come across as dry and abstract at all, and this is because LeGuin gives the concepts a firm foundation in her characters. The ideas discussed here are not simply decreed by the author and then argued over by sock puppets, but they arise out of who and what the characters are, their specific personalities and their individual histories. In consequence, the many discussions in this novel are very far from being a dry recital of arguments but instead take the form of debates full of life because they are informed by human passions, and are accordingly more enjoyable to read.

Geometrical figures play a big part in this novel – there is the circle that is the symbol for Odonianism, the theory Anarres’ society is based on and which turns up again and again during the course of the novel in a huge variety of contexts. Life on Urras, on the other hand, is generally characterized by straight lines, more often than not forming borders, walls or prison cells; the novel’s second chapter, for example, begins with the image of the moon surrounded by the square of the window it is seen through – Anarres held in check by Urras, capitalism limiting anarchy. On first sight, this might seem like a clear-cut dichotomy, but of course circles are excluding as well as inclusive, and a straight line is something that leads forward, implies change, rather than always returning to the same point as a circle does. In the end, Shevek returns to Anares, ending his voyage by closing a circle, but at the same time he has moved forward through his life, and has (or so one hopes) initiated some progress on both worlds he has dwelled on. Last but not least, there is Shevek’s Unified Theory of Time which precisely aims to combine a cyclical with a linear concept of time.Everything is densely interwoven, the whole novel supported by a network of images whose metaphorical impetus is closely connected to the ideas The Dispossessed discusses, giving their abstractions imaginative depth and texture.

Right from the first sentence of the novel there is a juxtaposition of the neatness of the abstract and the messiness of the concrete, of theory and practice, the ideal and the real. And contrary to what one might expect, this is no dichotomy, no simple favouring of one over the other, the imagery of the crumbling wall already implies that the borders are blurry at best, and that the view from either side has its justification even as its unable to lay claim to being the only and absolute truth. While Le Guin leaves no doubt that her sympathies lie with the anarchists of Anarres who carve their frugal living out of the harsh surroundings of the moon they live on, she also shows the inherent tendency towards stagnation and bureaucracy in that society, while on the other hand the world of Urras, even as its political system is unfair, keeping a few rich and in power while the masses are poor and oppressed, still has an ease of living and an appreciation of the finer things of life – beauty, art, pure science – that is lacking on Anarres.

That impartiality is also marked by Le Guin’s use of an omniscient narrator, a rather unusual choice of a narrative perspective that appeared somewhat old-fashioned even back when the novel was written, but which suits The Dispossessed perfectly, broadening the novel’s scope beyond the merely personal and opening a wider perspective that embraces multiple worlds and systems. Even almost forty years after its first release, this remains one of the most thought-provoking novels in Science Fiction – and also one of its most beautifully written. Le Guin’s style does not attract much attention to itself, but here she gives us some of the most hauntingly beautiful descriptions of alien landscapes, and her gorgeous prose brings the arid secenery of Anarres to life like the passion of her characters vivifies the dry subject matter of their debates.
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LibraryThing member StarofSophia
Wow. This is one of those books that made me really step back and think.

Being a book by Le Guin, this book has a great story that weaves around and behind and then comes back for a perfect ending. I had started reading this book in the library a couple years ago and decided not to read it at the
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time, but this time around, after reading the first couple chapters, I was absolutely hooked.

The story touches on many of the philosophical subjects that I sometimes think about, especially anarchism, socialism/communism, the breaking down of a utopian society, social relativity, the value of personal Will, and so on. Definitely worth re-reading more than once.
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LibraryThing member VVilliam
A great novel about a scientist, Shevek, from a desolate, anarchist world who must visit the neighboring prosperous, capitalistic planet to continue his work. Filled with Le Guin's standard themes of environmentalism, social equality, and anthropology, it has many deep ideas to ponder. The style of
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the book is also quite nice as it simultaneously develops Shevek's present and past giving the novel nice mystery. It does slow down a bit in parts, but overall an excellent read.
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LibraryThing member EmScape
On another world, that is not so very much unlike our own, there was a rebellion of anarchists. Those who denied the idea of law, of property, and of possession, who only saw brotherhood, acceptance and the joy of doing work for its own sake, not in order to earn money to live. That world was able
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to rid the anarchists by giving them the moon on which to live and grow their quasi-communist society. 160 years later, a theoretical scientist living on this moon comes up with an idea that could change the lives of everyone on both worlds, in addition to the other societies of aliens heretofore discovered, that of Earth and Hain. Nominally, that’s what this book is about. In practice, it is much more of a commentary and comparison with the anarchist society and our own. It’s a thought experiment. How would that society function? What does a marriage look like? Would the human characteristics of greed and power-seeking still seep back in?

In chapters that alternate between Shevek the scientist’s early life leading up to his trip back to the mother world of Urras and his experiences on Urras, LeGuin compares and contrasts practices and customs through the eyes of one who has only ever lived in sharing and harmony with his fellow man. The result is fascinating, if a little devoid of plot. This is okay with me because I prefer this kind of science fiction, but if your type is a little more space opera and a little less philosophical, you might not enjoy it as much.
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LibraryThing member mmaestiho
This was a beautiful book that was easy to understand without needing too much introduction. There was so much development of the world without explaining and it made me feel as though things were just out of my grasp. Beautiful writing as always, coupled with some wonderful discussion of
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capitalism and socialism, gender roles, revolution, and class.
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LibraryThing member sprainedbrain
All of the high praise I have seen on Litsy about this one is well deserved. I don't think I've read a sci-fi book before that made me think about things as much as The Dispossessed did. LeGuin managed to say a whole lot about a wide range of sociopolitical issues while also telling a compelling
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and exciting story in two worlds.
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LibraryThing member reading_fox
Drags. Far too much social commentry and political theorising with little if any in the way of actual plot. Also the interleaved time displaced storyline is just annoying.

Shevek is a physicist in an ideal fully socialist - though completely decentralised - world. Life is hard, but fair, with
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everyone pulling their weight doing community chores and specialised tasks to their ability. The neighbouring world from whom they Setlled 150 years ago, is a fully capitalist world 'normal' as we would think of it, and the book opens with Shavek travelling their through the disapporbrium of his people, and enduring the strangeness of a life of luxury.

The part of physics that Shevk studies is time/space dimensions trying to develop a theory of relativity. there are two schools a Sequentialist school and a Simultaineous school. One rather hopes that the 'flashabcks' to shavek's youth - interleaved alternate chapters - are somehow related to this. But I doubt it, as no justification is ever given for them, and it reads as if Le Guin though this would be a neat idea. But they are exceptionally annoying, continually breaking up the narrative flow.

Shavek's thoughts lead him to a revolutionary idea, which is rejected as the people currently in charge (without in anyway being in power and especially not governing) the Institute of physics feel they belong to an outmoded school of thought. Shavek realises his ideal socialist world is in danger of relapsing into centralist dogma and determines to give them to this other world - if only he can prevent them from being bought.

The physics ideas are too rather obviously only a vehicle for the political discussions. Le Guin does make many very valid points - both for and against socialism and capitalism - but it doesn't really work as a story, and would be better off as a non-fiction piece. Given that our world has changed considerably since this was written it's also pretty clear that socialism will and does fail in just the ways she's highlighted. However it is worth noting that this doesn't make capiltalism 'better' only more sucessful. The problem is possibly just that there is far to much 'tell' and not enough 'show' particularly of the way the worlds are set up.

Perhaps the highlight of the work is in the inital assumptions required to make a stable socialist world operate for any length of time.

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LibraryThing member dogrover
One of the few Utopian visions that I can believe. The gradually expanding horizons of Shevek's experience lead him by stages outward from home, all the while pushing him back to his roots. A beautifully constructed and intensely personal story of the price of a truly free society.
LibraryThing member RebeccaAnn

To start off, this book can be very confusing if you don't understand a few key facts. First, the story takes place on sister planets (each one serves as the other's moon): Urras, which is the original planet, and Anarres, a planet populated by anarchists who rebelled
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against the Urrasti government. Second, the chapters bounce back and forth between the present and Shevek's (the Anarresti main character) life growing up, before he undertook the task of going back to Urras in an attempt to develop his Theory of Simultaneity and share it with all of the known intelligent life in the universe.

There is a lot going on with politics. Urras is made of two major nations, A-Io and Thu, obvious allusions to the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union respectably. Then there is Anarres, which is a socialist planet where everyone is dependent upon each other because the conditions of the planet are so harsh. There are only a few species of life on Anarres and if humans don't work together, the species as a whole will perish.

The story begins with Shevek boarding the Mindful, a ship which will take him back to Urras. While there, he is bombarded with wants and desires he has never experienced, having come from a planet in which no one really owns anything because there is so little to be had (a common phrase amongst the Anarresti is "no one starves while another eats"). For the first time, Shevek has money and is able to have actual possessions. He gets sucked into the capitalist world and for almost a year, he does no work. His change of heart comes from seeing the other side of capitalism, the poorer side. The government, having kept Shevek boarded amongst the richer part of society, did not want an anarchist inspiring the poor to rebel. When Shevek sees the poor, he must come to terms with the fact that he has become what he most despises: a profiteer.

The Dispossessed is much more of a mental journey than a physical one. In fact, looking back at the book, there's not much action in it at all. However, I still found myself intrigued by the story. I could see this book because the source of heavy debate in the way it portrays socialism, capitalism, anarchy, and government as a whole (anarchy is greatly favored while government is scorned at) and while I can't agree with the idea of a total lack of government, I can see the pros and cons of both systems.

This is a good book if you really want to think, but not so much if you want a real page turner. It's a very confusing read, and I'll definitely be reading it again. There is no way I caught all the little details. The book has too much scope to take it all in the first reading through.
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LibraryThing member xiaomarlo
Le Guin's idealism is exhilarating and inspiring and *real* despite the completely fantastic setting and situation. She shows the hardships of her utopia, and her perspective of a stranger being introduced to decadent capitalism is so astute. One of my favourite books ever. Everyone with left-wing
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progressive politics should read it.
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LibraryThing member gbill
Very intelligent science-fiction, and with a social conscious. The worlds Le Guin created here are also simply fantastic. The customs, geography, politics, and philosophy are all well fleshed out, and there is a small tie-in to Earth fictionally too (as well as Hain from her other novels). Most
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interesting to me is that through the people of this planet (Urras) and its moon (Anarres), Le Guin holds a mirror up to America and the Soviet Union of 1974, when she wrote the novel. Anarres was founded by idealists who instituted a form of communism much improved over the Earthly implementations – it is non-authoritarian and in some ways utopian – but it is not without its flaws, having built up a bureaucracy over the years and dangerously conformist. Conditions are often very hard as they are without a lot of natural resources, but generally the people accept the fact that they have to work for the greater good, including in menial agricultural jobs. Meanwhile Urras is a world of haves and have nots, where there is great beauty and opulence amongst the elites, more open-mindedness to scientific advances, but great poverty amongst the masses. It’s also quite sexist, relegating women to lesser roles and objectification. Among their customs is shaving their heads and body hair, and toplessness in social gatherings.

The main character in the novel is a leading theoretical physicist in pursuit of a grand unifying theory relating to Time, and we see him struggle in both worlds. On Anarres, his home world, he is stifled and an outcast, and on Urras, the government seeks to own the theory and profit from it. It’s as if Le Guin is showing us the shortcomings of both worlds (slash real countries on Earth), and how big a struggle it is for a person with singular advances (or quite simply the truth) to transcend the government and the people around them. She also is of course showing us the need to break down walls, to be kind to others, and to openly communicate.

Along the way Le Guin also peppers the novel with wisdom. The openness to homosexuality on Anarres, or any other sexual practice for that matter, aside from those involving children or rape. The need for strict environmental regulations by government. The freedom of the press on Urras leading to a lot of trash being published which the masses consume. The unfairness of consumerism by the wealthy when the workers struggle and don’t receive anything close to the value of what they produce. This makes the work highly relevant even as fiction, and even with the Cold War over. It’s timeless.
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LibraryThing member greeniezona
I checked this one out now just because it was right there on the shelf at the library, but I'm starting to think I should read the Hainish books in order, even though they aren't technically a series. I just suspect I would enjoy them better that way.

It's been a few weeks, but I'm still not sure
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I've got enough distance to talk about this book. Shevek, a physicist, was born and lived his whole life on a moon, a moon where millions were resettled as a result of a revolution on the main planet. Life on the moon is austere, but peaceful -- the entire society is socialist anarchist. The planet, by contrast, is rich and lush, and defined by capitalist excess and want. Those brought up on the moon are taught to judge/fear their parent civilization as "propertarian." Since the settling of the moon, contact between the two societies has been strictly limited. Shevek is the first to leave the moon.

Clearly this book is set up to compare two different societies/governments/economic principles. Most of the judging is done directly through the eyes of Shevek, so you expect it to come out pro-socialist/anarchist, which it largely does, but really, no person, rule, or principle comes off as entirely enlightened in this book. If there is any one theme in this book, it is that freedom is hard work, and it must be tended to vigilantly.

A bit of a slow read, but not necessarily in a bad way. Deep, and thoughtful.
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LibraryThing member Jim53
Shevek is a gifted physicist living in an anarchist "Odonian" utopia on Anarres, the moon of the planet Urras. The Odonians have tried to maintain their purity by forbidding contact with the propertarian homeworld. Shevek, frustrated by having hit wall in his attempts to merge sequency physics with
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a theory of simultaneity, decides to visit Urras to confer with scientists there, but also to try to bring the societies together. Alternating chapters tell of Shevek's growing up and his trip to Urras.

Through Shevek's eyes, LeGuin shows us the two societies in some detail, including what they have lost by isolating themselves from one another. Shevek is a well drawn character, and while most of the others are briefly sketched, they fill their roles nicely, with enough individuality to prevent their being stereotypes. LeGuin's primary themes seem to be the uniting of opposites and the need for a utopia to be constantly reinventing itself. The alternating chapters and style of the book fit very well with its content. This is a high point of literary science fiction.
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LibraryThing member mouton-rouge
Alien anarchists. My favourite Le Guin novel.
LibraryThing member lauriebrown54
The Dispossessed is a story with multiple levels. On one level, it’s the story of a man- Shevek- on a quest. On another, it’s a utopian/dystopian novel. On yet another, it’s about the nature of time.

Shevek lives on Anarres, a large moon of the planet Urras. Anarres is a harsh world with
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sparse resources. There is no luxury and there are sometimes privations, but the people live in an anarchic socialist state. There is no property; everyone shares everything- if one goes hungry, all go hungry. If there is excess food, all eat well. In theory, everyone is free to do what they want, but this is a very organized anarchy. The Division of Labor’s computers show all jobs available and you pick what you want, or, in times of crisis, are asked to take specific jobs. Syndicates decide how to deal with specific issues. This is where Shevek runs into trouble. He is a physicist working on a unified theory of time. His theory is at odds with the theory the head of the university syndicate has worked on. When the syndicate refuses to publish his theory, he finds that even a society based on equality, freedom, sharing and not having anyone superior to any other has it’s rules, rulers and ways of making people conform.

When Shevek does get his theory published, he gets it sent to Urras. He is awarded a prize for the innovation and importance of his work, and this is where the story starts: as he leaves for Urras. While there has been some small trade between the worlds, the people do not mingle. Ever.

The story weaves two time streams together: Shevek’s life from his childhood, leading to the point where the story starts, and Shevek’s life as he goes to Urras. Some have found this technique hard to follow, but it emphasizes Shevek’s theory of time being simultaneous rather than sequential.

Urras (where the Anerres people migrated from less than 200 years before) is the opposite of Anerres: society is materialistic, capitalistic, class and gender stratified. Many people go hungry while a few have food to waste. But it’s a luxurious world; there is great wealth, both in the upper class people’s lives and in natural beauty. Here there are trees, flowers, grass, abundant rain. Shevek enters this world as a noble savage- will he hold to his ethics, or be seduced by the soft Urras life they offer him? In the end, it’s obvious that neither society is perfect and that things still need to be worked out.

Written in 1974, this book explores a lot of the issues that were important then. The situation of Urran women as property, kept from education and jobs, vs the gender equality on Anarres steps right out of the second feminist movement. There is some space given to anti-war sentiment; the Viet Nam war would have been winding down while this book was being written. The biggest theme, of course, is communism vs capitalism, which was a big issue in the 70s. What saves this book from being a ponderous treatise on sociology and politics is the characters. Le Guin’s people are complex, rounded, interesting people. We have no caricatures here, we have living, breathing humanoids dealing with the effects of the society they live in. Despite the 36 years since this book was written, it remains both meaningful and engaging.
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LibraryThing member sturlington
Long after I closed this book for the night and lay waiting for sleep to catch up with me, I thought what I’d read, about the ideas posed by the novel’s premise and characters, and the implications for my own life and our society. That’s a sign of a book that’s definitely worth reading.

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story is set in the future on a distant planet, Urras, and its moon, Anarres. The culture on Urras is similar to ours: capitalist, competitive, with a huge gap between haves and have-nots. One hundred and fifty years ago in Urras’ history, a group of anarchists rebelled against this way of life. They settled on — or were exiled to, depending on your point of view — Anarres, a desert world where they built a subsistence society based on the premises of no government and no ownership of private property.

Despite the difficulties of their environment, life on Anarres is like a simple Eden. No one goes hungry while others eat. No one goes without a sheltered place to sleep at night. People work and study at what they, travel where and when they want, and everyone communally shares the necessary but non-glamorous jobs. Without commercialism to occupy them, people spend their time working, learning and socializing. Even an eight-hour workday is considered unusually long.
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LibraryThing member seitherin
I understand why the people who really like this book really like this book. Unfortunately, for me, it was just this side of unbearably dull. I've read textbooks that were more engaging than this book was.
LibraryThing member jorgearanda
A 1974 sci-fi novel about a scientist and activist bridging the culture gap between a plausible anarchic society (a sort of non-authoritarian communism) and a capitalistic society much like ours today. It’s a great, intelligent book, full of unexpected little edges and juicy threads –both at
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the societal and at the personal level.

It especially resonated in me because the brief segments when le Guin describes the creative cycles of Shevek, the main character, are so close to what I’ve been experiencing through my Ph.D.: long periods of apparently aimless research that turn out to be solid foundations of novel ideas; sudden inspiration one night followed by an inability to put it all together the next morning, and so on. The bits about research politics and the free dissemination of science are also spot on.
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