Book Cover
Title The Dispossessed
Series ---
Author Ursula K. Le Guin
Cover Art Danilo Ducak
Publisher Eos - 2001
First Printing Harper & Row - 1974
Category Science Fiction
Warnings None

Main Characters

Shevek, Takver, Pae, Alto, Bedap, Sabul, Laia Odo

Main Elements Utopia / Dystopia

Shevek, a brilliant physicist, decides to take action. He will seek answers, question the unquestionable, and attempt to tear down the walls of hatred that have isolated his planet of anarchists from the rest of the civilized universe. To do this dangerous task will mean giving up his family and possibly his life. Shevek must make the unprecedented journey to the utopian mother planet, Urras, to challenge the complex structures of life and living, and ignite the fires of change.

It took me over two months to get ahold of a copy of this book from my library, and I only succeeded by actually putting the book on reserve to force whoever had it to return it, at which point someone put it on reserve after me so I couldn't extend it. For some unknown reason this older book was surprisingly popular (unless it was one person who was really, really slow at reading...)

When I started this Nebula and Hugo award winner I was all excited to read something along the lines of 1984, but then its not a dystopia tale but a utopian one, so I knew it wouldn't be exactly the same, but still, I thought it would have to be really good.

But, it kind of wasn't. I couldn't get into it, found myself relatively bored most of the way through and not particularly caring about any of the characters nor their worlds. And while I don't claim to remember all the details of say 1984 or Farenheit 451, I still remember how those books made me *feel* when I read them. I felt nothing here, and thus I know in a couple years I'll forget pretty much everything I read here.

I do have to give credit to LeGuin that in the process of contrasting the "dystopia" planet of Urras with the "utopian" planet of Annares she made it clear that neither one was fully one or the other. Take Annares, the planet our protagonist Shevek, a brilliant physicist, came from. This planet is nearly a barren wasteland, barely able to sustain the Cetians that live there (no, they are not human!), no one owns anything, not even their children. You can do whatever job you want, live where you want, and if you need some clothes or food, you just walk into a supply depot and take what you need. People don't need much here, and after all, there isn't much to take, this planet has no riches for people to hoard.

However that said, we see this perfect world fraying at the edges. Sabul, the head of the physics department, has final say over what people work on, and especially, what people publish and to who. There's another character who wrote a play that is considered too edgy, and is assigned to a rehabilitation center and then shuffled around the planet, not allowed to work on play writing anymore. And when a famine hits the planet, and there's a village where a train is passing through and the people on the train need food, the villagers refuse. Indeed, it was a case of sharing the food and everyone starving, or keeping the food and having some survive, but when everyone is equal, and no one owns anything, how do you decide who gets to live? Turns out ownership of the food was the deciding factor after all.

And then Annares, which is more familiar to us, a world with forests and vast resources. A small rich elite taking advantage of a poor populace, the world divided into regions that war with each other on a regular basis and women are oppressed and not allowed to get higher education or have jobs. On the surface looks pretty bad, till you talk to the women and they are quite happy with their lot, able to manipulate their husbands to get what they want while not having to do any work themselves...and then we meet the Terran ambassador, who can't see how Shevek views this as an evil place, for she sees this world as a perfect utopia compared to what happened back on Earth. The Annares take careful care of their world, protecting the environment, ensuring sustainable development, while Earth was scoured to the point of it being barely livable and needing an absolute authority to control the populace just so people can survive. It's all about point of view.

But while there are a lot of interesting, serious points in this novel, it just didn't really touch me. Maybe I've read enough Utopia/Dystopia novels that there wasn't all that much new here for me, though it might have been a standout when it was first printed. And to be fair, it came at a tail end of a month of science fiction (and oddly, at least 3 other disaster/dystopia type novels) and I'm a fantasy fan and I was kind of getting tired of the genre in general.

I read it as part of a book club and other people who read it found it really affected them, that they were in a place in their lives where this touched them in some way. It may just be one of those books that either has a big effect on the reader or has none at all, so I recommend reading it for yourself.

December 2017
LeGuin also wrote a short 15-page prequel story from the point of view of an elderly Odo. has a blog post which links to the story that you can download for free. Maybe because it was short I enjoyed it a lot more than the novel. Odo's thoughts, such as where she ponders if she has a room to herself because she is an old lady that had a stroke, or is it because she's the leader of the matter how hard we try to elitism it creeps back in. We may not learn too much about the ideals of Odoism here but you do get to see that she was just a woman not some sort of grand figure that history always converts it's heros into. An old woman who hate her "hideous" feet, despises the fact that she drools because of the stroke, and misses her husband who passed away years ago (the word "husband" of course being taboo now but he wasn't just her "partner" after all). It takes more than one generation for old habits to change.

Posted: November 2017


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