Monday, December 22, 2014

Book Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin


Fiction.  I have had a copy of Lavinia by Le Guin sitting around for almost a year and have not worked myself up to it, being a major Latin nerd and bracing myself for how she is going to interpret Aeneas's second wife, who never said one word in The Aeneid.  So, politely procrastinating, I looked her up on several websites and ran across one with good, short, solid advice and which of Le Guin's works a reader should tackle first and why.  I followed their advice and started with this one, originally published in 1974, and it has withstood the test of time.

If you have ever debated what would happen if we actually had a functioning and totally socialist world, this is for you.  That is precisely what she has done, created one world that is completely socialist, where nobody really owns anything, does the work that is necessary, does not have any stigma attached to sex, and people are generally satisfied with life.  The other world, which they separated from centuries ago, is the regular super capitalist world (wars, money, possessions abound, selfishness, paranoia, government animosity, etc.). 

The main character, Shevek, is a physicist on the Utopian planet of Anarres, who has the seemingly crazy idea that these two places really should communicate more, that they can benefit from more contact.  He believes that even though people on Urras live very differently, they all might benefit from talking with each other, and therefore develop better science, without either group having to feel threatened or perhaps force their way of life on the other.

What I like about Le Guin is that she was fair: she pointed out the benefits and faults with each planet/society/governing system.  She is not praising or condemning either one totally, she does not treat it as a black or white area, but rather looks at the shades of gray that might emerge if this situation were real.  I found it fascinating to see where socialism worked and where people were still selfish (the university/professor power situations, somebody always wants to be more important than others and have more influence on others), and where they lacked in comparison to the civilization filled with debauchery, which followed capitalism (the food of the socialists is seriously lacking - growing food on the moon is not easy).

I highly recommend this work to those interested in an observer's view of politics, those interested in examining the extremes of human nature (deprivation and overindulgence), and those who like a little sci-fi spin in their literature.

And so it goes...

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