Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Dispossessed

by Ursula K. LeGuin

One of the first novels I've read - ever - that seems to address my conception of anarchy. Nearly dead-on, though there are a few minor details that I've had to reconsider since reading it.

Set on the (essentially) twin planets of Urras and Anarres, The Dispossessed follows the journey of an Anarresti physicist - Shevek - from his departure from his anarchic home planet to Urras, an "archist" planet. Invited by his colleagues at the University there, he finds himself in a strange, capitalistic world, where people's motives aren't always what they seem. Meanwhile, LeGuin takes us on a journey throughout Shevek's life, from infancy to just before he begins his intra-stellar journey, giving us the opportunity to penetrate into the anarchist society, and, consequently, to contrast it with the capitalistic society.

The thing that I like best about the novel is that it goes beyond portraying "good guys" and "bad guys," though I certainly sympathize strongly with Shevek, but reveals that, indeed people are people, no matter where you go or what political system you are a part of. There are decent archists (and even a decent communist, which I've not often seen), and there are power-hungry anarchists. And violent anarchists; and peaceful anarchists; individualist, social, hardworking, mooching (called nuchnibi) anarchists.

There is famine, and drought. On Urras, there is a rebellion, quickly and ruthlessly crushed. There is war, in which thousands of Urrasti are sent to fight and die. But there is also great comfort and joy; in life, in music, and in the spirit of brotherhood and in family, found both on Urras and Anarres. And, of course, there's a vaguely implausible but intriguing physical theory to keep us geeks happy.

My rating: Five stars. A superb piece, which you all should read.

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