14 September 2022

The Dispossessed: an sf novel on two dystopian cultures

The DispossessedThe Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of Ursula le Guin's better novels, I think.

Two planets orbiting the same sun act as moons to each other, and the inhabitants have split because of political and cultural differences. Anarres is dry and austere, and its inhabitants are libertarian and socialist. Urras is lush and green, and its inhabitants are authoritarian and capitalist, or propertarian, as the Anarresti like to call them.

Shevek, a physicist on Anarres , feels that his research and discoveries are unappreciated at home, and makes a journey to Urras to meet physicists there, but finds that the Urrasti want to use his discoveries to increase their own power.

The people of both Anarres and Urras have adopted a kind of apartheid, and want to keep their cultures and political systems separate, so that neither will be contaminated by the views and principles of the other. . The culture of Urras is closer to that of the world we live in and so is easier to depict; the culture of Anarres has no real life model, though certain aspects of it have been advocated by some anarcho-syndicalists, thus it is harder to depict in a convincing way. But authoritarianism manages to creep in there, under the guise of protection of liberty. Though I'm inclined to favour anarcho-syndicalism myself, I've never really tried to envisage just how such a society would work. Ursula le Guin makes a valiant attempt, but it is not quite convincing enough. For the most part Ursula le Guin does a fairly convincing job of showing how such diverse cultures might interact with each other.

Apart from space travel, le Guin does not envisage much technological development in society, and most of the technology -- transport, communications, computers, and the like, are much as they were in the mid-20th century on earth. Anarres has abandoned the week, and based its time measurement on units called decads, presumably of 10 days. But they also speak of "years" when referring to the age of people, and though it seems that these years must be fairly similar to earth years, it is nowhere stated that they are, or how it relates to the orbits of Anarres and Urras.

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