Sunday, July 5, 2015

Staff Review: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

I do not consider myself a connoisseur of science fiction, but I think it is safe to say The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin is a classic in that genre. Written in 1974, the story follows the life of Shevek, a (literally) universally-renowned physicist who grows up on the anarchist planet of Annares. As the book opens, he is leaving his home for the first time to visit his ancestral planet of Urras, where "utopian" capitalism still reigns.  As someone who does not habitually read science fiction, I took me a few chapters to get my bearings with the unfamiliar planets and the discussions of physics theory, but I was hooked before long. Le Guin sets the scene so thoroughly, believably, and fascinatingly that the strangeness quickly disappeared and I was just reading a good book about lovable characters and important problems.

Shevek's views are scorned by most of Urras' inhabitants, but he is not ready to give up his outlook, despite his personal struggles with his homeland, Annares. On Urras he indeed encounters a type of paradise, but it cannot completely mask the deception, intrigue, and unpleasant truths that make him question everything he knows. Le Guin weaves a tight story, with chapters alternating between Shevek's past and present. Both plot lines are interesting to follow - Does Shevek ever reunite with his partner? Can pure anarchy be successfully attained? Is capitalism really so bad after all? Who and what holds power and can that be changed? - and each plot line becomes more suspenseful as the two converge at the end of the book.

Le Guin raises questions of social structure, gender, poverty, partnership and ultimately humanity that characters - and readers - grapple with because their lives depend on it. Despite the contrasting settings, characters on both planets are quite relatable and leave readers evaluating their own relationships, governments, and even language. It is fascinating to read intimate details of two completely different societies, and to find each of them enchanting and comforting in their own way. If you are a fan of philosophy, space travel, or social justice, this book will draw you in and make you a fan of the others.

~Rachel, Circulation

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