"The word is the making of the world." - Wallace Stevens

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Dispossessed - Ursula K. Le Guin

I have been very unorganized and lazy about blogging lately. Not because of a lack of books getting read, good grief! Right now, my "finished" pile is taking over my desk, eeeck! And between the unorganized stacks of books, there are magazines that I've bookmarked with articles I want to share, wedding invitation samples, loose leaf papers with writing scribbles, printed curriculums from Canisius College and Colorado State U., and the occasional half finished bag of trial mix with mostly raisins left in. This is my place to be sloppy and unorganized, my getaway, my cubbyhole, my cave. Heh heh, it really is time to give the old desk a good pick up and dust though!

I finished this particular story back in March. If you are familiar with Le Guin, you know she is a master writer of the sci-fi/fantasy genre. And this story is a masterwork. It is set somewhere in the distant future. Shevek is a brilliant, thoughtful physicist born and raised on the planet Annares, which is the mostly barren moon of the planet Urras. About two hundred years before the time of this story, revolutionaries led by Odo the anarchist philosopher left Urras to start a new utopian society on Annares. Except for bare essential trade, there is no communication between the two planets during the next two centuries. In Le Guin's anthropological goggle wearing style, you are introduced to a race of people living on two different planets, living in two different societies that are heading in different directions. Urras is a lush paradise being treated indifferently by those driven by greed for wealth and resources, on Annares the society is based on communal sharing and voluntary cooperation, in a barren bleak landscape that barely supplies their needs. Le Guin's words strongly point out how human ideals and human nature are frequently at odds.

"It was easy to share when there was enough, even barely enough, to go round. But when there was not enough? Then force entered in; might making right; power, and its tool, violence, and its most devoted ally, the averted eye." Page 256

Shevek's life's work as a physicist has been to make instantaneous communication possible across space, by uniting the principles of Sequency and Simultaneity. He travels to Urras' main city of A-Io to look for ways in which to reach and accomplish his scientific goal, when he is shunned on his home planet for his ideas being a result of "egoism". He learns on Urras that egoism is the generally accepted way to view the world. His journey becomes not only a quest as a physicist, but also as an ambassador of Annares. Through Shevek, the reader sees both societies' pros and cons, flaws and virtues. He is a man coming from a communal society and trying to negotiate his way through a capitalist one, one which ultimately makes him feel trapped.

Another recurring theme that features in Le Guin's writing is gender and cultural bias. This passage is from just after Shevek and his partner, Takver, have a little girl. It gives you a peek into the society Le Guin is writing into existence.

"An Odonian undertook monogamy just as he might undertake a joint enterprise in production, a ballet, or a soap works. Partnership was a voluntarily constituted federation like any other. So long as it worked, it worked, and if it didn't work it stopped being. It was not an institution but a function. It had no sanction but that of private conscience." Page 244.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this story. It wasn't a fast read; the writing reflects a lot of different political issues from the time it was written and gets heavy sometimes, but is very thought provoking and enjoyable. Like every Le Guin book I have read. Next up, not sure when I'll get to it, is The Word for World is Forest.  I'm looking forward to it for simply being a Le Guin novel, but I already know some of the plot and the issues it tackles are again heavy ones.

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