Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin (1974)

I recently read another Nebula and Hugo award winner, which also won the Locus Award, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin.

The book concerns two societies situated on what appear to be binary planets. One is an idealistic anarchist society (or non-authoritarian communist society) over the whole planet, and the other has a mix of societies, though the major society in the plot is capitalist. A member of the anarchist society, a physicist of some note, travels to the capitalist society, and we explore his interactions among those people and the impressions he receives. In alternating chapters, we also explore the anarchist society and the protagonist's upbringing. The book provides a stunningly interesting critique of capitalist, communist, and anarchist societies, while following a believable and extremely well-developed main character. The primary strength of the book is in its alternating chapter structure, which illuminates the strengths and weaknesses of the two societies, although it does make tracking the less important characters a bit difficult. And some of the chapters which take place in the anarchist society are very powerful. The book provides a wonderful analysis of human nature in terms of society, morals, and the nature of freedom.

I won't judge the book by sci-fi terms, because it didn't have to be written as a science fiction book except for the fact that there isn't a society like the idealist one in the real world. However, even judged on general terms, the book gets 5 out of 5 stars. The only problem is the chapters are exceedingly long, without breaks. This is a small issue indeed.

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