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The Dispossessed: A Novel (Perennial Classics) Paperback – June 10, 2014


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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, and lives in Portland, Oregon. As of 2014, she has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry, and four of translation, and has received many honors and awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, and PEN/Malamud. Her most recent publications are Finding My Elegy: New and Selected Poems and The Unreal and the Real: Selected Stories.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

There was a wall. It did not look important. It was built of uncut rocks roughly mortared. An adult could look right over it, and even a child could climb, it. Where it crossed the roadway, instead of having a gate it degenerated into mere geometry, a line, an, idea of boundary. But the idea was real. It was important. For seven generations there had been nothing in the world more important than that wall.

Like all walls it was ambiguous, two-faced. What was inside it and what was outside it depended upon which side of it you were on.

Looked at from one side, the wall enclosed a barren sixty-acre field called the Port of Anarres. On the field there were a couple of large gantry cranes, a rocket pad, three warehouses, a truck garage, and a dormitory. The dormitory looked durable, grimy, and mournful; it had no gardens, no children; plainly nobody lived there or was even meant to stay there long. It was in fact a quarantine. The wall shut in not only the landing field but also the ships that came down out of space, and the men that came on the ships, and the worlds they came from, and the rest of the universe. It enclosed the universe, leaving Anarres outside, free.

Looked at from the other side, the wall enclosed Anarres: the whole planet was inside it, a great prison camp, cut off from other worlds and other men, in quarantine.

A number of people were coming along the road towards the landing field, or standing around where the road cut through the wall.

People often came out from the nearby city of Abbenay in hopes of seeing a spaceship, or simply to see the wall, After all, it was the only boundary wall on their world. Nowhere else could they see a sign that said No Trespassing. Adolescents, particularly, were drawn to it. They came up to the wall; they sat an it. There might be a gang to watch, offloading crates from track trucks at the warehouses. There might even be a freighter on the pad. Freighters came down only eight times a year, unannounced except to syndics actually working at the Port, so when the spectators were lucky enough to see one they were excited, at first. But there they sat, and there it sat, a squat black tower in a mess of movable cranes, away off across the field. And then a woman came over from one of the warehouse crews and said, "We're shutting down for today, brothers." She was wearing the Defense armband, a sight almost as rare as a spaceship. That was a bit of a thrill. But though her tone was mild, it was final. She was the foreman of this gang, and if provoked would be backed up by her syndics. And anyhow there wasn't anything to see. The aliens, the off-worlders, stayed hiding in their ship. No show.

It was a dull show for the Defense crew, too. Sometimes the foreman wished that somebody would just try to cross the wall, an alien, crewman jumping ship, or a kid from Abbenay trying to sneak in for a. closer look at the freighter. But it never happened. Nothing ever happened. When something did happen she wasn't ready for it.

The captain of the freighter Mindful said to her, "Isthat mob after my ship?"

The foreman looked and saw that, in fact there was a real crowd around the gate, a hundred or more people. They were standing around, just standing, the way people had stood at produce-train stations during the Famine. It gave the foreman a scare.

"No. They, ah, protest," she said in her slow and limited Iotic. "Protest the ah: you know. Passenger?"

"You mean they're after this bastard we're supposed to take? Are they going to try to stop him, or us?"

The word "bastard," untranslatable in the foreman's language, meant nothing to her except some kind of foreign term for her people, but she had never liked the sound of it, or the captain's tone, or the captain. "Can you look after you?" she asked briefly.

"Hell, yes. You just get the rest of this cargo unIoaded, quick. And get this passenger bastard on board. No mob of Oddies is about to give us any trouble." He patted the thing he wore on his belt, a metal object like a deformed penis, and looked patronizingly at the unarmed woman.

She gave the phallic object, which she knew was a weapon, a cold glance. "Ship will be loaded by fourteen hours," she said. "Keep crew on board safe. Lift off at fourteen hours forty. If you need help, leave message on tape at Ground Control." She strode off, before the captain could one-up her. Anger made her more forceful with her crew and the crowd. "Clear the road there!" she ordered as she neared the wall. "Trucks are coming through, somebody's going to get hurt. Clear aside!"

The men and women in the crowd argued with her and with one another. They kept crossing the road, and some came inside the wall. Yet they did more or less clear the way. If the foreman had no experience in bossing a mob, they had no experience in being one. Members of a community, not elements of a collectivity, they were not moved by mass feeling, there were as many emotions there as there were people. And they did not expect commands to be arbitrary, so they had no practice in disobeying them. Their inexperience saved the passenger's life.

Some of them had come there to kill a traitor. Others had come to prevent him from leaving, or to yell insults at him, or just to look at him; and all these others obstructed the sheer brief path of the assassins.

--This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Perennial Classics
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Reprint edition (June 10, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006051275X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060512750
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (217 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #246,731 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The main character, Shevek, is very three-dimensional and very likable.
Brawndo
Like the best science fiction, it reveals more about the time it was written than the time Le Guin is writing about.
Merope
The book asks nothing less than how best should human society function and by what means.
A. Whitehead

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

187 of 191 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on May 30, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"The Dispossessed" is a utopian/dystopian novel along the lines of "Brave New World" or "The Handmaid's Tale." Although Le Guin creates an atmosphere of tension, there's not a lot of action (at least for the first three quarters of the book)--so readers expecting more "traditional" science fiction or surprising plot twists will certainly be dissatisfied. This unashamedly political novel portrays one character torn between two worlds with disparate political and economic systems, and it focuses on the highlights and the inadequacies of both those worlds.

Shevek, an unappreciated scientist from Anarres, travels to Urras, whose inhabitants seem to value better his discoveries in physics. Annares, the home of the "Dispossessed," is a 175-year-old rebel outpost of anarchists who have established "an experiment in nonauthoritarian communism" that emphasizes community and cooperation and who must make the most of the limited resources on their desert planet to avert the constant threat of starvation. Anarres's mother planet, Urras, boasts a triumvirate of strong and repressive governments, the most important of which is the capitalist government of A-Io with its impressive wealth, cultural accomplishments, and scientific achievements.

But all is not what it seems on either world. Le Guin alternates chapters detailing Shevek's early years of disenchantment on his lawless but peaceful native planet with chapters describing his growing realization that Urras has a significant "dispossessed" population as well. The novel is, of course, deeply informed by the Cold War--it was published in 1974--and each world features its own "ambiguous utopia" (the book's subtitle).
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60 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Joanna Daneman #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 22, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A group of revolutionaries settles the dry desert moon of a rich, Earthlike planet. Their founding philosophy is based on the writings of Odo, a woman who never sees the moon colony created on her ideas, which are based loosely on pure Communism. Odonianism tries to change human nature, by inculcating the principle of sharing and non-possesiveness, with the interesting twist of removing the possessive word "mine, ours" from language and substituting "the one I use." The Odonians create a somewhat impoverished but vigorous society on the moon Anarres and for two centuries have been isolated from their Urras roots except for trade contact at the spaceport. In fact, Anarres is a mining colony for Urras and is left alone as long as valuable minerals are shipped back to the mother planet.
The Anarresti use a language created by a computer and using their philosophical beliefs. People when born are given a two syllable name from the computer. The society is free, all sexual activity is allowed as long as the partners agree. Marriage is not uncommon, but not the norm either. Children are raised communally, a bit like the first kibbutzim in Israel. Work is assigned from a labor pool with a computerized system of allocating assignments wherever they are needed. But anyone can choose any occupation that suits them, and is free to refuse a posting, or even work at all. Once in every ten days, an Anarresti participates in volunteer labor that's needed by the community. Only a sense of responsibility, taught from birth, a conscience, keeps everyone working for everyone else and free from "propertarianism" or the desire to accumulate possessions and wealth.
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101 of 107 people found the following review helpful By John S. Ryan on September 16, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Quick -- name three SF literary portraits of functional societies founded on principles of anarchism.
I come up with Eric Frank Russell's Gands in _The Great Explosion_ (" . . . And Then There Were None"), Robert A. Heinlein's Loonies in _The Moon is a Harsh Mistress_, and Ursula K. Le Guin's Anarresti in _The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia_.
Oh, there are a handful of others, notably James Hogan's _Voyage from Yesteryear_ (which was itself strongly influenced by Russell). But most of the rest are thinly disguised libertarian propaganda without a great deal of literary merit (though your mileage may vary).
Of these three, Le Guin's is in some ways the most compelling. In part that's because she's just such a fine writer. But it's also because she's probably the _least_ "ideological" of all the SF writers who have ever tackled this subject.
On Le Guin's somewhat Taoistic approach, each of the contrasting societies contains the seeds of the other, and she lets the reader see both their "good" and "bad" points. She clearly likes the Anarresti society (and on the whole it comes off rather better than its Urrasti foil). But she doesn't hesitate to show the reader some of its critically important drawbacks. Its childrearing practices, for example, recall Ira Levin's _This Perfect Day_, and its treatment of original thinkers (and their "egoizing") even recalls Ayn Rand's tub-thumpingly propagandistic _Anthem_.
In general, then, Le Guin is pretty well immune to the usual salvation-by-ideology claptrap. And as her subtitle suggests, her utopia really _is_ ambiguous. For her, people aren't "saved" by adopting the correct philosophical position or social principles.
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