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The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle) Mass Market Paperback – October 20, 1994

4.3 out of 5 stars 305 customer reviews
Book 5 of 7 in the Hainish Cycle Series

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Product Details

  • Series: Hainish Cycle
  • Mass Market Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Voyager; Reprint edition (October 20, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061054887
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061054884
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 1 x 6.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (305 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,595 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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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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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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