Utopias in Science Fiction Ursula K. Le Guin's Dispossessed

About the science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin and history of her envisioned utopia written about in the novel The Dispossessed, An Ambiguous Utopia.


URSULA K. LE GUIN (1929- )

She has won just about every award a writer can win in the science fiction world. The only person ever to win joint Hugo and Nebula awards for best science fiction novel of the year on two separate occasions (for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed), Le Guin has also been given a Newbery Medal (for The Tombs of Atuan, the second part of the Earthsea Trilogy), a National Book Award (for the third part of the trilogy, The Farthest Shore), and several Hugos for shorter works. Her father, Alfred Kroeber, was a famous anthropologist.


Two worlds, Anarres and Urras, revolve about each other. Urras is rich and fertile, the large mother planet. Anarres, barren and poor, had been settled several centuries earlier by political dissidents with anarchist tendencies. The story unfolds through the eyes of Shevek, a physicist who is experimenting with a communications device that will end the time lag in intergalactic communications. Shevek finds it difficult to work on Anarres. The political system that grips the planet insists on complete equality. Names are assigned by a computer juggling random bits of sound and syllable. No one has (or is supposed to have) any advantage over anyone else, or any better living quarters. In emergencies, everyone pitches in, and everyone is forced to work labor details when drought strikes. An important facet of Anarrestic society is the abolition of self; in practice, the words my and mine are never used (although they exist), because they're a sign of egoism. The climate of Anarres makes life exceedingly difficult at the best of times; cold, dry, windy, with very thin air, and subject to extensive droughts. After rumblings of revolt on Urras, the government there, worried over its uncertain future, had agreed to give the rebels Anarres. The rebels had instituted a society run by councils and boards. A new language was invented to replace the old, names were changed, and the emphasis in the new society was on decentralization. Buildings were erected for function only; workshops, dormitories, factories, meeting halls, but no recreation halls. Money was abolished, single men and women were housed in dorms, and every attempt was made to smooth out the differences between individual citizens as much as possible. And all of it works, after a fashion. But for Shevek, a creative physicist, politics gets in the way of science. People are still political animals, each with his own jealousies; to get his papers published, Shevek must agree to have them "coauthored" with a colleague. Finally, stymied by the bureaucrats, Shevek travels to Urras, where the government tries to use his talents to its own ends. Shevek escapes and returns to Anarres, having finally brought his invention to fruition. Just as the communicator will restructure the Galaxy, it is implied, so will the return of Shevek, and the ideas he has encountered, shake the society of Anarres, in a way that will do it good. For the utopians of the desert planet have become too staid for their own good; Shevek, after all, is only being a good anarchist.

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