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Review – The Dispossed, by Ursula K. LeGuin


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: (Leveraged completely from John’s review) A brilliant physicist named Shevek tries to reunite the anarchist world of Anarres with its sister planet Urras.

PROS: Somewhat interesting exploration of the differences between two politco-social ideologies, the universe the story is set in sounds interesting although we don’t get to see it.

CONS: Slow moving, little action, dry writing, unmemorable characters (except Shevek), reads like a political textbook wrapped in a SF covering.

BOTTOM LINE: Much as I felt the first time I read it, I found The Dispossed to be a slow, dreary read, potentially interesting to people who are more interested in society and politics than in SF.


I’ll let John’s review do all the heavy lifting regard the plot of the book, I’ll focus solely on my reading experience. Which can be summed up in one word: dull. Not quite as dry or slow as Fire Time, but pretty darn close. I kept thinking to myself, “This won the Nebula and Hugo?”. Unlike John, I don’t mind politics in my SF, see Dune, but it’s got to be interesting. This book seemed to be a lot of talk, talk, talk about the different societies, but nothing gets resolved and nothing much happens. I also felt that LeGuin was using the book to proselytize at us. Maybe not, but it was certainly a preachy book. The SF elements are there just to setup the discussions about the societies or as McGuffins (Shevek’s Theory of Simultaneity). The story itself did absolutely nothing for me. I’m glad I didn’t read it at night, as I usually do, as I’d probably fall asleep quickly and still be reading it. As it was, I had to force myslef to keep going.

It’s not all bad. Shevek is a fairly sympathetic character. In some way, he’s ruled by events and manipulated by those around him. He finally takes charge of his life near the end and becomes a stronger person for it. Also, the universe itself that LeGuin has created outside Annares and Urras sounds interesting. Too bad we only get hints about it and instead get heaping doses of political discourse thrown at us.

Unless you are into philosphical ruminations about politics, give this ‘award winner’ a pass.

About JP Frantz (2323 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

4 Comments on Review – The Dispossed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

  1. Sociology is a science, and there is such a thing as “political science.”

    BTW, I love this book. Utopia stories without Hollywood-esque rebellions are among my favorite sub-genres. Read Kirinyaga by Mike Resnick, about a tribe of old-school Kenyans who live on a space habitat, led by a witch-doctor determined to maintain the old “pure” ways. Good stuff.

  2. Aha! Now we’re talking the difference between hard and soft science. I favor hard sciences, I guess that’s why I majored in Computer Science and am an Astronomy buff.

    Sociology and PoliSci are all well and good, just not what I’m looking for in a book, since it usually lends itself to people talking a lot without actually doing anything. Kinda like John…

  3. I really enjoyed this book. I think mainly because I waited until I was old enough to really understand it. I bought it when I was in my mid to late 20’s when what I really liked was hard sci fi; Peter F Hamilton, Vernor Vinge, Iain Banks etc. So it sat on the shelf for a few years waiting it’s turn. I recently got round to reading it and yes, there are no space battles, laser guns or fights in cyberspace. That’s not what you get. What you do get is a beautiful story, complex politics and an entire WORLD that is both alien and familiar. The writing in this novel is of a quality that you rarely see in science fiction. It is no accident that this book is rated highly by science fiction and mainstream critics.

    I was sad when it ended and I had no more of it to read.

  4. I probably portray my age here, but during the politics of the cold war this was a very interesting read for an 18 year old experiencing the anarchy of university life – from my perspective (and it is twenty years since I read it) the power came from a focus on characters that unlike a lot of sci fi were not two dimensional, set in a future that allowed an unusual exploration of comtempory themes from dare I say it almost a european perspective. My thanks to Ursula K Le Guin.:D

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