Thursday, December 29, 2011

Book #45

I tried to write this blurb last night on my new Kindle Fire, but while I could figure out how to cut the HTML code for the graphic above, the ability to paste it into Blogger is as of yet beyond me. So, back to the laptop!

I believe The Dispossessed is the first novel I've read by Ursula K. LeGuin. I've been reading her fine short fiction in the Best American Short Stories for years, and I recall reading with wonder the novella The Word for World is Forest about 30 years ago in Again, Dangerous Visions. But an early abandonment of sci-fi left her books in the lurch until recently, when Zadie Smith wrote an ecstatic appreciation of Le Guin during her too-brief tenure as book reviewer at Harper's and I ordered a few from Amazon.

The Dispossessed is a philosophical meditation on TIME and POLITICS and individual FREEDOM and the cycles of all three and how they intertwine. Shevek lives on a moon which was colonized by anarchist rebels from the planet it circles. Almost 200 years after the settlement he is a physicist isolated by his genius on this small world, and he opens channels of communication with the home planet in the hopes that he can contact its brightest minds and bring the ideals of his world to theirs. Of course the home world is a capitalist "propertarian" place, with the 1% controlling most things and the 99% living in various degrees of comfort and misery on what trickles down, while Shevek's moon is a "paradise" of mutual aid upon which everyone is obligated to work by fear of shame and nothing of beauty is really produced and your true labor is often disregarded as you sludge along in some necessary function for the benefit of all.

When Shevek gets to the home world he is incapable of completing his unifying theory of time and space. He is sickened and distracted by the lavish and sheltered life prepared for him by his hosts, and slowly realizes he is being used by them to produce a theory which will give them a technological, military, and profit advantage over others. Back home he was manipulated by bureaucrats and his ideas watered down to fit political orthodoxy; here he might unleash his theory with catastrophic consequences for the Universe.

What will Shevek do? You'll have to read to find out. Le Guin's worlds are rich and her presentation of these convoluted ideas are not at all dry. It's kind of endearing to imagine that thousands of years into the future and light-years away our descendants will still have debates across the same political spectrum.

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