Discussion in 'Science Fiction' started by Rob B, Jul 2, 2003.
The Dispossessed is one of my all time favorite novels. I even wrote a paper on it in college. While many authors have shown the inherent problems in Capitalist societies, not many have juxtaposed those problems against an anarchist society. LeGuin did a beautiful job. While at first, one thinks that the anarchist society is perfect, by then end of the novel, it is clear that human nature being what it is, makes it not the utopia it appears to be in the beginning.
I did not re-read this book, so I will wait until others expound a bit before commenting further.
Gag Me With a Spoon
What can I say. I just don't like ULG nor any the books of hers that I have read (Earhsea Quartet, Left Hand of Darkness- this book actually had the potential to be great but she failed bigtime). I think I got the book from my dad, cause I had it already and I am not a fan.
I saw a perfect quote on amazon about her: 'ULG writes intelligent books that people don't enjoy reading. ' I couldn't agree more.
Her style is stiff and pedantic. In this outing she chops up the story not only by playing cutesy with the timeline, but by switching from one planet to another, and then she dumps huge patches of science, philosphy, politics and sociology in raw. There is almost no sense of story. She may have wonderful ideas she is working with, but the first job of any story is to entertain.
Her anarchists are not believable as real humans. They have little in the way of true deep feelings, and they have little in terms of real problems at the day to day level - where most humans live. Her other world is also not real well developed in terms of the rulers and the masses. They are the worst of both stuck together, but there is no sense that they really are part of the same system. The two other societies are glossed over.
I only cared a little bit for the main characters, and often couldn't keep them straight. There seemed to be a lack in terms of plot or story or reason for us to read about them. Shev was supposedly trying to reconnect to the old planet, but that was a last minute addition, brought about by his inability to deal with the roadblocks his society threw up. Rather than address the problems in his society he ran away to solve the problems of another. He seemed to spend the whole story avoiding conflict, and stories need conflict to produce options and outcomes
Then the story just leaves you hanging at the end.
The one thing that was positive is that after reading it I feel that I can say that Salt, by Adam Roberts is a modern reworking of The Dispossessed. But he didn't make his anarchists out to be pale, bloodless, non-people. I can see ULG's anarchists happily wearing Rebecca Ore's (Becoming Alien, Being Alien, Human to Human) long joint covering tunics in which all dress so as not to make those with differently designed joints feel bad. Forget personality, or individuality, or free will -- just march along with everyone else.
Wow, FicusFan, for once we truly disagree.
I would put the Disposessed as one of my all time favorites. Unlike you, I think LeGuin has a natural ability of describing cultures so that even the "outsider" (reader) can believe and understand.
I also think her characterization is wonderful. She has a no holds barred approach to understanding complex characters. Shev is both lovable and pitiable. That makes him human.
Salt was in my opinion a make over of the Dispossessed, and while it was ok, left me with a bitter taste. At least LeGuin gave the people of Anares a chance at a future. She showed thr good and the bad of both systems. Salt just made anarchists out to be innefectual idealistic fools.
The Dispossessed made me rethink my idealist views by making me think about human nature.
But that was precisely what she exemplified! How horrible would that be? Shev broke the mold, he saw through the charade, and he demonstrated that people cannot be forced into being one way or the other. He could not deal with either planet. It was through his perspective that the reader was forced to question one's own opinions of left and right politics. At first, I thought the anarchists were pretty lifeless, but as the book progressed, you learned of their conniving, manipulative ways, the way that good deeds bought "favors". Overall, while they may have appeared lifeless, they were full of plots and ambitions. Ultimately, they were no better than their capitalist counterparts. Anares is a distopia, not a utopia. LeGuin deliberately maded them seem lifeless and alike to exemplify the problems of anarchist communities. Yet, by showing the characters individual weaknesses and problems, she illustrated the faults of each belief system.
Sorry for the delay, I have been offline for a week. Yes K we do truly disagree
I don't think ULG has any ability at all when it comes to writing. Her prose is dry, and lifeless, there isn't a drop of color, emotion, or juice in it anywhere. If she wants to write she should confine herself to something like the dictionary or encyclopedia or thesaures. She has probably spent so long writing in academia, and with such fear of her male colleagues bashing her for being an 'emotional female' that she is incapable of writing living characters.
Shev is pale and lifeless, a cypher tossed by the whims of others throughout his whole life. He has no emotion over the death of his father, or his abandonment by his mother. He doesn't stand up for himself in terms of his physics; he doesn't confront his mother during both times he meets her when he is an adult- the second time she is actively hostile to him; he leaves his mate and child during the crisis, then again to go to another planet not knowing if he will ever return. He has no passions, no fears, no hatreds. His small joys are just words on paper, and he has no quirks, nothing that makes him a real person.
I have to disagree that Anares had a chance for the future. They had the creeping disease of 'state control' creeping into their society. It was under a different name, but that made it more dangerous. Because they refused to acknowledge the 900 pound gorilla in the room (that they had developed a hierarchy and system of government) it is impossible to fight it or reverse it.
I would also disagree that in Salt the anarchists were idealistic. They weren't, that is precisely why it was believable. They were selfish, and lazy and they developed a hierarchy based on fear and violence. They often had to form shifting opportunistic alliances to counteract the dangers of the bullies. Exactly what happens when you have no leaders and no rules -- look at Afghanistan, Somalia, and the current hot spots in Africa. Look at Lord of the Flies, that is what happens when people gather with no rules. They begin to compete and the strong eat the weak after an appropriate period of torture.
Well I am glad you enjoyed it and got something out of it. It just wasn't my cup of tea, and for me was closer to a root canal than an epiphany.
I am not sure what you are saying that ULG exemplified. If you're saying that she made everyone the same and lifeless to make a literary point about her society, I would have to disagree. Her people in the Earthsea quartet were just as lifeless, bland and undifferentiated. She is not capable of making three dimensional characters.
Shev didn't break the mold, he was just another cookie cutter character. He also wasn't the only one to go against the society. If you remember there was a whole group of them. And they were all just as bland and lifeless.
I would also disagree that Shev broke the mold. He didn't, he just went along with the program and didn't rock the boat. He may have seen that the actions of those in power was not based on altruism and that they were designed for gain, but he did nothing. He knew that there was a currency of favoritism or punishment, but he never spoke out, he never objected. If he were a cow he would have be slaughtered many times over, not broken out of the mold.
I don't see what the anarchists having plots and being manipulative has to do with their being lifeless and bland. You seem to equate the idea that the characters are bland and lifeless with some sort of goodness or innocence, I have never made that assumption. I simply see them as boring. They can be vibrant and good or vibrant and bad - it depends on their actions not on the tone of their depiction.
I never thought they were better than their capitalist counterparts. We don't see the other people for at least half the book. All we get are the Anarres' ideas of what they are like, views that are clearly not based in reality. The descriptions show they only get propaganda in their education about the other planet. How could you develop an informed opinion when you as the reader are so obviously being maniplated by the author into seeing the others as the evil ones. Didn't that make you as the reader distrust the author and what she was trying to accomplish ? When they talked about them on Anarres, didn't you say - yes but what are they really like ? I did, I never take anything at face value.
They were both dystopias. There was also no attempt at reality in the portrayal of either society, so there was no way I could develop any messsage about any political system out of the story.
The Anarres were not real, nor was their society or how it worked. It seemed that not only had they done away with the need for money, but they had done away with violence, and crime and other bad behaviors of humans. I am not so naive as to assume that all human evils are generated by property or money. All you have to do is look at how chimps live to see how we are motivated. It is by power. When you remove money and property as the means of power it will just be transfered to some other aspect of life. The same violent bad behaviors will continue. Only the really smart are able to subtle, the run of the mill and the stupid would continue to act out. We can't become different animals, we don't have the DNA for it. Some can learn different behaviors but short of universal medication or genetic culling it won't be society-wide.
The capitalist group was very briefly and superficially portrayed. The rulers were all lazy, fat satisfied pigs who thought only of themselves and who used everyone else. The women were silly and repressed, and the underclasses were all noble and long suffering. Very stereotypical.
All in all a very poor effort.
I finally finished the book this morning...
Wow, FicusFan. I can't believe I read that sentence right... if you really believe that, then I don't believe you when you claim you've read A Wizard of Earthsea. LeGuin's prose dry and lifeless? It's hard to imagine a statement I could more strongly disagree with.
Of course, for once I don't totally agree with Kamakhya either... this isn't one of my favorite books, and as a Le Guin work I think it falls far short of A Wizard of Earthsea (which alone contains two of the most touching stories I've ever read, and which I've spent many hours thinking about--so there's my fundamental disconnect with FF) or the stories in The Compass Rose. There are some Le Guin books I don't even like, too, but I think when she shines, she really shines.
As for The Dispossessed itself, I liked it much better this time than I did the last time I read it (in my teen years). I'm afraid I've lost some of the taste I used to have for books that exist mostly to describe a society, utopian or dys-, but this was a lot better than Ecotopia, Gulliver's Travels, or Looking Backward, maybe on par with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and, okay, not as good as Fahrenheit 451 or 1984. Point is, it falls in a reasonable place on that spectrum. Things I especially liked:
Shevek and Takver's faithfulness, and Le Guin's deft touch with describing monogamy in a society where it isn't really rewarded. As with most activities that require effort, it brings its own reward.
The pet otter at Oiie's place. What a great little touch. I can still see it sliding down its little snow-slide.
The little Odonian boys playing at "prison." Very creepy, extraordinarily realistic. I think little boys in such a society would be drawn to exactly that--and that it wouldn't cross the minds of the average author to write about it.
The Terran physicist Ainsetain with his great theories of Relativity. Can't believe I missed that reference the first time through, but I did... silly me. :b
Back to sex again--she had a very light but progressive touch when it came to homosexuality on Annares. When this was written it took nerve to make a heroic main character also be casually bisexual.
The ending. "His hands were empty, as they had always been". Rather beautifully sums up his philosophy, his life, and the partial tragedy of his trip to Urras. (I say "partial" because he did, at least, manage to get his theory out to all the worlds at once, thus preventing the ansible from being kept a secret.) And it was the perfect place to end the book--why bother writing out all the details when his greatest work of physics was done, and he was simply focused on going home to Takver? We were not left hanging. We were left with the knowledge that he was succeeding in going home, which to him was always the end of a true journey.
This just sounds like ranting, FF, given your lack of specifics. What was so unrealistic? There was plenty of description of the workings of Annares... DivLab, the rails, the road crews, how transportation is arranged, how the schools worked, how housing works... Urras was less completely described because it was so like (the urban, decadent parts of) present-day earth, but there were plenty enough details for me. What it would have taken to be "realistic" in your opinion, I have no idea. To me, most of the "how it works" stuff was realistic enough--I spotted no huge flaws, anyway--and 170 years does seem like a reasonable amount of time it might take for a nation founded by strong believers in a particular philosophy to begin to depart from that philosophy. (Think about America's history and when we first began to be less dominated by Christian/Puritanical thinking. She's close to right on).
In short, I'm glad I re-read it. I got a lot more out of it on the second reading than I did on the first. Of course, I've been in a nonfiction mood lately so I was feeling like reading a fairly factual and descriptive (rather than highly emotional or action-filled) book, and that could be one reason I liked it so much this time.
I'd have to jump in on the pro-Ursula group on this one.
I accept that it's not a page-turner in the way some other books are. The characters aren't as striking as in the Left Hand of Darkness, but I can remember details about approx 5 of them, which isn't bad after 4 years or so. The book isn't really plot-based, but again I don't see that as a draw-back.
Like many of LeGuin's books, it's more about scene and 'feel' than about plot. She is much more focused on the philosophies behind the stories than most, but carries it off by immersing you in the philosophy rather than describing it.
For me, one of the big successes of the book was that it tackled the problem of how to describe a moment of scientific insight (when Shev has his break-through). Maybe LeGuin's solution wasn't perfect, but it's by far the best attempt at it that I've every seen. For me, it stand on its own, like the Moties as a description of an alien culture in Niven and Pournelle's 'Mote in God's Eye'.
It's not as good as 'Left Hand of Darkness' but it's still a damn fine read. "dull and lifeless" ??? Pshaw and forsooth.
I disagree with the assertion that Le Guin is a poor writer. Quite the opposite in fact. I thought she painted an intricate, layered picture of both societies, as well as our protagonist who, although he may not have been as proactive as your typical hero, was a very believable character nevertheless. On the other hand, I can see how people can take exception to the subject matter here. There were times when this book felt more like a political and philosophical treatise than a work of science fiction. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the first 150 pages or so, appreciating the painfully realistic groundwork Le Guin lays out - but soured a bit when it became apparent that The Disposessed was going to be nothing more than a travelogue punctuated by theoretical debate. An exceptional travelogue with some very thought-provoking ideas, but ultimately a little dry for this reader. Once I accepted the fact that the action was going to pick up (or there would be any action for that matter), I was actually able to sit back and enjoy the last 100 pages or so, in most part because the character of Shevek felt very real to me. By book's end, it felt like I was leaving an old friend.
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