science fiction, new weird, old weird, very weird - and everything else
not always save for work. never nice.
Le Guin's famous novel cannot hide its time of conception: it's clearly a work influenced by the Cold War. But without doubt it's still relevant today; I think it should be required reading, not only for Science Fiction-fans, but for everyone, especially in a time that's so busy building walls.
The Dispossessed is a successful though-experiment on how and where an anarchist society - or anarcho-syndicalist society, more to the point - could actually work (answer: in an isolated system with limited, but not too limited resources). Le Guin has put a lot of thought into her topic and into her ambiguous utopia, with ambiguous being the key-word here; every objection I could think of she had already covered. It's a smart book that's not as didactic as I feared, but it didn't leave me fully satisfied. My problems don't stem from political disagreement, mind you. Quite the opposite: I can agree with her too much, on too many points, and that's always bound to turn out a bit boring. I prefer books that make me bristle, leave me uncomfortable, force me to rethink my opinions. No such luck here, although that's hardly Le Guin's fault.
I also found the book to be less successful as an entertaining Science Fiction-story. It's dry, even for Le Guin's standard, who's never been an especially juicy author to start with. I've seen other reviewers argue that the dry tone is meant to mirror either the barren world of Anarres or Shevek's thought-processes as a physicists. Both takes sound logic to me, but don't exactly make the story more enjoyable to read. It didn't help that I'm the one SF-fan that's not at all interested in math and physics. I needed to force myself not to skip the endless passages on Shevek's work, as important as they may be.
That's not to say the book is badly written; it's Le Guin after all. You can find some delightful turns of phrase and even some humour here and there. But she tells her story from above, turns us readers into spectators rather than letting us experience things from ground-level. It's a veritable story-telling technique and maybe even appropriate for what she set out to do here, but I can't say I liked it very much. I missed detail. Take the food, for example: She describes how the people of A-Io like to have these big parties with fanciful meals and drinks, but never mentions what exactly it is they eat and drink. I missed immersion. She rarely lets us in on her characters feelings, into their heads. She tells us about their feelings and thoughts, but most of the time she keeps us at a distance. When she finally deems to get down into the personal POV, when her characters become more than spokespersons for her ideas – which happens a lot more often in the second half than in the first - she manages to create some poignant moments.
So, an important book, but not a favourite. I guess I would've enjoyed it more had I read it 20, 22 years ago, at a more impressionable age, when I was just starting to learn about Anarchism and Taoism. Of course, that's completely my own fucking fault.