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The Dispossessed coverThe Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuinn

Published by Harper

Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel

The Dispossessed is subtitled "an ambiguous utopia," and there are many ambiguities in it. It is the story of one man, Shevek; and two worlds, Earthlike Urras and her sister world Annares the sere, which circle the star Tau Ceti. (These people are the Cetan scientists and mathematicians who are obliquely referred to in City of Illusion).

Annares was colonized by a group of anarchists from Urras who followed the teachings of a woman named Odo. By co-operation they have managed to eke out a reasonable semblance of a life there, but there are few luxuries. By bringing up their children in the ethics of sharing from the cradle they have managed to maintain their freedom and anarchism, but only because they have closed their society off to all outside forces.

Shevek was raised on Annares, where he develops his talents as a physicist/mathematician/philosopher, trying to work out a Universal Temporal Theory. Unable to achieve recognition on his homeworld, he goes to Urras and there is exposed to the works of Einstein (whose name is phonetically rendered into the Ioti tongue, so he isn't instantly recognizable, although it becomes clear once Relativity is mentioned).

However Shevek also becomes involved in politics and is nearly slain in a riot as a result. But he finally works through his theory and gives it to the Terran ambassador, who arranges to have it disseminated to all the worlds of the nascent Hainish League, and to take Shevek back to Annares. The book ends with them setting foot on Annares, and implies that radical changes in Annaresti culture are about to come, as well as the invention of the ansible.

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This review posted May 23, 1999

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