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Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin

I found (thanks to a Google alert) a web page which is a study guide to Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed. The study guide seems to cover the work quite well, and also gives quite a bit of background, such as a discussion of feminism. Just one quibble -- the author doesn't spell Le Guin correctly! (Feminism isn't a major theme of this book.)

The Dispossessed (New York: Avon, 1974) should be one of the works that lives on long after Le Guin is dead. Although Le Guin says that she is a Taoist, not a Christian, I found one aspect of the book inspiring. I was teaching physics while on sabbatical, and was having a struggle. (I'm not a card-carrying physicist, although I like it, and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools was satisfied that my credentials in the field qualified me to teach it, at two colleges. My doctorate was in genetics and zoology.) Shevek, the hero of the book (and a male) decided that what he had visited another planet for wasn't what some of the people there wanted him to do, but that he was there to "do physics." (p. 222) I took it that I had visited another college to do physics, too, and, God being my helper, I would and did.

In that same book, and in that same chapter, Le Guin's hero sets to work and does physics, and invents the ansible, a device for instantaneous communication across light-years of distance. (You have to get an ansible to that far location before you can use it to communicate from there, of course.) Le Guin had already used the ansible in some other fiction. A number of other science fiction authors have used the device, even the name, since Le Guin introduced it, including Orson Scott Card.

When Shevek realizes what he has done, he thinks: "And it is strange, exceedingly strange, to know that one's life has been fulfilled." (p. 226)

Shevek did physics in spite of politics and other pressures.

The book is by no means a physics text. Le Guin uses it to examine the meaning and necessity of government, as well as human relationships, and a political movement, anarchy, which attempts to have no government, no hierarchy. There are symbols, such as walls, and two planets, with vastly different physical conditions, and vastly different political structures, all of which make the book interesting on a number of levels. There are literary devices. But, aside from that, it's a good story, well written, about a good man.

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On February 7th, 2008, I added links to some Wikipedia articles. I also posted on The Left Hand of Darkness, another of Le Guin's novels.

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