The 1974 novel by Ursula K. Le Guin The dispossessed depicts a society without laws or government, an experience of “nonviolent anarchism”. Science fiction author Matthew kressel was impressed with the book’s thoughtful exploration of Politics and Economics.
“After reading The dispossessed, I was just blown away, ”says Kressel in episode 460 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy Podcast. “It was just such an intellectual book. It’s so philosophical, and it was so different from a lot of science fiction I’d read before. It made me want to read more of Le Guin’s work.
Science fiction author Anthony Ha account The dispossessed as one of his all-time favorite books. “I would be hard pressed to think of another novel that would make such a strong impression on me,” he says. “I was unbearable about it. I put quotes in my email signatures and identified myself as an anarchist for several years after that. “
The Guin, who died in 2018, was one of the most popular science fiction writers, and The dispossessed was one of his most popular books, winning the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley notes that her themes of environmentalism, social justice and feminism have had a profound influence on generations of readers.
“I remember when I interviewed Le Guin, one of the things I asked him about was that there had been a story in the news about how the protesters – leftist protesters – had these plastic shields that they had printed or painted on the cover of The dispossessed, “he said.” So that was really – in a very direct way – inspiring people. “
The book’s moral ambiguity and purposeful pace won’t appeal to everyone, but science fiction professor Lisa Yaszek says that it is exactly these qualities that make The dispossessed so distinctive. “My favorite thing about this book is that it really shows you that the process of coming to a utopia is boring,” she says. “It’s so much work, and it’s so much talking, and so much thinking. There is nothing Flash Gordon about that, which I find super cool.
Listen to the full interview with Matthew Kressel, Anthony Ha and Lisa Yaszek in Episode 460 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.
Lisa Yaszek on Ursula K. Le Guin:
“I was in doctoral school in the 1990s and I was working at Wiscon, the oldest and biggest feminist science fiction convention in the world, and I ended up having breakfast with Le Guin and Judith Merril– and by the way, the best breakfast ever. Nothing will ever be better than that day. It was a really interesting time, and it made me want to go back and review Le Guin’s work. … My favorite thing about Ursula Le Guin is that she is the best ambassador of science fiction in the rest of the world. She’s done more to show people why this is such an important genre – and perhaps the mode of literature we need to find our way into a very uncertain future – than anyone ever will.
David Barr Kirtley on The dispossessed:
“One of the things I really love about science fiction is this opportunity to see a society that never existed but which seems to be able to exist, and to see our society through the eyes of a hypothetical society. And I thought this book did that incredibly well, along with any example I could think of. … One of the things that I really liked was that [Shevek] is surprised how hard everyone works in a capitalist society, because he always imagined that the main motivation of people is this instinct to volunteer, and if you take that off – if people just work for money – they would be lazy and wouldn’t be motivated. So it’s interesting how opposed a lot of things he thinks are to what we know.
Anthony Ha on “To read The dispossessed“:
“It’s a 50 or 60 page essay where [Samuel R. Delany] goes into a lot of detail about some of the other shortcomings in the book, which I think are real and may not have delved into, but it’s a lot – despite being this ‘revolutionary anarchist book’ – it’s very into the traditional heterosexual married family unit, and the one queer character isn’t portrayed very convincingly and is marginalized in many ways. So there is a lot about it that is not entirely convincing. But the way he ends the essay is by saying that when you read the book as a youngster you might be totally blown away by it, when you’re a little older and more sophisticated you might get there and be disappointed. , but when you are more mature than that, you will find that the ambition of the thing is well worth it. “
Matthew Kressel on gender snobbery:
“You sometimes get certain literary circles that poo-poo sci-fi. Even in the New Yorker item, there is a quote: “If sci-fi was low-end, at least it was a market.” And then the other quote was, “ His publisher, Charles McGrath, saw in her an ability to transform genre fiction into something higher. They’re writing this profile of one of the 20th century’s greatest sci-fi writers, and they still can’t resist shitting on sci-fi. … If you ignore science fiction tropes, you are ignoring reality. We have supercomputers in our pockets that connect to satellites. We have an artificial intelligence that decides what we see every day. We have video conferences. NASA is going to the moon again, and we have a probe on Mars – helicopters will be flying to Mars in the next week or two. We live in a sci-fi world, and if you ignore it, maybe you are the fantasy.
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