SF Masterwork of the Week: The Dispossessed

Our latest SF Masterwork of the Week is Grandmaster Ursula K. Le Guin‘s masterpiece, The Dispossessed.

Winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards for best novel, as well as a host of other prizes, The Dispossessed is one of the central works of the acclaimed Hainish cycle – if not the central work.

To list the praise this book – and, indeed, all of Ursula Le Guin‘s work – has received would just about run to a novel-length work in itself, so we thought we’d play unashamed favourites and share extracts from some friends of the SF Gateway.

The indispensible Encyclopedia of Science Fiction says:

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974), which also won a Hugo and a Nebula, and is widely regarded as Le Guin’s most richly textured sf work. It is not a book in which difficulties are readily surmounted; a central image is the wall. The novel stands at the head of the Hainish sequence, for it tells the life of a physicist whose new Mathematics (by another Conceptual Breakthrough) will result in the Ansible, the instantaneous-communication device (> Faster Than Light) necessary if the League of All Worlds – the galactic network about which the sequence is constructed – is to come into being. Two inhabited worlds, one a moon of the other, have different systems of Politics: one is an anarchy . . . the other is primarily capitalist. The hero, Shevek, is not completely at home in either society. The book has been read as pitting a Utopia against a Dystopia, but, as the book’s subtitle implies, there are seldom absolutes in Le Guin’s work . . .

We would also refer you to the excellent Paul Graham Raven, whose Velcro City Tourist Board site has been a site of interest an erudition for the better part of a decade:

The Dispossessed is astonishingly rewarding, a powerful and moving novel whose themes will linger in the memory for a long time. Detailed but uncluttered, vast in scope but centred around a believable and sympathetic character’s efforts to change himself and the world around him, this book is everything that science fiction is frequently criticised for not being. The sfnal tropes and conceits, rather than being thrust into the foreground, are merely frames within which the story can be painted properly. The compassion and lack of vitriol make it a rarity among all books; the honesty of the storytelling and the avoidance of advocacy mean that The Dispossessed is still deeply relevant in today’s political climate, and will remain so for years to come – a crucial read for devotees of serious science fiction, and an excellent exemplar to give to science fiction’s most vocal critics.

You can read the full review here and also at Ian Sales’ impressive SF Mistressworks site. And, as ever, you should make your way to Ursula K. Le Guin’s entry at The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.