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Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin

The Dispossessed by Ursula LeGuin won the 1975 Hugo Award. Ursula LeGuin has won numerous awards for her books and short stories, all of which are from the sci-fi/fantasy genre. This is not a genre I normally read because
  • I don't like to work that hard at following a story
  • I find it mind numbingly boring
  • I think this type of sci-fi is an excuse to write pretentious philosophical nonsense

In spite of that, I read The Dispossessed mainly because it had been on my TBR pile forever (I have no idea how it got there in the first place), and because I thought surely I could not go wrong because this one won an award. Goes to show what I know about sci-fi.

The first problem I had with this book was that there were numerous typos that many times resulted in a correct word being used that had an incorrect context in the sentence within which it was written. For instance, I was reading about a person who was described as an "eighty year old child". He was talking to "a seven year old child." It took me several pages to realize that people on this kid's planet do not have exceptionally long childhoods; the "eighty year old child" was, in fact, eight. This was a typo that affected the context of the story I was reading. This is not the only example of typos, and in addition, there were other occasions in which words were outright misspelled. I expected better printing from an award winning book no matter what the genre.

Then there's the pretentious philosophical discussions. The book is full of exchanges like this one:
"That is the dilemma of determinism. You are quite right, it is implicit in Simultanist thinking. But Sequency thinking also has its dilemma. It is like this, to make a foolish little picture -- you are throwing a rock at a tree, and if you are a Simultanist the rock has already hit the tree, and if you are a Sequentist it never can. So which do you choose? Maybe you prefer to throw rocks without thinking about it, no choice. I prefer to make things difficult, and choose both."
This is just a part of a discussion that seemed to exist for the sole purpose of proving that future societies will endlessly debate subjects we current earthlings would view as "Who Cares???" subjects. Unfortunately I have little to no appreciation for an author who actually sat down and figured out all this nonsense before she wrote it. Some consider her brilliant. I put her in the category of those who like to feel superior to the rest of us mere mortals by writing philosophical discussions that eventually lead me to the conclusion that I've just read pages of gibberish for which I do not understand the purpose.

Granted, because sci-fi is not my genre of choice, I may not be presenting the most objective interview possible. However, I've read some sci-fi that did hold my interest and had a story with a beginning, middle, and an end I understood. The Dispossessed is about Shevek, a physicist and anarchist. He leaves his planet where everyone thinks as he does, and goes to a different planet which is governed by a capitalistic process. His goal is to break down walls that have been built up isolating those who believe what he believes from those who don't. All of this is done in a very cerebral context, so there's lots of long winded speeches about various theories and how they do or do not work for those who are governed by them. It is difficult to sustain interest in these harangues for a whole book.

Another problem with the clarity in this book is that it's told from the present and the past. There is no explanation for when the reader leaves the present to learn more of the back story of Shevek. As a result, until this became clearer, there was confusion in understanding where Shevek was in time and which planet he was actually living on.

I know there is an audience for this kind of sci-fi, and hopefully those readers will be able to discern from what I've written that this is the kind of material they love to read. As for me... I wish I'd read Harry Potter.

2 comments:

juegos said...

books about sci-fi are one of my favorites but I never read Ursula Leguin books so I will get this one, look interesting :-)

Ma T said...

Good luck :)