“The Dispossessed” by Ursula K. Le Guin

Audrey recommends: The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin

Genre: Science fiction

Reading Level: Adult

Summary: Shevek, a brilliant scientist in a utopian socialist society, visits the world where his people came from: a capitalist planet much like modern-day Earth.

Audrey says: Le Guin wrote The Dispossessed in 1974. As we approach the 50th anniversary if its publication, it’s startling how it seems to be more relevant now than ever. The first chapter alone, where Shevek innocently questions the wasteful consumption that we take for granted as a part of everyday American life, is such an incisive critique of capitalism without being didactic. Throughout the text, the reader slowly learns that the supposed “utopian” society Shevek comes from is not quite so perfect either. After all, who decides what is best for the collective, when the collective is comprised of individuals with their own needs and wants? Le Guin writes in her introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness: “Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive […] I’m merely observing, in the peculiar, devious, and thought-experimental manner proper to science fiction, that if you look at us at certain odd times of day in certain weathers, [what] we already are.” The Dispossessed is a mirror through which we can see our world through the eyes of someone who wasn’t born into it, allowing us to name the flaws we misidentify as necessities. This novel deserves all the praise it gets, and I expect a lot of fanfare in 2024.