Timothy Reviews The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

Greetings, salutations and the assorted lyrics of Hello, Goodbye by the mop-headed foursome from Liverpool to you all. I am, once again, your inimitable host and master of ceremonies, Timothy the Talking Cat esquire, who shall be taking you on a journey into the foundational texts of modern scientifiction.

Today we examine Ursula Le Guin’s fascinating story of anarchism and physics, entitled “The Dispossessed”. You might think from the title that there will be spooky ghosts but no, there are no spooky ghosts and this was nearly as disappointing as discovering that my much-cherised vinyl LP of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells would no longer play. I asked Camofluaged Fellertron and he explained that we not only don’t own a record player but that we have never owned a record player. I used a pair of scissors to cut the LP down to a size that would fit into the CD player, only to discover that we don’t own one of those either. I’m no prehistoric Luddite, I’m up with advances in technology and I deduced that I could take a digital daguerreotype with one of my several telephones and then simply play the resulting file with my trusty copy of Winamp. Sadly my plan was foiled due to technical limitations which Calisthenics Frenchfries rather cruelly summed up as: “that was never a vinyl LP of Tubular Bells, it was just an old photo of Richard Branson from a Virgin Airways Inflight Magazine”. We live and learn.

I should also add, this isn’t a story about the bailiffs coming round to your palatial mansion and making you move out because you took out a third mortgage without telling anybody so you could buy a decommissioned Russian nuclear submarine. Oh how we all laughed about that afterwards as the doctor stitched up the claw wounds on the bailiff. Happy times and the caravan in the waste ground behind the pub is much comfier. Plans proceed afoot to scare away the new owners of Felapton Towers by pretending that the mansion is haunted. I’ve convinced the house poltergeist to dress up as a ghost to frighten them away. Straw Puppy says that this is an excellent idea and the eldritch monster from the hell-dimension that lives in the basement has agreed to help by wearing a sheet over its head and saying “boo”.

So what this book is actually about is a guy who is on a moon and then he is on a planet and then he is on a moon and then he is on a planet and then he is on a moon and then he is on a planet and then he is on a moon and then he is on a planet and then he is on a moon and then he is on a planet. Finally, he gets his act together and he is on the moon. “Woah!”, he says, “I was on a moon and then on a planet! I think I’ve got a new theory of physics now!” Everybody lives happily ever after. I think it is a bit like that book Laughter House Five by Urt Vonnegut where the main guy is just all over the place and is all like “So where is this laughter house then because I don’t see nobody laughing” or at least he should say that because there is a serious lack of jokes in that book. Maybe I shouldn’t have cut off the spine but I was going through a phase where I thought books were molluscs and could live in a shell. It was the height of the 70’s and catnip and wild parties were the norm and I had some strange ideas. A cat must sow his wild oats as they say but the seed catalogue was right out of “heirloom oat variety” and we sowed mustard seeds instead.

16 thoughts on “Timothy Reviews The Dispossessed by Ursula Le Guin

  1. Camestros should absolutely get you a recording of Tubular Bells, and not just because playing it might convince people that your previous residence is haunted.

    Now I feel old, and not just because I do have an LP of that album.

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    1. I have story that doesn’t cast me in a good light but it is the only Tubular Bells story that I have. I was at pub quiz/trivia thing and there was a question about The Exorcist and who wrote the music for it.
      Now, I’ve never watched The Exorcist because scary movies scare me.
      Anyway, somebody on the team said in an unsure tone that maybe it was Mike Oldfield. Anyway I scoffed at that because that made zero sense to me. I hadn’t seen the film (although I knew a lot about it) but I was sure that it wasn’t Mike Oldfield and Tubular Bells because that wasn’t scary music.

      Anyway, I was wrong.

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  2. If only Ursula had lived long enough to hear Tim explain this novel to her. (Then we would have needed a new category of physics to measure a cat’s speed of flight after having the author’s boot applied to his backside.)

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    1. The sad think is that that is not the post, that contains the stuff I would have think Ursula would be most mad about.
      And I think an imaginary (or even a not imaginary) cat is quite save from writers rage,

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  3. Ironically, I’m actually reading this right now for the first time, and enjoying it. I suspect I may not fully disagree with Kat Goodwin’s opinion of the people involved by the end though so far Shevek is a somewhat likable asshole. I am rather saddened by how forceful the sexism is, and the dearth so far of female characters with more than a couple of pages to their name.

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    1. Did you think that even Anarres was sexist? The story is focused on Shevek and his circle of (mostly) men, but the society on Anarres seemed very egalitarian to me. Urras, on the other hand, is almost a caricature of a sexist society, but that’s consistently played to make them look bad. I certainly didn’t get the feeling the book was endorsing sexism.

      I read and loved the book when I was 17. I reread it in my 50s, and still enjoyed it but also got a lot more out of it. The famous rape scene still bothered me, but on the reread it was obvious that it was just one of many ways LeGuin shows us just how alien both of these societies are to us. That’s a theme throughout the book, starting with the crowd of protesters at the spaceport who don’t know how to be a mob.

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      1. I’m not that far in. I haven’t met this famous rape scene.

        Anarres is totally sexist, though better than its opposition. There are men on Anarres who talk openly about how women can’t really stop clinging, and therefore clinging to propertarian ideas. It seems to aim for a bit of a “genderblind” idea (equivalent to racial colourblindess, no to being personally agender) with the inherent flaws that such blindness implies. I don’t mind seeing if she is doing this with awareness and planning to examine it deeper or if she herself missed some of it due to her own cultural blind spots.

        And I said nothing about *endorsing* sexism. I said it was forceful. As in unsubtle, and very pushy in promoting itself. Men, not rare extremists like VD but mainstream men in mainstream roles talking openly about how women’s brains can’t “Hack the physics” levels of unsubtle.

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    2. The novel is in many ways fascinating and for several reasons deserves its place in SF lit, but it’s not work of Le Guin’s I overall liked. The anarchist society on the moon is corrupt and violent (and sexist) and works to destroy the protagonist’s career and discoveries and the capitalistic society on the planet is corrupt and violent (and sexist) and seeks to exploit the protagonist and destroy whatever it thinks is threatening. And the protagonist himself is alienated (the main theme) and out of place and seeks to restore a sense of control and power in the way that many men are taught to restore a sense of control and power — violent sexism.

      The society that Le Guin lived in herself at the time of writing (and currently as well) was corrupt, violent and sexist, so in that sense the novel reflects perfect context, along with some lovely meditations about science, immigration, sectarianism, etc. But it is one of Le Guin’s most pessimistic works.

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