This is a beautiful tale about the physicist Shevek, who travelled from Anarres to Urras, from a socialist dystopian/utopian world to a capitalist world with a big divide between rich and poor. The main theme, again, like in the “Left Hand of Darkness” is one of being a stranger. Both in his homeworld, and the world which he visits, Shevek does not feel at home. Estranged from what was once familiar through discussions with his anarchist peers, and through his isolated work, Shevek is ready to leave Anarres, leave the love of his life and his kids. Coming from the gray and dusty Anarres, a moon, settled with great effort, and a society as egalitarian and anarchist as possible, he comes to Urras, a capitalist dystopia, but also an earth-like planet, green, lush, and beautiful. Blinded first by the beauty of nature, the abundance of resources, and the luxury, he becomes disappointed soon. Maybe unsurprisingly Urrasti people seem superficial, he cannot deal with their hierarchical relationships, and he soon feels trapped in a political game.
While the overarching plot is not very surprising (genious physicist is payed by enemy nation to develop a theory that would grant them technological advantage), the characters are incredibly beautifully described, and a much more subtle movement from familiarity over estrangement back to familiarity is developed. Shevek’s personality, his isolation, his experiences, his longings, they are interwoven with Anarresti ideology, history, and the power politics between Anarres and Urras.
My main point of criticism is, again, that the hero is a man. Le Guin might be a feminist, and for 1974 this book might have been revolutionary, but I am having an increasingly hard time to read novels told from the perspective of men. I think 95 % of all novels I ever read in my entire life had a male main character. I seriously can’t take it anymore. Ok, her description of Anarres is probably radical for 1974: a society where gender does not play an all-too-large role, but where people choose their profession based on their talents, and where the ratio of female and male scientists lies around 50-50, and where the institution of marriage reiceves less consideration than the society as a whole.
Still, I was won over by Le Guin’s style of writing, by her deep and complex characters, by the subtle descriptions of travel, change, and feeling strange, and by the convincing depiction of these two worlds, both moons to each other, enemy planets inhabited by the same species living in such different ways.