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The story is set in a universe where there are 2 sister planets, which run on completely different ideologies:
The story follows Shevek, a brilliant temporal physicist from Anarres. We follow him growing up on Anarres and on a trip to Urras, in a series of alternating chapters. Each chapter is a philosophical exploration of concepts such as freedom, love, or property.
Half of the alternating chapters deal with Shevek growing up on Anarres, becoming a top scientist ... only to discover the utopian anarchy suffers from a lack of innovation, maintaining the status quo with social norms.
Having no chance to develop his theory on Anarres, Shevek travels to capitalist Urras, where science is much more developed and he is treated as a hero. But he soon finds out the regime was simply trying to take advantage of him and use his theories for economic and military benefit. He makes his discoveries available to everyone and escapes back to Anarres.
Ursula Le Guin may seem to be promoting a credible anarchist utopia. Especially to the progressive liberal audience, she was influenced by and also influential to. As an antidote to the excesses of a capitalist system. But here opposing systems are not perfect.
It is not clear if Le Guin was straw-manning the capitalist system or if she attempted an analysis of the concept of freedom.
‘To make a thief, make an owner; to create crime, create laws.’
"You can’t crush ideas by suppressing them. You can only crush them by ignoring them. By refusing to think, refusing to change."
It is our suffering that brings us together. It is not love. Love does not obey the mind, and turns to hate when forced.
We are brothers in what we share. In pain, which each of us must suffer alone, in hunger, in poverty, in hope, we know our brotherhood. We know it, because we have had to learn it. There is no help for us but from one another, that no hand will save us if we do not reach out our hand. The hand that you reach out is empty, as mine is.
You have nothing. You possess nothing. You own nothing. You are free. All you have is what you are, and what you give.
A young Shevek and his friends are uncertain of how to make a “real” prison and grasp at approximations of one as they play at incarcerating one another. The scenario plays similar to the Standford experiment.
As some of the play guardians started to display masochistic behavior, Shevek noticed:
"At first we were playing a game, but now the game plays us."
Life-long learner. Passionate about leadership, entrepreneurship, philosophy, Buddhism & SF. Founder @deepstash.
One of the best written novels. It is SF because it has ships and stuff. But a philosophical book from start to finish.
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