I really liked the Dispossessed. It’s a non-linear book about a scientist called Shevek and the worlds he lives in. At the start of the book, he is transported from Anarres to Urras and a lot of people on Anarres are mad about that. Anarres is a gender-equal anarchist planet that hasn’t got a central government. In theory, anyone could do any job anytime. In practice, it’s more complicated than that (isn’t it always?). Nobody owns anything and even the need to own something is seen as bad. Urras is pretty close to our own world with the owners and the owned, the have-lots and have-almost-nothings, and women are seen as not as intelligent as men.
Anarras is pretty isolated place without much contact to any other planets. The only things that they know about Urras come from a few propaganda films which were made when the anarchists were exiled to their planet 150 years ago. Shevek is a brilliant scientist and he wants to know more about Urras and even about other planets. He is invited to Urras by one of the biggest governments on the planet and expects eagerly to be able to talk with other scientists. However, things on Urras are very different from what he has lived with and somewhat different from the propaganda films, too.
The book is structured so that every other chapter deals with Shevek on Urras and every other is a flashback to his youth and life on Anarras. The chapters have thematic similarities as well to each other. The plot moves fairly slowly but there’s a lot to absorb and learn about the planets and to think about, so a faster plot would have been a disservice to the themes and structure of the book.
Le Guin doesn’t give any easy answers or any answers at all. Neither of the systems are shown as clearly superior. Each are just as confining in their own ways but differently. While the Anarrians don’t acknowledge marriage and some of them even disapprove of committed pair-bonding, on Urras the only way that at least upper class women are able to survive is with a marriage to a (wealthy) man. People on both systems can be frustrated but for different reasons. Not owning enough or not owing the right things vs. need to know the right people and belong to the right groups.
Anarres’ people are shown to be more community oriented but then the disapproval of the community is shown to be just as effective as laws on Urras. When you must depend on other people for your very survival, the approval of those people is, indeed, very important. The employees on Urras depend on their employers’ approval in much the same way.
In the end I think that the societies on Anarras and Urras are too different. I don’t think that someone who grew up on one place could be really happy on the other. The limitations on either are just too severe.