Archive for March, 2010

The story of The Dispossessed is set in the twin worlds of Tau Ceti: Urras and its moon Anarres (or Anarres and its moon Urras, it depends on the point of view).

Two hundred years before the events in The Dispossessed, a Revolution occurred in Urras and the revolutionaries were allowed to settle in the desert world of Anarres, living according to the political rules established by the philosopher Odo. Since then people in Anarres lived in an organized Anarchy, with no government or coercive structures, no social stratification, and no property (everything belonged to everyone, people just had to take it and use it). The land in Urras was divided in several States, although two rival States dominated the others: A-Io, with extreme capitalist politics, and Thu, with an authoritarian system claiming to rule in the name of the proletariat.

Shevek, an Anarresti scientist, was developing the General Temporal Theory, a complex theory incorporating physics, mathematics, and also philosophy and ethics. During his research in Anarres he met several obstacles, and when an opportunity comes he manages to travel to Urras – which is not legally forbidden (there is no law), but is forbidden nonetheless in the Anarresti way. The story starts when Shevek is leaving Anarres and is organized in two plotlines: one from the moment Shevek leaves Anarres to his return; the other from Shevek’s youth to the moment he leaves Anarres.

The Dispossessed has a strong influence by Karl Marx’s theories and is clearly marked by the time it was written (1970’s). Marx argued that capitalism, like previous socioeconomic systems, would inevitably produce internal tensions which would lead to its destruction. And so socialism would replace capitalism, and lead to a stateless, classless society called pure communism. This would emerge after a transitional period called the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Marx died in 1988. In The Dispossessed are present augmented projections of these three political systems in the 1970’s, when the failures were already visible: capitalism (USA/Urras), socialism (USSR/Thu), pure communism (Anarres/the step that all communist countries failed).

Today is 2010. Time passed and the brilliance of The Dispossessed shines more than ever. As the society in Anarres started to stratify, leaving its pure communist form, the socialist societies in Earth, 20th century, started to stratify and disrupt even before reaching pure communism. The theory was flawless, except for one intrinsic biological characteristic of human beings as social animals: egoism. We live in a capitalist society with striking resemblance to the caricature presented as A-Io, a system doomed to destruct itself and to which no better alternative was yet presented.

The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia is a 1974 utopian science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, set in the Hainish Cycle. The book won the Nebula Award in 1974, both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1975, and received a nomination for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1975.

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In Calcutta, a recently written poem by the poet Das showed up. Das was allegedly dead for 8 years. Robert Luzcak was sent to Calcutta to bring a copy of the poem to be published in the USA and to make an article about the return of the famous poet. And so he traveled with his wife, who was Indian but grew up in England, and their baby daughter.

Calcutta however had nothing to do with what they expected. The city lived by its own rules (religious, moral, physical), almost as if it existed in another plain of reality. And Calcutta’s plain of reality was ruled by a savage goddess of aggressiveness and destruction.

The plot of Song of Kali is ok, the main characters do not always catch the reader’s empathy, but what certainly makes the novel worth reading is the way the characters (and the reader) go deep and get stuck in the evil, rotten, fetid atmosphere of Calcutta.

Although it is widely advertised as a terrifying horror novel, the action of Song of Kali is more like a thriller. I did not find it scary (and it did not even disturb my sleep as Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein did).

Song of Kali was the first published novel by Dan Simmons (1985) and won the World Fantasy Award in 1986. It deserved it: it is a short, well-structured and highly addicting novel.

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