Ursula K. LeGuin’s political science fiction novel The Dispossessed has as its subtitle “An Ambiguous Utopia.” But screw that. Isn’t this a whamdoodle of a cover? Twin worlds, close enough to touch, one lush and green, one red like Mars but cratered like the Moon, done up in a riotous rainbow of colors?
(I’ll do a later post on the many covers of the novel, which is approaching its 50th anniversary.)
I bought this very same paperback as a teenager just because of it, and because I liked LeGuin and had heard good buzz about the book. On reading it, however, I was underwhelmed, because I expected something grandious and full of action, and The Dispossessed is not that. It shares the Cold War background that rooted The Left Hand of Darkness (literally, in that case, because Gethen was a planet in its ice age) but lacks the romance and adventure of it. However, that doesn’t mean it is a bad book. Just beyond 9th grade me.
Now I can appreciate it for what it is, and in fact it’s something of a comfort read, in that I re-visit it every few years and always take back something new on the reading. Which is the mark of a superior writer, IMO.
One of the things that I appreciate anew, and have respect for, is LeGuin’s method for naming the characters. Those living on Anarres, the “moon” of the Tau Ceti system (though it’s really more of a double planet arrangement) are named by a computer on their birth, a unique, two-syllable, randomly generated name using a limited number of consonant sounds (b, d, g, gv, k, l, m, n, p, r, s, sh, t, v) and vowels (a, e, i, u) which the parents must accept no matter how crazy the sound of it is, because it’s what they are ideologically conditioned to do — Anarres being a sort of Communism that actually works, without the authoritarianism. Shevek, Bedap, Gvarab, Pipar are some examples of the names. Anarrians get only one name, the idea of a family or family line being one of the “propertarian” elements they divested themselves from when they left Urras as polotical exiles.
Those living on the home planet, Urras, in contrast, have flamboyant multi-vowel names that are sort of Hawaiian, sort of Latin, to my ears anyway. This is for only one language, that of the nation of A-Io, which is accepted as the “America” country analog (though to me it reads more like Switzerland.) The other nations have their own languages.
Writing fanfic on either world? Here are some names for you.
Proper Names from The Dispossessed
Opo Dae Turi
Sanoi Airo Isru
Ute Amo Li