I read this for Dream and Speculation's Women of Science Fiction bookclub. I enjoyed last month's pick (though it was challenging read), so I was excited to dive into this month's novel. I've heard A LOT of things about Leguin; she seems to be a staple of science fiction, which only increased my excitement to dive into this title. Happily, I wasn't disappointed. :)
I knew that Leguin was very well-known for her science-fiction and her feminist writing, so when I was diving into this title, I thought that's where her focus would be. However, Leguin's scope is quite a bit bigger than that. This novel focused on capitalism and communism by presenting the planet Urras, and its colonized moon Anares. The latter is supposed to be presented as an "ambiguous utopia" and I think Leguin really nailed that, though Anares never came off as completely utopic to me. The lack of individuality and the constant work these people had to endure didn't really appeal to me, but the lack of possessions and the emphasis on sharing can definitely be seen as ideal.
Urras, on the other hand, is a world that much more closely resembles ours. It's planet that seems trapped in the 50s, where the patriarchy rules and women take the backseat in the work force. However, while people there are much more wealthy, there's also a huge divide between the rich and the poor (not unlike here and now either) and though it takes Shevek awhile to realize it, when he does, he realizes what a corrupt world he's come to try and convert.
What I really loved about the dichotomy between these two planets is how they were presented: Leguin told Shevek's story in alternating chapters, between his stay on Urras and his life on Anares leading up to his leaving for Urras. By doing this, we're presented with these two planets and neither are presented as being a better place than the other (that was the impression I got anyway.) I liked that no easy answers were provided and it never came off as preachy to me.
Another element of the novel that I really liked was the science. It was a lot of hard science, so to be honest, a lot of the talk of theory of time travel and whatnot was over my head, but I found it fascinating nonetheless. Someone mentioned over on the discussion at Dreams and Speculations that the presentation of the novel (with the alternating chapters) actually mirrored Shevek's simultaneity theory which I thought was really fascinating. Shevek even compares the flow of time to reading a book, which I loved. :)
The only big criticism I have for the book was the slow pace; it was very slow to start, and not a whole lot actually happens throughout the novel, but once I got into it, it really clipped along for and I ended up reading it in two sittings. So if you're one who likes more action and less philosophizing and theory, I would stay away from this one. I ended up really enjoying it though.
Final Verdict: My first foray into Leguin's work has been a happy one. Even though I'm not politically-savvy, I was engrossed in this novel and its anthropological study of two very different societies that closely resemble our own. The hard science may be a bit much for some people, but I thought it was well-handled for people who aren't as well-versed in science. It was all presented through a sympathetic main character, and even though it was slow-moving, I still gobbled it up. A definite recommend. =)