Staff Picks Category: Dystopia

The Dispossessed: A Novel by Ursula K Le Guin []

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Shevek is born in a world created by anarchists. This world, a moon in fact, is home to a planned society in which the concept of property does not exist and the language has been designed to discourage selfish thought. The people there have very little contact with the world from whence they came—the capitalist planet of Urras. Shevek is a brilliant physicist whose groundbreaking work is too advanced to be understood by his colleagues. If he wishes to continue his research he must, therefore, visit Urras and work with the scientists there.

Le Guin’s writing is excellent. In telling the story of Shevek, of his research, and of his journey, she also subtly explores some very interesting ideas about culture, language, government, and psychology. This imaginative work, like most of Le Guin’s science fiction, stands alone, and if you have never read any Le Guin this would be an excellent place to start. And if you like it you will find that Le Guin has written many more excellent books set in the same universe.

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Patternmaster by Octavia E. Butler []

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Folks have been recommending that I read Octavia E. Butler for some time. I’ve received recommendations from friends that know I like Ursula Le Guin and have told me that I would therefore like Butler’s writing as well, and I’ve also received recommendations from friends who have said, “Oh, you like science fiction. I don’t read much science fiction, but I just read this book by Octavia E. Butler…”.

I picked up my first novel by Octavia E. Butler, Patternmaster, last Thursday, and I finished reading it over the weekend. Needless to say, I enjoyed it! In this short novel, Butler introduces us to a post-apocalyptic world in which humans are divided into a complex system of social castes and warring factions based upon the powerful mental powers of some, and the disease induced mutations of others. The story, of a student who leaves school to find himself in conflict with his own power hungry brother, is relatively simple, but the detailed world in which it takes place makes it feel like part of something much bigger.

Reader’s of Ursula Le Guin’s fiction will recognize themes of class, gender, and sexuality in Butler’s writing, as well as a similar approach to speculative fiction that is based on rigorous world building and avoids the stereotypes of the genre. The struggles depicted in Patternmaster are, however, more violent, and the cast more power hungry, than in Le Guin’s writings. If you like Ursula Le Guin and don’t mind the a story with some loose ends and some violent passages, you should give Patternmaster a try.

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