Chelsea: Hello, and welcome to the Sisterhood of the Traveling Paperbacks, a cheerful and irreverent book club podcast all about genre fiction, fandom, and the things that make us happy.
[Malt Shop Bop by Kevin Macleod plays]
Chelsea: My name is Chelsea, and I’m coming to you guys from Midwest United States.
Claire: My name’s Claire, and I’m coming to you from London in the UK.
Kay: My name’s Kay, and I’m coming to you from the surface of the sun, also known as Phoenix, Arizona.
Chelsea: And today, on our very first official episode, we are going to be talking about what we’re currently reading and then discussing The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin.
Kay: Both of these things are very exciting.
Chelsea: Very exciting.
Chelsea: So, Claire. Why don’t you hit us with what you’re currently reading?
Claire: So, currently I have a few different things on the go. I have a couple of audiobooks that I’m listening to. Mary Roach, um —
Kay: I love her. On audio’s great, too.
Claire: I should point out that we’re recording this in December, so I’m totally not reading that by the time you’re listening to this podcast.
Claire: But I am also currently reading, uh, The Incryptid series by Seanan McGuire and, like, flailing about how much I love it —
Claire: — It’s really great.
Kay: We all love Seanan here.
Chelsea: Yeah. Very good choice.
Kay: Okay. So, like, I am reading way too many things and most of them are your guys’s fault, and also Renay. If any of listen —
Claire: Oh, yeah.
Kay: — to the Fangirl Happy Hour Podcast.
Chelsea: Yes. Much love for Renay and Ana.
Kay: We love those guys, but they’re also really bad for our TBRs.
Kay: So, uh, this month I’ve been listening to the Expanse series.
Kay: So the first one I, like, heavily subtweeted —
Kay: — how much I was not loving that book because oh my God. Like. There are basically no —
Chelsea: Is that the one you were talking about with all the dudes?
Kay: Yes! What was it? ‘Men Failing At Everything: A Space Opera’ —
Chelsea: Yeah! [laughs]
Kay: — is how I’ve been referring to that book.
Claire: Have you listened to the latest Fangirl Happy Hour? Because they totally referenced that.
Kay: They did! And I —
Kay: I tweeted Renay and I was like, ‘I’m really sorry, I didn’t mean to subtweet you. Just the book.’ Because now I’m on the second one. So the first one is Leviathan Wakes and it’s, like, really mediocre. I’m sorry to all the people who love that series. There’s too many dudes. Like, there’s basically no ladies and it’s just a shame.
Kay: And there’s, like, really creepy dude stuff going on, we’ll not get into it.
Kay: But now I’m on Caliban’s War, I’m like halfway in, and it’s so good. And there’s, like, multiple awesome lady characters and I want to be all of them when I grow up. So that is much better. Renay is right. You have to, like, get through the slog of the first book —
Kay: — and then it gets good.
Claire: So, like the first series of Parks and Rec?
Chelsea: Basically the first season.
Kay: Pretty much. So that’s what I’ve been reading lately.
Chelsea: Well, uh, I’m not gonna talk about it any more because I’m not actually getting paid by Kit Rocha for advertising —
Chelsea: — so I don’t think I can talk about it anymore. But I did just finish up the Beyond series. I have one more book left —
Chelsea: — that by the time this goes out will already be out, the last book in the series.
Kay: Releases December 13th.
Chelsea: Yes, December 13th release day. I am, like, both equal parts really excited, but also really sad. So in the meantime, I switched gears, like, 110% from dystopian erotica to middle grade. [laughs]
Kay: I just love that.
Chelsea: Um, I. Yeah. It’s great. I am judging the, uh, some middle grade and young adult book awards in the Kansas City area, coming up in about the middle of January.
Kay: Very exciting.
Chelsea: It’s gonna be so exciting! So, I am reading, uh, through some of the nominees. I just finished The Best Man by Richard Peck which was so cute. It’s all about this young boy who has to deal with, like, his best friend is a girl and he’s in, like, the sixth grade. So, like, he’s having some problems reconciling this. And, like, he gets a substitute teacher who is gay. And there’s like a very, very mild hate crime. But then, like, this gay substitute teacher, like, swoops in and teaches tolerance and then falls in love with the boy’s uncle and they get married. And you guys —
Chelsea: I just love this book.
Kay: You can’t see us, but —
Chelsea: I know!
Kay: — we’re all making flailing hand motions. [laughs]
Chelsea: It’s called The Best Man by Richard Peck.
Kay: We’re gonna link everything in show notes.
Chelsea: Yeah, like —
Chelsea: Claire is clearly already on a Goodreads mission, but —
Chelsea: — there will be links in the show notes to Goodreads and probably also to Amazon so that you can pick it up —
Kay: Everything we mention.
Chelsea: –if that is your choice. Yeah.
Chelsea: Yeah. So, but that’s kind of what I’m currently reading. Uh, and I think that then takes us into The Dispossessed! Which we’re super excited to talk about.
Kay: Yay, our first book club book!
Chelsea and Claire: Yay!
[Malt Shop Bop by Kevin Macleod plays]
Claire: This book.
Kay: How do you? So. We kind of have been arguing about whether or not we even need to, like, intro this book. Because this is gonna be super spoiler heavy, so if you’re listening to us now, you need to have read the book at this point. Like, I’m telling you, ex out–
Chelsea: There’s really no. Yeah.
Kay: — go to the next time stamp. Like, there’s, we’re just gonna, like, get right into spoilers.
Chelsea: Yeah, there’s really no way to talk about this book without spoilers.
Kay: You should read it. ‘Cause it’s amazing.
Kay: So if you haven’t read it, stop listening to us and go get this book.
Claire: Although, I’m gonna, ya know, float something here. That I don’t think this is a book you really read for, like, the surprises in the plot.
Chelsea: Yeah, no.
Claire: I think you can know what happens in it, and —
Claire: — and still get as much from it.
Kay: Because it’s beautiful and life changing, yeah.
Claire: And not all that much really happens in terms of, like, actiony bits —
Kay: Which is —
Claire: — you know, there’s not like, crazy twists or anything in it.
Kay: I just had an argument with my dad about this book because he did not finish it. And he was like —
Kay: ‘It was really boring, nothing happened.’ And I was like, ‘I guess if you’re one of those people who does not read for character development. And, like, it’s kind of sociocultural anthropology stuff and politics.’ He doesn’t like that. He just, like, wants a plot. He reads a lot of thrillers.
Claire: But the prose!
Kay: He’s like, ‘Oh, it’s boring.’ I know. I know! It’s so beautiful.
Chelsea: Which, I mean, to be fair, if you’re going into this book, like, expecting, like, sci-fi alien adventures? Like, you’re…like, yes. It will be boring if that’s what you’re expecting. It’s not boring, but you will be bored if you’re expecting, like, the Michael Bay version —
Chelsea: — of a science fiction novel. ‘Cause, like —
Kay: Which. Now I’m wondering who recommended this book to my dad. ‘Cause I point blank —
Kay: — have told him, ‘Don’t read any Le Guin. You won’t like it.’ So I don’t know who handed him this book, ‘cause it was a terrible idea.
Claire: But if we were trying to summarize this book —
Chelsea: I was gonna say.
Claire: I think ‘communism in space,’ which is pretty much it.
Kay: I mean. Yeah.
Chelsea: It’s. If I had to elevator pitch it, that’s pretty much how I’d do it.
Kay: Anarcho-communism, yeah. If we’re getting. Are we getting specific about that? I think, like, Claire would be better with like the actual politics stuff than me.
Claire: I think it’s really interesting that in the book they actually seem to be talking about that as well. They never mention the word ‘communist.’ They always define themselves as anarchists and they think in a very anarchical way, and they’re very focused on the individual. They do talk about community sometimes, but that seems to be often viewed as, like, something oppressive. But their way of living is very communal. I mean.
Chelsea: Yeah. It’s this idea that if the individual assumes responsibility for caring for the individual, then as a group of individuals the population will be taken care of because each part of the puzzle is taking care of itself.
Chelsea: Which, kind of, but also not? Because that implies or requires that every citizen do all of the things that they’re required to do in the same manner or the system kind of falls apart.
Claire: But it doesn’t really. Because you see it modeled within their society, that they do kind of what they’re good at. And they do this, like, every ten day communal work that’s, like, menial work, that not everybody wants to be doing all the time. But still, they seem to be modeling very closely ‘from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,’ which is, like, Marxism, you know?
Kay: Which, I think, one of the driving forces for the action, right, is when the society fails to actually live up to that.
Kay: Because when the people are not being allowed to do the jobs that they are good at and trained for and want to be doing, is kind of how everything gets kicked into motion.
Chelsea: Because that, that shift takes place because there are individuals within the system who, because of various things, want that power and decide that for themselves that they want to take unofficial power forms.
Kay: Humanity tends toward bureaucracy.
Chelsea: Yeah, and so —
Kay: There’s basically a line like that, right?
Chelsea: Mmhmm. And basically, so those people, even if they’re not officially given power by the State, or whatever we’re calling it, is, they are still kind of functioning as, kind of. They become gatekeepers and make the assignments of who is doing what in a way that is forced defacto-ly. Like, it’s. It’s this situation, right, of choice without choice. Yeah, you could leave. You could do whatever. You could just go loaf around, but because of the societal dictates and norms that’s not really a choice.
Kay: And because they’re on a moon! Like, they have such limited resources.
Claire: Yeah, there’s two things. There’s the fact that they have limited resources, and there’s also the fact that Shevek says at some point, ‘You could go and loaf around, but you’ll get beaten up by people.’
Claire: And just, like, whoa!
Chelsea: But that’s the choice! Like —
Chelsea: — if you’re willing to deal with an asskicking, there’s no law preventing you from going and doing that.
Kay: And there’s also —
Claire: And there’s no formalized state.
Kay: Mmhmm. Well, and he’s, like, not necessarily are they always gonna get beat up, but they’ll be shunned —
Kay: — basically by everyone else. So you’re basically gonna be, like, a forced hermit if you refuse to, like, take your assignments —
Kay: — is basically what happens. Which also sucks. And is terrible.
Chelsea: Yeah. [laughs] Especially in a society where so much of it is communally appropriated and there is no centralized state. Like, the ultimate punishment becomes ostracism from the community.
Claire: And that’s what drives Shevek back to the planet in the end, is that he wants, you know, he wants to go back to Anarres because he wants to go to his people, again, who have the same kind of mentality as him.
Claire: And also, a lot is made throughout the entire book about the lack of material, physical possessions —
Claire: — so, he came, as always, with his hands empty, or whatever the final line is, you know.
Claire: There’s nothing other than, there’s nothing, apart from the community and the people, you know.
Chelsea: And that’s what’s so. It was such a weird experience reading Shevek’s, kind of, cultural assimilation. Like —
Chelsea: — when he gets his own room? And —
Kay: It seems decadent.
Chelsea — and feel through him, that like, foreignness of having your own room and your own bathroom. And it’s decadent, but also it’s ostracizing. ‘Cause he’s coming from a place where being alone like that is not a good thing. It’s not something people actually really want to have happen.
Chelsea: Whereas I’m like, ‘Shut the doors!’
Chelsea: ‘Give me my room! Solitude!’ Like, yes, please.
Chelsea: But it’s just such a different —
Kay: Cutting yourself off from the social organism is, like, frowned upon, even though there’s nothing saying that they have to socialize, or anything. And then he makes, like, a conscious decision to argue, with himself, basically, is this worth it for me to be cutting myself off if it is better for my work? And he makes the decision it is better for his physics work for him to, like, cut himself off —
Kay: — which is not great for him in other ways. Because he does get, like, violently ill and bad things happen, but.
Chelsea: Yeah. That was fun, though.
Chelsea: Those crazy trippin’ fever dreams? That was.
Kay: It does bring up the interesting family dynamics stuff going on. Because his mom shows up when he’s sick, right? In the ward?
Kay: Because they don’t have the traditional family set up in this anarcho-communist society. Some people will keep their children with them for a while, but mostly the children are raised communally. But then you have different, you know —
Kay: — feelings about parents. And you don’t, like, know about siblings ‘cause everyone is your brother or sister, right?
Claire: Yeah. And that’s reflected a lot in the language, as well.
Claire: Where, like, when he speaks to Rulag at some point and they decide that that’s it. They don’t, they never had a mother to son bond and they’re not gonna have that. You know, they are on the same level. And they talk to each other as if brother to sister. And try to, like, ignore this whole thing, but it keeps coming back again and again and again. Because they have this, like, closer connection that they refuse to acknowledge of, like, this burden of, um, guilt and kind of bitterness —
Claire: — from the abandonment and stuff. And all of it is reflected in the language and not just the brother sister thing, but like the article thing. The fact that there’s no possessives.
Claire: It’s all like, ‘oh, she’s the mother’ —
Kay: I loved that.
Claire: — you have to.
Chelsea: Yeah, there is no ‘my.’ Yeah.
Kay: Which, we have not mentioned it yet, because it’s kind of just a part of everything: they have their own language. They made up their own language because, you know, it needed to go along with their beliefs. They could not have possessiveness and —
Kay: — like, the linguistics stuff in this is really cool. I’m just kind of incoherent about it because I love it so much.
Chelsea: No, yeah. It’s just, like, the power of language.
Chelsea: Like, if you don’t create a word for personal ownership, if you don’t have the word for that idea, you can kind of stomp out that idea as an essential tenet. Like, as an existent just by not having words for it. Or by not having words for a thing you don’t give access and power to that thing.
Chelsea: Like I think it’s funny that the worst word you can be called in that society is a propertarian. Obviously with roots to property and personal ownership, which, like. I mean. You could walk up to somebody today and call them a propertarian —
Chelsea: — and get. Most people wouldn’t know what you were talking about. Like, wouldn’t actually realize what you had said to them. [laughs]
Claire: And that’s what happens when he talks to the people on Urras.
Claire: And calls them that and, they’re like, they don’t realize —
Claire: — they’ve just been mortally insulted. [laughs]
Chelsea: Yeah! They’re like, ‘Oh, okay! What a cute word!’
Kay: I love that it’s harder to swear in — is it Pravek? How do you say that word?
Chelsea: Uhuh. I think so. Pravik?
Kay: It’s, like, difficult to swear because if you’re not placing value on certain things like we would. Like motherfucker is not gonna be, like, an insult that you can use. ‘Cause —
Chelsea: There are no. Yeah.
Kay: — there’s not even. Isn’t the word for ‘fuck’ kind of weird? Am I remembering that wrong?
Claire: Oh, yeah! No, that’s. That was great! There’s no…
Chelsea: ‘Cause there’s a word to, like, procreate, like —
Chelsea: — to have a baby. But there’s no word for, like, the kind of passionate, carnal —
Kay: There’s no, like, possessive words about it.
Chelsea: — possessive, yeah.
Kay: Like, you do not ‘have’ a woman, because you don’t, like, have things.
Chelsea: Or, like —
Claire: The thing is that the word that they have for ‘having’ a woman, in like, a possessive sense, is, is super rapey for them.
Claire: Like, they have a word for, for fucking in a way that’s like a very, a very, like, possessive, passionate, carnal blah blah blah, that is kinda that.
Claire: But it’s rapey.
Claire: Yeah. So that’s —
Chelsea: Do we want to use this point to talk about The Thing?
Claire: Oh, God. I forgot the thing with The Thing.
Kay: The, like, one thing, that. Chelsea and I spent, like, half an hour talking about this.
Chelsea: Yeah. There’s one scene in this book that is —
Chelsea: — Shevek attempting a sexual assault on another person. There is no actual rape, um, it’s very kind of dry humpy.
Kay: Yeah, it’s like frottage.
Chelsea: But if that’s something that is going to bother you, just know going into it that there is a scene of attempted sexual assault. Having said that.
Kay: Yeah. It’s definitely complicated because the person he is involved with has made sexual advances towards him before and has purposefully gotten him intoxicated at a party to amuse people. This is not, not excusing his behavior at all.
Kay: But it’s, you know. Context.
Claire: No, but I think it’s also really interesting to look at the fact that she wants to have sex with him, but not right now? For reasons —
Claire: — that he is unable to understand. Like —
Claire: — her reasons are, like, ‘I need to take,’ and, I mean, her reasons are valid and he should just go away when she says no, which she does repeatedly. But her reasons are things that he’s, like, unable to understand.
Claire: Like she wants to take contraception so that her husband can’t know that she slept with somebody else.
Claire: And, and so, like, that’s something that’s completely foreign to him. And again, it’s just no excuse at all, but I think it’s really interesting to see it doesn’t make sense to him that this would happen in this way. And then the next day he’s like, ‘I’ve become a monster. I need to leave this planet.’
Chelsea: Yeah. And I think that that’s. That, for me, is a big part of it. That it is a turning point in the book for character. It’s not just in there for…there’s a specific reason that Le Guin included —
Chelsea: — the scene of assault and it’s to show the kind of character depths to which Shevek has gone. To go from this ideal society of kind of communal living to being so consumed with the idea of possessing that he’s willing to violate kind of the core of his own philosophies.
Chelsea: Which is what he does. Almost the minute it’s done. Like he gets home and kind of sobers up and like Claire said, he calls himself a monster. He realizes that that is not the person he wants to be. That the place he is in is changing him in a bad way. So there’s definitely growth that happens after that scene.
Kay: It’s basically when he decides that he can’t, like, extend the hand of brotherhood to these people because they are changing him too much. Right? Is that kind of what we got from that?
Chelsea: I think so. Basically. Or, like, yeah. And cause he realizes after that she, her behavior leading up to that event was sketchy. That there were some dubious things, and that these people —
Kay: I hate her, as a character. She’s awful. Which, like, I wish that she had been a more fully formed character, and then I would probably have different feelings about it. But she’s very flat and basically just finds the man from the moon amusing. And, like —
Kay: — uses him to entertain her friends at a party and then shit goes down. And she, basically, is unhappy. Which I don’t blame her for being unhappy with that. But she just, like, bails and it’s just all awful.
Claire: But also, like, it’s not just that he realizes that he can’t extend the hand of brotherhood. It’s more like he realizes that he came to Urras with one purpose, but they brought him there with a different purpose. And so from the beginning they were on a completely different plane. And it’s when he goes to see her he realizes they don’t want him to leave the compound. Like when he goes to see her he leaves the university campus and he doesn’t think anything, really, of it —
Claire: — so much. He just leaves to see the rest of the town. ‘Cause he’s like, ‘Oh, I’ve not seen that before.’
Chelsea: Yeah. Which is a totally normal thing.
Claire: Right. And when he comes back and he realizes how bothered everybody is by the fact that he left, he’s like —
Claire: — maybe I’m going to go explore and actually talk to people who are not, like, sanctioned by the university.
Chelsea: ‘Cause, and that’s a point at which. ‘Cause there had been other people in his life kinda telling him, ‘Heyyyy, the people who brought you here? They just want your brain. They just want you to do some science for them. For their military. They don’t actually, like, care about you.’ But he keeps wanting to see the best in these people and kind of sticking to some of his more idealistic —
Chelsea: — initial thoughts about creating this bridge of communication. And yeah. I think that’s the point at which he realizes that, like, all those people that had been telling him those things? Knew more than he did. And kinda, like, knew what was up and could see what he couldn’t. And it’s very…I dunno. This entire book — I first read this book when I was like, eighteen? And I was like —
Kay: Good time to read it. [laughs]
Chelsea: — yeah, communism! Socialism! Let’s just all live in community and it’ll be great! And then, I read this book. And I was like, ‘Ohhhhhh.’
Kay: Ohhhh. Yeah.
Chelsea: Slapped in the face by the real life practicalities.
Claire: Which is really interesting to me, is that, it was kind of the same experience for me. I read it for the first time when I was twenty-one or something like that.
Claire: And whilst I was very much, at the time, like, also ‘rah rah communism and socialism,’ um, now I see it a lot more as ‘rah rah anti-capitalism.’
Claire: Which is, you know, it’s not like it’s not something that I generally feel about society, you know. So that, that makes sense to me, but I see a lot more as, like, you have to stay on your own guard. Like, you can’t decide that well, now we’re an anarchist society and we’re fine. Like —
Claire: — we aren’t. It’s not like we —
Kay: Every day.
Claire: — have this society, like, we have to keep working at it and you have to keep deciding that this is who you are and this is where your moral compass is and this is how you want to live your life and you have to keep modeling that day in and day out. Because you end up with things like, uh, the old physicist guy who is, like —
Kay: Taking credit, mmhmm.
Claire: — oh, I will diminish your work and then I can take credit. [laughs] For myself.
Chelsea: Yeah. Mmhmm. Which, like, spoiler alert! Is a thing in academia. [laughs]
Claire: Oh, yeah. Totally.
Kay: Yeah. Yeah.
Claire: At least Shevek’s not a woman —
Claire: — that would be worse.
Chelsea: I will say that was one thing about, as much as this book kind of puts forth some idea, uh, I think that this book got academia really well.
Kay: Yeah, it did.
Chelsea: I think if there’s one thing this book really kind of, like, where it hit home the most. I was, like, yeah. That, like, feeling of researching and locking yourself in your little research hole. And like, going down that spiral of, like, thinking you’ve proved it only to realize you’re back where you started. And you didn’t, like, you just proved yourself in a circle. [laughs] I think —
Kay: Am I misremembering, Le Guin has a background in academia?
Chelsea: No, I think she’s a professor. Isn’t she?
Kay: I think so.
Chelsea: I thought so.
Kay: Like, I was like, this feels, like, deep in it. Someone who, like, has been there. Can we talk for a minute about the gender stuff in this book?
Chelsea: Oh, absolutely.
Kay: Because oh my God —
Kay: — everything about it just makes me so happy. Well. Okay. Not everything, ‘cause obviously you’ve got the shitty stuff down on the planet and everything there is terrible. Whatever, up on the moon where the communists live. [laughs]
Chelsea: That sounds like it should be a Cat Stevens song. That should be the first line in, like, the new Cat’s Cradle.
Claire: I would buy that.
Kay: There’s basically no gender expectations.
Kay: At all. Which is amazing.
Kay: Because they don’t even separate names by gender. Everyone’s name is assigned by, like, a supercomputer —
Kay: — which gives me so much joy, when I read that —
Kay: — ‘cause I forgot that since the last time I read this and I was like, that’s perfect. And that leads to one of my favorite gags in the whole book. Where he’s going down to the university on the planet and he’s talking about his mentor. Gvarab? I have no clue how to say any of the names in this book at all.
Chelsea: That works, though.
Kay: His, like, old lady mentor who is, like, a total badass and he feels bad that he met her so late in life ‘cause her brain was already kind of…she was getting a little senile when he met her. But he’s talking about his mentor and they’re like, ‘Wait, she was a woman?!’
Kay: Like, they had no idea! They thought it was a dude. And they think that men are the only ones capable of doing these advanced physics that they do. But both of his mentors, in the book —
Chelsea: Mmhmm. Are female.
Kay: — academically that are any good are women. Which is great.
Chelsea: I was gonna say, the one that’s a man is the one that, like, super fucks him over by just like stealing his entire thesis.
Kay: Is, yeah. And has no original thoughts. Well, and even the stuff that he publishes on the moon is, like, stuff that he basically just translated from the planet.
Kay: I was like, ‘That’s horrible!’ But, like, who would know? No one would know. Horrible, but genius.
Chelsea: So, yeah, that’s, like, the only male academic mentor that he has at all.
Kay: Mmhmm. Which is garbage. Completely expected.
Chelsea: Which is garbage.
Kay: Because men can really be garbage in academia.
Chelsea: Well, and then it’s great, because then you have, like, the, his. His wife, uh, Tavek? Tevek? Not really wife, ‘cause they don’t get married.
Chelsea: His partner and the mother to his children is a very different kind of mother and partner than his own mother was.
Chelsea: So even within these kinds of rigid structures of society there are variances in the people themselves, which I just thought was really interesting. ‘Cause that’s how humans work. And it’s really nice to see that sometimes.
Claire: And it’s really great, because you don’t really have that many characters, but you still get to see kind of a fairly wide breadth of, you know. He’s got his father that more or less raised him, even though, even though he was in the communal raising facility quite a bit. You’ve got his mother, didn’t really take care of him. She just, she left to go on another posting and she couldn’t come back. And then you’ve got Takver. And then you’ve got, like, his friend…
Chelsea: Oh, the one. What’s his name? Dab? Dab, right?
Kay: Who, they have, not a romantic, but a sometimes sexual relationship. Where, I like that it’s kind of implied everyone’s, like, somewhere on the bisexual-ish spectrum, right? And it’s like sometimes, it’s like, reestablishing their relationship they have sex and live together for a while. And then once they feel like they’re back on good footing with each other they move out again.
Chelsea: Which, like, can you imagine if that’s how that works? It’s like, ‘Hey! I haven’t seen you in, like, ten years! Let’s have sex and live together for a month.’
Claire: Do you know that made me think of, um, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet?
Claire: Where you have that one, uh, species whose name now escapes me.
Chelsea: Sissix? The feather dinosaur whatever?
Claire: Right. Where, that’s kind of what they do. They have a lot of, like, just social kind of sex.
Claire: But, yeah. You, you. You have this character who’s just, you know. It’s just mentioned and not much is made of it, that, like, he has a sexual relationship with Shevek. And he would like it to be, also, a romantic relationship.
Claire: That’s not what Shevek is into. Whatever! They can still be friends ten, twenty years later.
Claire: And. [sighs] That’s just really nice. Like, you don’t see a lot of —
Kay: I know!
Claire: — situations where people, you know what, one person, like, wants to have a certain relationship with you romantically and you’re not into it and you, like, tell them and it’s like, well, but whatever.
Kay: You can still be bros!
Claire: It didn’t happen. It’s fine. Like, that’s a thing that happens to people in real life. And you never see that in books. Because it always has to be this huge dramatic thing.
Chelsea: I always think of that thing in Twilight where there’s just the empty pages with the months written on them.
Chelsea: Because she’s just in, like, the catatonic coma.
Kay: Oh my god.
Chelsea: It’s just like, ‘October.’ I am like, ‘Girl, that is unhealthy.’ Super unhealthy.
Kay: I’m really proud of us name dropping Twilight in our first full episode of the podcast.
Chelsea: I’m just saying! No book captures horrible melodrama quite as succinctly as Twilight did.
Chelsea: But that’s not what happens here! And it’s so nice and refreshing! ‘Cause they’re just like, ‘Do you wanna? Not really. Okay!’
Chelsea: Fine! Cool!
Kay: I thought it was incredibly fascinating and sort of traditionalist that Le Guin would, like, set up a society where, like, that’s the kind of romantic and sexual norms you have. And Shevek and Takver basically end up with a very, like —
Chelsea: Kinda heteronormative, traditional.
Kay: — prototypical heteronormative traditional family where they’re raising their kids kind of more at home than at the center. And they, they’re a man and a woman, basically, and it’s just, like, quotes, ‘normal,’ you know? And it’s kind of interesting that she went there instead of any of the other relationships that he has throughout the book.
Claire: Although, to be fair, they are mostly raising their children more at home than at the center because the kids at the center start to bully Sadik, so.
Kay: Yeah, after a point. Mmhmm.
Chelsea: But I do think, I think what’s interesting is because of the world Le Guin has created she’s actually making a very subversive choice because they’re kind of nuclear, all the scare quote ‘normal’ family is kind of in contrast to the traditional way that families in that society are established. So, like, even though, to us, it does read very kind of, like, you know, heteronormative —
Kay: It’s actually super subversive! [laughs]
Chelsea: — and very traditional. Yeah, it’s actually, in the context of that planet, still a very subversive and anarchic choice to make.
Claire: Because it’s their individual choice. Because it’s what they have decided to do. They can still do it. They can move, they can go somewhere else, they can accept one posting, decline another. They can do it. Really, it’s just, you have to decide what level of ease you’re going to have.
Claire: If you’re going to go with what most people are doing, it’ll be a lot easier.
Chelsea: Yeah. And I think that’s, or at least that’s how I read it, that’s where Shevek is when he goes home. Like, he has realized, like, he is willing to kind of. He just wants his family and he’s kinda willing to deal with more of that, like, ostracism or less, like, academic freedom, or whatever in exchange for having his partner and his daughter with him. At least that’s how I read it when he was going home with those empty hands. Like, yeah.
Kay: Like, with obvious complex feelings, but yeah.
Claire: Yeah, the way that I read it was more like, he thought that he would have a lot more freedoms when he went to Urras to, like, do his work and he’s realized that he wasn’t seeing the whole picture because he didn’t know enough about the context. And now that he sees the whole picture he can decide, like, yes, there’s gonna be, there’s going to be limitations on me whatever I do.
Claire: And these are the limitations that I choose.
Claire: And I think it made a lot of sense in terms of, like, you know what? No one on this planet thinks even remotely like I do. And it’s really uncomfortable to always have to do this, like, codeswitching —
Kay: At least where he is.
Claire: — reminding yourself that.
Claire: Here are some rando things that, like, these people care about that I have to conceptualize for, like, ten minutes before I can —
Chelsea: Deal with it.
Chelsea: ‘Cause I think that’s why I liked it. ‘Cause that’s how real life works.
Chelsea: I mean, there’s no way to live your life without some kind of constraints placed on you and it’s just a matter of deciding which of those constraints and priorities and kind of goals are the ones you’re going to give credence to and which ones you’re just not. And you’re willing to deal with the consequences.
Kay: Do we want to talk about, like, the actual quote, ‘plot’ here? Like, what actually happens? Because we’ve kind of been just talking around it, about how interesting everything is. So, the main character, Shevek, is a physicist. Like, at the most basic he is a physicist who feels like, since they are cut off from basically everyone else he cannot do his full work. So they do periodic communication with the planet. And that planet also now has communication with several other planets, including us! The Terrans!
Kay: They’re us! Which makes me really happy. And there’s, like, a nice little nod to Einstein —
Kay: — where they’re like, ‘It’s several hundred years old, now, but very interesting, like —
Kay: — compared to the stuff that we’re doing.’ And then there’s also Hain which is where the name of this, like, series the book is from —
Kay: — the Hainish Cycle comes from. Which, we don’t know much about them other than, like, they’re so far beyond us and also super peaceful. But the way that he actually ends up escaping once he’s down on the planet is by going to the Terran embassy. Right? It’s sovereign soil.
Chelsea: ‘Cause he goes to the Terran embassy and they, like, smuggle him out. Yeah.
Kay: They smuggle him out on their ship. So at the end he is managing to, like, get their message out and his science out through us.
Kay: Which is cool.
Claire: Yeah, because the, the whole, the whole science subplot is that —
Claire: — he’s been working up to this theory that would possibly allow for, uh, faster than light travel. And he’s been coming up to building the theory for years and years.
Claire: And he can’t finish it on his moon because he can’t really —
Chelsea: He needs more resources.
Claire: — but he needs more resources so he goes down to the planet and he thinks he’s going to, like, extend the hand of brotherhood like you were saying before and like work all together and do great science and they just want, the government of the country that he ends up going to on Urras, which, like, for him the government of, like, a country within a planet is already, like —
Claire: — a super foreign thing that he doesn’t even understand.
Kay: He does not get it at all.
Claire: That government just wants to secure the faster than light technology before other governments so they can use it in, you know, military endeavours.
Kay: And he doesn’t even write anything down for them to find, which I thought was so badass. Like, ‘cause he was cognizant enough to know he should not put anything out where they could find it and use it without his knowing.
Claire: And restrict it from everybody else.
Claire: ‘Cause that was, like —
Kay: Darn propertarians.
Claire: — private ownership. Yeah, exactly. Private ownership of an idea is just so wrong.
Chelsea: But then in the end he releases it in this way that is just so full of anarchy.
Claire: He decides to give it to Terra on the, like, in exchange for his passage home, but only on the condition that they spread it around. And they give it to everybody. It’s basically like Natasha and the SHIELD files.
Chelsea: Basically. The idea being that, yeah, if the Terrans then can spread it out no one planet can use it against another. Like, if one can use it they can all use it against each other or nobody can use it for bad things, or it just cuts off the legs of that governmental entity he was working for.
Chelsea: And I was just like, fuck yeah! Power to the people!
Kay: So the scifi nerds listening, so this thing that we’re talking about, his, like, formula? It’s basically what’s going to make the ansible possible. Which is the thing where you have faster than light or —
Chelsea: Like, instantaneous communication.
Kay: Which is basically been adopted as, like, bog standard in today’s science fiction. Like —
Kay: — if you read, like, Orson Scott Card growing up and they were talking about the ansible, like that’s what this is from. It’s from this. Like. [laughs]
Claire: I have literally never read anything that referenced it, so I’m like, ‘Oh, is that a thing that happens in other books.’
Chelsea: It’s in, like, Card, and some Asimov and some of the Heinlein stuff, like, makes references to it.
Claire: I have not read a lot of, uh, old timey dude science fiction.
Chelsea: That’s okay! Old white guys? You’re not missing anything.
Kay: It’s ‘cause you lived your life better than us, Claire. You lived your life better than us. [laughs]
Claire: It’s because my mother decided that it would be a really good idea to give her eleven year old Anne McCaffrey.
Claire: She’s real French, my mother is.
Kay: I mean, it wasn’t like Clan of the Cave Bear, so I mean you have that going for you.
Claire: She also gave me that.
Chelsea: My mom gave me The Mists of Avalon which I loved —
Claire: She also gave me that.
Chelsea: — by Marion Zimmer Bradley, then I was like hard pass, childhood favorites ruined.
Claire: [laughs] I love that! I love that I said one thing, I said one thing that I read as a young teenager that was wildly inappropriate and you named two others, like, ‘Oh, at least it’s better than those.’ It’s like, no, no.
Kay: No, no.
Claire: My mother also gave me those, too.
Kay: That’s amazing.
Chelsea: That’s okay.
Kay: That’s amazing. See, my mom is not a reader. She did not give me anything. My dad is the one who gave me all of my books.
Kay: So, like, I’ve read lots of white dude science fiction in high school and junior high.
Chelsea: That’s fair.
Kay: It’s unfortunate.
Chelsea: I read a lot of VC Andrews. My mom’s a big VC Andrews reader. Sooo…
Chelsea: But then I wanted something different so I found the Hugo lists —
Kay: Beautiful. [laughs]
Chelsea: — and that’s what I started working from. Also full of old dead white guys.
Claire: And Ursula K Le Guin!
Kay: And Ursula Le Guin and Octavia Butler.
Chelsea: And Ursula.
Kay: That’s it.
Claire: I mean, this is one of those. This is one of those, we’re like gushing about it because it’s so beautiful —
Kay: It won, like, everything.
Claire: — but it’s one of those rare few that’s actually one the Hugo and the Nebula in the same year because it was so fantastic.
Kay: And the Locus, right?
CLaire: We love it.
Chelsea: Yes, I think so. But, yeah. Definitely one of those things you can point to when people tell you that there’s just no good, uh, no good early, ‘classic’ female science fiction. Air quotes around classic science fiction.
Claire: Also, oh no why is there now politics in my scifi? It never used to be this way?
Kay: It’s like, I don’t know what those people were reading or watching, but it was not [laughs]
Chelsea: It’s old white guys reading old white guys!
Claire: Because of confirmation bias. Because it confirms what they were already thinking. ‘Cause if I read old white guy science fiction novels, some of them I’m going to feel like, ‘This is very politically against me as a person.’
Chelsea: Oh, absolutely. If you’re one of those, uh, I don’t like politics in my books, this may not be the podcast for you. Let’s just say that now.
Kay: This is definitely not the podcast for you.
Chelsea: Probably not gonna be the podcast for you.
Chelsea: Alright, anything else? Did we, is there anything else big about The Dispossessed that we wanted to talk about?
Claire: I…I’m so sad because I bookmarked, I bookmarked on my Kindle a dick joke in this book.
Claire: Okay, so it wasn’t a joke, but it was like, this beautiful use of language that was kind of, like, you know, like subtle enough, like subtle enough that you do a bit of a double take. And you’re like, oh, I see what you did there, Ursula. So, this is when he can’t work. “The work came first, but it went nowhere. Like sex, it ought to be a pleasure, and it wasn’t. He kept grinding over the same problems.”
Chelsea: I was like, yes! Beautiful.
Kay: You can’t see me, but I’m making a really lecherous face and, like, doing a fist pump right now. I’m always surprised by how funny Le Guin’s stuff is. Because it’s fundamentally very serious —
Kay: — and, like, the prose is always very elegant, even if it can tend toward being spare —
Kay: — but she’s also hilarious. Like —
Chelsea: yeah. She’s very funny.
Kay: — she is the master of the sly joke. That, like, it’s easy to skip over if you’re not focusing on what you’re reading. Which, you should always be focusing on what you’re reading when you’re reading Le Guin, because it’s so great. But, you know, if you’re just skimming you can miss that stuff and that’d be a shame.
Claire: Also! “Privacy in fact was almost as desirable for physics as it was for sex. But all the same, was it necessary?”
Chelsea: Yes! That’s the one I underlined.
Kay: [laughs] Beautiful.
Chelsea: I was like, Shevek likes to bone in public!
Claire: [laughs] He so does.
Chelsea: Shevek’s got voyeurism kink. Good for him.
Claire: No kink-shaming on this podcast.
Kay: No kink-shaming on the podcast. I found one of —
Chelsea: No, not at all.
Kay: — I have, like, three favorite passages in this book.
Kay: But this one is maybe my favorite, where he’s talking about what Anarres is really like, but it’s, um… “It’s not wonderful. It is an ugly world. Not like this one. Anarres is all dusty and dry hills. All meager, all dry. And the people aren’t beautiful. They have big hands and feet, like me and the waiter there. But not big bellies. They get very dirty, and take baths together, nobody here does that. The towns are very small and dull, they are dreary. No palaces. Life is dull, and hard work. You can’t always have what you want, or even what you need, because there isn’t enough. You Urrasti have enough. Enough air, enough rain, grass, oceans, food, music, buildings, factories, machines, books, clothes, history. You are rich, you own. We are poor, we lack. You have, we do not have. Everything is beautiful here. Only not the faces. On Anarres nothing is beautiful, nothing but the faces. The other faces, the men and women. We have nothing but that, nothing but each other.” And I’m just like we have nothing but each other —
Kay: And, like, get super emotional! And, like, it keeps going, but it’s just. How do you, like. You have everything, but you have nothing, is basically what he’s telling these people.
Kay: Which is just —
Kay: — my poor heart, here.
Chelsea: Well, yeah —
Claire: And that resonates with me a lot, because when you hear this type of language it’s very specific. It reminds me a lot of like a bunch of different, like, protest songs from the history of the, uh, labor movement. And, you know, I don’t know the English, because I don’t think there’s, I dunno, but, like, in the French, um, in the French version of the Internacional, there is literally a line that says, ‘we are nothing, let us be all.’ And that’s, you know.
Claire: It goes to that and it’s like we were saying before, he always has empty hands. Because it’s not about the possessions, it’s about people who have the same mindset.
Kay: There’s the repeated, yeah. The empty hands and he wants to take down walls. Which, like, the opening of this book where they’re talking about how the wall is the most important thing in the world? And I’m just like, ‘Oh my god, yes! We need to tear down walls and we need to come to each other with open hands!’ And ugh.
Chelsea: It was a very weird connection, but the opening description of the wall reminded me a lot of Stardust by Neil Gaiman.
Chelsea: Because that’s how that book opens.
Chelsea: With the description of the wall in this town. And while the books are very different [laughs] like, the books are very different —
Kay: Very different.
Chelsea: — there’s just, there’s still this idea of the magic of a different place all depends on which side of the wall you’re standing on. Um, and that, to me, when I underlined that same passage that you read, Kay, what stuck out to me was there’s this. He starts off by being almost, very denigrative of his hometown, and —
Kay: Mmhmm, it’s ugly and dirty —
Chelsea: — yeah and it’s ugly, they’re small —
Kay: — we don’t have things.
Chelsea: — yeah, we don’t have things. But even in this kind of ugliness being on this quote side of the wall, that is so ugly he’s still able to peel all of that back and show that all of the ugliness only goes so far as the aesthetic, but that underneath there’s this difference that you can’t see from the other side of the wall. Like, if you are only on Urras looking at Anarres you’re only gonna see from that side of the wall. And, and it goes both ways. So, like —
Chelsea: — you were saying, that’s why that, kind of, building of the wall combines with that metaphor of bridging.
Chelsea: And it just keeps coming up and it’s really powerful every time Le Guin uses it.
Kay: Yeah. There’s also that repeated kind of reference to, like, when they are looking at the moon depending on which, if you’re on the planet or you’re on the moon, Anarres, you’re, you know. You’re, you’re looking at your moon, but it’s also where the other people are living and, like, some things are only beautiful from far away. I just love this book.
Claire: I have a thing that I want to bring up, but I’m like, if I bring this up it’s going to be so much longer. [laughs] In the book, like, they have this famine at some point —
Kay: Which is, which is the impetus for him being separated. When he’s separated from his family. Not only because of the work, but because there’s this giant, basically worldwide famine.
Chelsea: Mmhmm. And his partner does research in algae, which is a major foodstuff for them. So she’s sent to do some kind of emergency research to help alleviate the famine, and so —
Kay: But there’s no work for him. Yeah.
Chelsea: — to yeah. And there’s no work for him, because he does, like, physics and stuff which isn’t really gonna help feed people. So there’s, they get to that idea of the greater good versus the individual.
Claire: But they both choose to go for that.
Claire: They choose it. He goes and asks for a posting in the town where she is, but because the town is nothing but a research center —
Kay: He even offers to be a janitor, am I remembering that right?
Claire: — they don’t need him there —
Chelsea: He can’t even empty the waste baskets.
Kay: Like, anything.
Claire: — and he chooses to go elsewhere. But he chooses to. He could just gone and been, like, a bum around there —
Claire: — to be with her —
Claire: — but he chooses not to. Because people are dying. And, like —
Kay: And you take an emergency posting if you truly believe in the maxims of their society and, yeah.
Claire: Right. If you truly believe in Odo, who was a woman.
Claire: That’s another really interesting thing.
Chelsea: Yeah, spoiler alert.
Claire: Like, another really interesting gender thing is —
Kay: We haven’t even touched on. Yeah.
Claire: — is they take this Marx figure and made her a woman.
Claire: I say ‘they’ I mean Le Guin, obviously.
Chelsea: Yeah. It’s great.
Kay: Basically all of his figures he looks up to —
Chelsea: Are women.
Kay: — are these amazing women.
Kay: Which, like, both gives me life and kills me. [laughs] If that means anything to you.
Chelsea: No, yeah.
Kay: Because it’s amazing and, like, I’m trying to picture any of the men I know in science saying, ‘Oh, yeah, basically everyone who I look up to in my field, or just as like a person that I want to model my life after is a woman.’ Like, I can’t. No.
Chelsea: That may not be them. That may be a lack of cognizant ability to do that. I mean, through systemic problems, if there are no other women in your field for whom you can admire or to whom you can look up to, that becomes that echochamber of, like, obviously you don’t have female role models when there are no female role models in your field to have. So, that —
Kay: By the way, none of us are women in STEM, but we’re all really for women in STEM fields. Okay? [laughs]
Chelsea: Yes, please. Yes, please.
[Malt Shop Bop by Kevin Macleod plays]
Chelsea: That about wraps up everything we wanted to talk about for The Dispossessed by Ursula K Le Guin. Thank you guys so much for joining us for our convo. Before we say our official goodbyes, we’re just gonna go ahead and mention a couple of things all of us have on the burner. Um, for me, I just put up the newest episode of the Magical Space Pussycats podcast, I will link to that in the show notes. So, yeah, that just went live and we should have another one recording here in another week or two. What are you working on, Claire?
Claire: I’m working on my Booktube channel as ever, which is under my full name, Claire Rousseau, and there’ll be a link in the description box below. And I’m also really excited because I only have, like, five days of work left before I have a nice long two week holiday for Christmas and New Year —
Kay and Chelsea: Yay!
Claire: — and my birthday, and I’m gonna do all the reading. I still have to read, like, twenty-five more books for my Goodreads goal, so. That’s great.
Chelsea: Oh. Comics. Graphic novels, baby.
Kay: There you go.
Kay: My turn? Okay, so, couple things. I’ve got a couple Book Riot pieces that’re gonna be be coming up probably by the time this comes out. The one that will definitely be out is I did 10 Completed Romance Series for people who wanted to, like, do a binge-read of a series that’s already done. So we’ve got that.
Chelsea: That’s you and me Claire.
Kay: So we’ll definitely link that. Um, and then I also have an ongoing project just on Twitter, and, uh, I’m eventually moving that over to my blog, also. Which is just Kay Taylor Rea on dreamwidth. Uh, I’m doing the Trek Rec a Day Project, which basically started out as: bros were being cranky about the new Star Trek show. This summer, this goes back to August —
Kay: — bros were being cranky about the diversity in their space show stuff, which, I don’t know what they were watching, but it wasn’t Star Trek, okay?
Kay: So I’m like, I’m just going to blast this fandom with positivity. So I have been posting a Star Trek fanfiction rec every single day since August 11th.
Kay: So, I don’t, I don’t know when exactly this podcast is going live, it’ll probably be, like, 150 recs by then. And I’m planning on posting every day until the new show comes out. We’ll see if that actually happens —
Kay: — because the show as originally supposed to start airing in January and it got moved to, like, May. But, as of right now there are at least 125 Star Trek fanfiction recs for you to check out.
Chelsea: And that is a wonderful project.
Chelsea: I have read several of them, I can highly, I will give my stamp of approval there are several good fics there being recced
Claire: I am not yet in Star Trek fandom, but I can, I can vouch for Kay’s recommendations in general.
Kay: So that was all we had to share about our projects coming up. The next book we’re gonna be discussing is gonna be Nimona by Noelle Stevenson. I finally got it right! Guys, that took like three tries for me to just get the name right of that book.
Kay: It’s a graphic novel we’ve all read before, right?
Kay: So this is a reread for everybody. Saying, this is not gonna be just a reread podcast, we promise, but these first two were both things we’ve read before.
Chelsea: Have all read, yeah.
Chelsea: And then, two weeks? Right? Is that what we decided? We’re gonna be back in two weeks?
Kay: Two weeks.
Chelsea: Yep, sounds good. Until then —
Kay: We really fail at signing off. [laughs]
Chelsea: Okay, okay, I’m just gonna say goodbye and then stop my recording.
[Malt Shop Bop by Kevin Macleod plays]
Chelsea: You’ve been listening to Sisterhood of the Traveling Paperbacks, a podcast made by three online besties and all-around lady nerds. Channel art provided by Claire Rousseau. Music credits to ‘Malt Shop Bop’ by Kevin MacLeod. You can get in touch with the sisterhood at firstname.lastname@example.org, @PaperbacksPod on Twitter, or at our website paperbacksisters.wordpress.com. You can reach Kay @kaytaylorrea on Twitter, Claire @ClaireRousseau, and Chelsea @anoutlawlife. Additional credits and show notes will be available at our website. Thank you so much for listening. [Double speed] No paperbacks were harmed in the making of this program.