On one of two twin planets, a scientist is born. Shevek, born on the planet Anarres, the moon of Urras, is pursuing a General Time Theory, although that isn’t really what this book is about. Both planets, Urras and Anarres, have opposite, extreme governments. Urras is ruled by capitalism while Anarres is ruled by a kind of communist anarchism. The story explores the flaws and the path to fixing both governments, as well as the complex history of the two planets and the power of social norms. Shevek, in his pursuit of discovery and in sharing knowledge, is able to realize the flaws of his own home planet. With this, he decides to travel to Urras, where more people study in his field. There, he becomes an icon for the poor and oppressed, who see Anarres as proof that they could better themselves. With these governments, the book is able make the reader think and question many assumptions.
I found these planets and cultures fascinating, as they were as rich and complex as any real culture. We don’t get all of the information immediately, but eventually we get enough that we understand all the nuances and history of these planets. There are also multiple characters with very distinct personalities which we can recognize instantly, and they all feel complex and relatable. However, part of the reason I only gave the book a seven is that Shevek is not one of these characters. He is disconnected and mechanical and seems to experience a very limited range of emotion. He does still serve his purpose well as our link to his world, and perhaps only someone like him could follow the path which he took, exposing the flaws of the governments.
The visuals in the book were also amazingly vivid. Each chapter would begin with describing the location and setting the scene, which could be a pro or con depending on what kind of reader you are. I personally found it mostly a pro, as it truly did paint clear, detailed picture, however towards the end of the book it became slightly tedious. Another interesting feature of each chapter was that it switched time periods and planets each chapter. The odd chapters take place in the future following Shevek on Urras while the even chapters take place in the past on Anarres. Each have an almost self-contained plot, with the story on Anarres acting as a prequel, however they rely on each other for the sharing of knowledge and understanding of the plot.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who likes to have a book to make them think. The story raises many questions, both about the fictional universe and our own. Also anyone enjoys a well thought out sci-fi book. The story explores alien cultures which truly feel foreign, not to mention interesting technological and scientific realities which could only exist in the future. However, because the author had a tendency to use more words than always necessary, the book can be a bit of a headache to read, and as mentioned before, the main character whom the story is told through is difficult to relate to. The enjoyment in reading this book is not in the reading, but in the rich, thought-provoking, fascinating story contained in the reading. It’s one of those books which becomes part of you, and no matter your feelings toward it you will never forget it.