Science fiction survey

Science fiction survey

Books/Science to those conversant with technological forecasting and techno-economic assessment-indeed, most groups in the futures field have been pr...

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to those conversant with technological forecasting and techno-economic assessment-indeed, most groups in the futures field have been practising technology assessment, at least in a partial fashion. The reader will find no simple formula or ready-made solution, nor should he expect it in this infant science where all are still groping towards methods for improving the quality of decision making. In his concluding chapter Hetman deals with the promises and problems of technology assessment, and in particular its place in relation to the institutional framework, the balance between analyst and decision taker and the need for public involvement. This is a constructive contribution that merits study. Hetman’s book achieves what I believe it set out to do: it presents a balanced view of the need for and role of technology assessment with sufficient illustrative information on techniques and approaches to form a springboard for anyone entering the field. It does not explore the societal developments that have created the need for Technology Assessment; nor does it claim to be a definitive statement of methodology. The former aspect has yet to be explored and the latter would be an if not impossible, task. enormous, Other recent publications have looked in greater depth at narrower aspects of method or concept:

G. J. Stober and D. Schumacher, eds, Technology Assessment and Quality of Li$e, Proceedings of the 4th General Conference of SAINT (Salzburg Assembly : Impact of New Technology) held in Salzburg, September 1972 (Amsterdam, Elsevier, 1973) ; M. Cetron and B. Bartocha, Technology Assessment in Dynamic Environment (London, Gordon & Breach, 1974) ; R. D. Medford, Environmental Harrassment or Technolog Assessment? (Amsterdam, Elsevier, 1973).* *

A review of this book Vol 6, No 1, pages 75-76.



December 1814

in Futures,


Fiction Survey




Ursula K. LeGuin, The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (341 pages, $7.95, New York, Harper & Row, L2.80,London,VictorGollancz,

1974; 1974)

As I have often complained in this column, the depiction of truly alternative societies has not been one of science fiction’s strong points, especially alternatives that are more or less desirable compared to the status quo. That has been the realm of utopian fiction, most of which, however ingenious the ideas, has read more like philosophical essays than speculative literature. Thus it is with great pleasure that I have completed the newest book by Ursula LeGuin which masterfully fulfils my search for a novel which intertwines first-rate literature-in which one cares for believable characters who grow and develop as the story progresses-with imaginative social vision. I believe The Dispossessed will in due course be taken as a classic of the utopian genre and a landmark in science fiction. The “hero” of the book is at once the main character Shevek, a physicist a of genius, and his world Anarres, planet of less than a million people living together on the basis of anarchism. The man Shevek cannot be comprehended apart from his world; in this manner LeGuin avoids the usual pitfall of utopian stories which are all description (“if it’s Tuesday, let me show you our schools”), with little to hold our interest in the kinds of people who inhabit the given society. Here, both Shevek and his society are a source of continual fascination, as each unfolds its complexity before the reader Mr Livingston is a member of the Department of History and Political Science, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12181, USA.



Science Fiction Survey

by being played off against the other. In Anarres, American science fiction has its first major portrayal of anarchism as a working philosophy, a way of life for a sophisticated, technologyusing culture. The details of this life style are given, not in travelogue form, but as they are revealed by the actions of the people who live them out. Briefly, Anarres has been settled, when the book opens, for 150 years, beginning with the exile to it of the disciples of the anarchist Odo on the neighbouring world of Urras. Thus Anarres has been founded de nouo, including a new language that omits possessive pronouns. The society that develops has no government, class, competition, rich or status, money, poor, law, hierarchy, dominance. Instead, people are socialised into a community based on mutual sharing and cooperation, with an economy run by voluntary community work and labour syndicates and federations. There is no marriage, of course; any form of sexual partnership is permissible, with children raised communally. Four aspects about Anarres will be especially appealing to readers in search of alternative ways of living. First, the people are not rich, but they are happy. They only have each other, as there is no rat race for material goods to get in the way of developing human relationships. The dramatic example of this society is that cooperation is at least as much a part of human evolutionary potential as is aggression. this society is thoroughly Second, ecology-minded, both by choice, as a natural counterpart to its philosophy of social functionalism, and by necessity, for Anarres is a resource-poor world whose human population must be carefully fitted into its environmental niche. Third, women have complete equality with men, in terms of work and general status, even to the extent that individuals have only one name, without obviousgender-reference. Odo, for example, is a woman. Fourth,

the society is not anti-technology, but has very carefully incorporated those devices which will enhance its philosophy of being. Thus an extensive and efficient computer system is used to match up people looking for jobs with those offering them, according to location and skill. But all is not perfect on Anarres, for the society has gone too far in replacing the restrictiveness of governments and laws with the equal bind of social conscience. This is the excruciating dilemma faced by Shevek, who sees an increasing conflict between his desire to carry forward his exotic brand of temporal physics, and his inability to find support in his work from his colleagues, who view him as too individualistic, too original, for their good. Shevek finds that behind the rhetoric of cooperation, inevitable power cliques have formed which do not tolerate free expression in art or science. So he decides to return to the home world of Urras, the first of his people to do so. Urras is simply 20th century Earth, with competing nation-states, property rights and all, and the book then consists of contrasting life on the two worlds as seen by Shevek and those who react to him. It is Shevek’s mission not only to complete his work in physics-he succeeds in coming up with a General Theory of Relativity-but also to restore contact between the two planets, to shake loose the rigidity that has developed in his society. The image of walls is used throughout the book. There are walls between one society and another, one person and another, and Shevek tears them down, as much to the consternation of his own people as to the rulers of Urras. In the end, indeed, we only have each other, brothers in pain and joy, dispossessed of each other, social animals doomed to cooperate or perish. A book with a beautiful message, a philosophy, a memorable figure, this should be read slowly, and cherished.