The first half slogged for me. It was not a page-turner, although I was interested theoretically in the protagonist and his situation, I found it quite easy to put the book down for a day or two and return for a chapter here or there. It wasn’t bad, I just wasn’t hooked. The second half, though, pulled it all together, and I finished the last third in one evening.
Shevek is a physicist from the moon Annares, where 170 years ago anarchists founded a utopian society after leaving the nearby planet Urras. For those 170 years, Urrastis are not permitted to land on Annares, and of course, no Annaresti would want to go to Urras, even if they were allowed. Annares is founded on principles of comon good, the ultimate communal society, where no one uses possessive pronouns, marriage as a legal concept is non-existent, and children’s names are generated by a computer. Life is good, but hard–it’s not lush, but sharing and cooperation are non-negotiable virtues.
Meanwhile, Urras is entrenched in hierarchy, a planet where everything can be bought and sold, where expressions of gender and sexuality are strictly regulated–even if silently. They are the “propertarians”, and their values are completely antithetical to those of Annares. Our hero Shevek has decides to overcome the inertia of his anarchist society and do something anarchic–travel to the forbidden planet. Urras is the only place he can complete his work on ground-breaking physics, something he can’t do in Annares’ limited facilities. Shevek must learn how to operate on a new, bewildering planet, while staying true to his people and his calling. It’s difficult, to say the least.
That said, I can’t help but feel it could have been a liiiiitle livelier, particularly the first half. So four stars it is.