The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula Le Guin’s two most famous and acclaimed science fiction novels – 1969’s The Left Hand of Darkness and 1974’s The Dispossessed have a great deal in common. Both are intellectual novels, more interested in characters dispensing sociology lectures than in character exchanging gunfire; both are novels where, in the final equation, very little actually happens. Both are primarily concerned with comparing and contrasting two very different sociopolitical power structures, locked in a Cold War – given the time in which the novels were written, we can cut to the chase and just admit, both novels are fundamentally examinations of the USA vs. the USSR. On a purely superficial level, both novels are set on distant planets occupied by a species who are almost, but not quite, human, with both Terrans (us!) and ‘Hainish’ mentioned in the background. Both novels follow a single traveller as he attempts to understand the world around him.

And yet there are also important differences: most importantly of all, where The Left Hand of Darkness seems to tiptoe delicately, frostily, across an icy surface, everything at a distance, everything filtered and contained, The Dispossessed is the literary equivalent of taking an axe to a target and hacking, first from the left, and then from the right, again and again until the blade hits the quick.

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Some glimpses of a Romance language

Recently, I was toying with a Romlang (constructed Romance language, for those not into that sort of thing). Unfortunately, I’ve sort of lost interest for now, though I imagine I’ll pick it back up eventually. For now, I just thought I’d share a couple of glimpses for the curious. [no, they’re not absolutely from the same version, some of the orthography is a little different, etc].

First, a sample, from the Oaths of Strasbourg:

Bizmi maheb dhi Il-Dhu, è bizmi il-boblu grêsan è nos ḥâṣ muḍai
à zexṛ dhi la-dha aqîta, infant Il-Dhu um-dhuért il-hafṛ ed il-bodṛ,
ya vù adh is-yâmṛ miu aḥu aqît, il-Gaṛlú, fi azoud ed in qôha gdua,
cou omi deift fi dresu is-il-hôtir à hon aḥu, asìg iles um-wicrut aḷtrohic.
È con Louthr ya in-gacoṛdré âdun nun qe fi miu vouḷtádi
hobri miu aḥu aqît, il-Gaṛlú, dàmun aḷqun is-inflisrut.

(I won’t bore you with details of orthography, but to give a general idea: unstressed -i and -a are both schwa (but the former palatalises some preceding consonants); plain -h- is sounded when initial and utterance-initial or stressed, but is otherwise a glottal stop or just a marker of vowels in hiatus; h-dot is a velar fricative probably softening to /h/ intervocalically; other dotted letters may be velarised and will lower or back surrounding vowels). Q is just /k/ before front vowels, but is otherwise uvular. Etc).

And, never seen before, a verbal paradigm. This is the second-declension verb ZUCṚ, “to shine”:

Present Indicative:

zuċ zuqí zuct zuqìu zuqidí zucn

Past Indicative:

zusi zusí zust zusìu zusidí zusrìn

Pluperfect Indicative:

zusra zusrá zusret zusṛìu zusṛadí zusṛàn

Future Indicative:

zuqiṛu zuqiṛí zuqiṛét zuqṛivìu zuqṛividí zuqṛivn

Present Subjunctive:

zuċa zuċá zuċt zuċìu zuċadí zuċn

Past Subjunctive:

zusisa zusisá zusist zusisìu zusizdí zusisn

Future Subjunctive:

zuser zusrí zusiret zusirìu zusridí zusiren


zuqiṛìa zuqiṛìa zuqiṛìat zuqiṛìu zuqiṛiadí zuqiṛìan

(in transitive verbs, the future and conditional remain separable. Thus, duaṛ-m-ìat (“he would give me”), duaṛ-t-ìat (“he would give you”), etc.