This is about as close to the ideal sci-fi as way to explore possible political systems as you get. There is very little plot involved, but the characters are interesting enough for that to be little of a problem. Of course, those that look for space adventure should, and probably do, look elsewhere.
The idea is that two planets co-exist as each others moons. The one is earthlike, abundant in nature and beauty, the other is barren, hositele and berely inhabitable. The latter, Anarres, is in fact a colony of anarchists that left the other planet 200 years ago and have created its syndicalist utopia without any state, any military nor other coercive institutions.
Since I romantically attracted to anarchism, I tried to read the book as propaganda at first. This fails, both communities (the other being a strict hierarchial capitalist society where women and workers are hardly considered human) are portrayed with enough detail to dispell any utopistic dreams. Rather than succumbing to political daydream LeGuin is more interested in picturing and commenting on various social phenomena that occur more or less regardless of politicial system. And there are numerous very acute observations, many from personal life, that for me makes up the most enjoyable part of the book.
Most presentations of the book decribe it as ”feminist” – although I think there is very little of that. The main character, a prominent physisist, is male – and he is very well written I think, and any arguments for the role of women are vary basic – here the difference between the two planets is to great for any really interesting contrasts to occur. There is an interesting idea the occurs a couple of times – namely that women, because of chilbearing, are more inclined to think in terms of possessions. For many that would be an anti-feminist idea, I guess.
I guess it is unfair to read this novel as I do, in the middle of a sci-fi binge, because though it takes place on another planet far into the future, it is more of a political novel in the classical utopian tradition. But is well worth reading nontheless, at least for anyone looking for alternatives to liberal democracy.