SQ by Ursula Le Guin

The mention of Le Guin in my last post encouraged me to pull her off my shelf. And today being July 4th and all, I wanted a story that spoke of freedom in some fashion. SQ solves it for me in one story.

SQ or the Sanity Quotient is a test that the World Government has adopted. SQ was invented by Dr. Speakie. Here is how it works: you take the test, if you score less than 50 you are considered to posses mental health, but score over 50 and you will be relocated to a SQ Achievement Center for rehabilitation.

“Only testees can be free” (p. 72). The story goes so far as to say that only those that posses a mental health score of 50 or less can be said to truly appreciate the meaning of freedom. At one point in Le Guin’s story, more than half the word’s population resides in a SQ Achievement Center, and the other half staff it or provide support.

The story is told from the first person perspective of Mary Ann Smith, Dr. Speakie’s secretary, and the sanest person on the planet. She regularly scores between 10 and 14 on the SQ. However, with first person narrators, the question of reliability always lingers at the back of a reader’s mind. This works here. I trust Mary Ann Smith, but as the story progresses I being to question the reliability of the test because she is able to remain calm as the world as we knew it comes to a halt. She is calm and understates everything. Her narration forces the reader to take a side. However, there is more to this story than that, but you just need to read it to capture its full meaning.

So, Will you choose the calm rational world of the SQ? or Will you choose to accept that we are all a little nuts?

Le Guin, Ursula. “SQ.” The Compass Rose. New York: Bantam, 1983. p. 68 - 78

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