Traveling with Ursula Le Guin

changing planes coverJust finished Changing Planes, a recent collection of short stories by Ursula Le Guin.  The narrator tells us of her travels to 15 other planes, part travelogue, part anthropological essay, and part satire.  LeGuin often writes nontraditional stories, and this entire collection seems to defy standard definitions of a story, all of the stories lacking even a protagonist.  The stories typically start with a sweeping history of a world and then climax by zooming in on some small part of it, a specific person or group which is perhaps not what you would expect, or some cranny of the world that’s especially unique or astonishing.  Sometimes these closing revelations have surprising emotional power, especially considering how non-story-like they are. The best example is probably the “Flyers of Gy,” which was originally published in Scifiction and is still available in the online archives. Like Le Guin’s classic “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas,” it’s a great example of a story that breaks the rules and is still compelling and powerful.

As you can imagine, the stories often read more like world-building notes than they do like stories, but even so Le Guin has such skill that her world-building notes are more intriguing and entertaining than many an action-packed story. I’d recommend this collection if you’re already a fan of Le Guin and just want to soak in more of her fabulousness.  If you’re new to her, it’s not her best work and probably not the best place to start.  Her classic novel The Left Hand of Darkness or story collections like The Birthday of the World would be better introductions.

On a more personal note, at the start of the week I bent over to clean up a broken glass, and a pain shot through my back … a pinched nerve.  As a result, had to work from home most of the week, and typically routine activities such as putting on shoes and socks have been quite an adventure.  Physical therapy is helping, though, and, on the plus side, I’ve been getting a lot of reading done…

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