Changing Planes: a Le Guin collection

I am a big fan of le Guin, but this is definitely not a favourite collection. It’s amusing, but it’s not excellent (for me, anyway).

The conceit behind the collection I did really like: the idea that the boredom of sitting in an airport could trigger a visit to – wait for it – a different plane, as in of existence. It seems to be that the body itself does the travelling, because people come back with presents and sometimes arrive back on their own plane upside down. This is quite a fun take on the idea of alternate realities, since I think the idea also is that all of these planes are variations on Earth.

Each story in this collection is set in, or describes, a different plane, and many of them have little actual plot. It’s more like a travelogue, which makes sense and perhaps accounts for my less-than-in-love reaction. Some of them are very clever; some of them are quite clearly making a specific point about contemporary ideas, technology, or issues, or are presenting a topsy-turvy view to challenge and confront the reader. So there’s a plane where almost everyone is royalty; one where after about the age of 7, hardly anyone speaks; and one where people share their neighbours’ dreams. There’s a plane where two major cities fought for decades over a couple of acres of riverside property, and one where developing wings is a disability to be pitied. On another plane a scientific experiment attempted to develop children with no need of sleep, raising questions of the necessity of consciousness and sleep for sentience, and another where violence is a way of life.

I guess I expect le Guin to always turn out serious, hard-hitting and difficult fiction, which this is – largely – not. It’s a bit unreasonable of me, but there you go; I don’t expect light-hearted from her! It is a delightful collection, though, and of course all of the stories are very well written and there are some totally delightful descriptions.

5 responses

  1. […] The Double Life of Alice Sheldon, Julie Phillips; Changing Planes, Ursula le Guin; Perchance to Dream, Lisa Mantchev; Twilight Robbery, Frances Hardinge; Chronicles […]

  2. I love Changing Planes. I first got it as an audiobook and I was hooked from the very first story (Porridge on Islac). It’s definitely Le Guin’s funniest set of stories by far, but still really thought-provoking stuff. The Silence of the Asonu cracked me up (with the disciple from Ohio), At Home with the Hennabec made my head hurt, and the Island of the Immortals made me ponder the consequences of eternal life. Great volume.

    1. I think I have trouble associating le Guin with funny! She always strikes me serious – well, based on these stories I have read. I know I’m doing her a disservice in thinking it! I do like it overall.

      1. I think someone referred to her as having a “deeply cosmic sense of humour”, especially in Changing Planes, which she turns from a silly pun into a short story collection. Her books and essays on literary criticism are often quite hilarious too. Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction is one of my favourites.

        1. Oh I like that! An apt description. WIll look out for that collection.

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