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.