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Changing Planes    by Ursula K. Le Guin order for
Changing Planes
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Order:  USA  Can
Harcourt, 2003 (2003)
* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is an illustrated collection of sixteen satirical short stories, several of which were previously published in Orion, Amazing Stories etc.. In them the author speculates about alternate universes 'between planes' - a nice play on the fact that these are places in other planes of existence, visited while the author was waiting between one flight and the next. The first story, Sita Dulip's Method, includes a wonderful diatribe on airports - 'A blockage. A constipation' (a must read for air travelers) - that introduces Sita Dulip's discovery of interplanary travel. Apparently it is facilitated by 'a specific combination of tense misery, indigestion, and boredom'.

Porridge on Islac shows a society in which enthusiastic amateur genetics experimentation has led to chaotic misery and a 'woman who is maize'. In The Silence of the Asonu, we try to comprehend a people who do not speak after childhood. The traveler begins by Feeling at Home with the Hennebet, until subtle differences bubble to the surface. The Ire of the Veksi shows a society whose irritability 'makes it hard for them to live together, but their need for social stimulation and conflict makes it impossible for them to live apart.' The Seasons of the Anharac tells of a migrating people who live in close proximity and then apart as long seasons pass - it works well for them.

In Social Dreaming of the Frin, Le Guin shows us the impact of pollution from outside on a society who share their dreams. The Royals of Hegn are fascinated by the uniqueness of the few commoners in a world where royalty is common. Then the traveler visits a great library to read The Woeful Tales of Mahigul (including one on ethnic cleansing). She tells us that she thinks 'of heaven as something very like a library.' This library sounds magical indeed, with outdoor reading in lovely surroundings, using a 'legemat' that plugs into scattered seats. Great Joy is about a corporation that runs a world of holiday islands - such as Christmas, Easter and Fourth - the ultimate for shoppers!

In Wake Island we find people who never sleep and learn that 'They live in pure fact. But they can't live in truth, because the way to truth, says the philosopher, is through lies and dreams.' The Nna Mmoy Language is impermeable to travelers because 'We talk snake ...They talk starfish.' The Building tells of a species that has almost destroyed itself and a co-species on its world, and of the artefact created by the latter for the former. Why? The Fliers of Gy, a minority in a world of feathered people, suffer from 'wing failure'. The Island of the Immortals holds a sad secret of the perils of eternal life. And the traveler encounters a changeable environment in Confusions of Uni.

Though these stories are not Le Guin's very best, even her lesser offerings are well worth the read, given this author's always impressive ability to imagine the alien with empathy ... and the airport commentary is hilarious.

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