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Changing Planes

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Overview

The misery of waiting for a connecting flight at an airport leads to the accidental discovery of alighting on other planes--not airplanes but planes of existence. Ursula Le Guin's deadpan premise frames a series of travel accounts by the tourist-narrator who describes bizarre societies and cultures that sometimes mirror our own, and sometimes open puzzling doors into the alien.
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Changing Planes: Stories

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Overview

The misery of waiting for a connecting flight at an airport leads to the accidental discovery of alighting on other planes--not airplanes but planes of existence. Ursula Le Guin's deadpan premise frames a series of travel accounts by the tourist-narrator who describes bizarre societies and cultures that sometimes mirror our own, and sometimes open puzzling doors into the alien.
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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
A number of tales offer bracing variations on a theme that might be crudely summarized as ''It's the ecology, stupid.'' Even Le Guin's overtly cautionary tales have a delicacy that disarms resistance. Outstanding among these are the almost unbearably poignant ''Fliers of Gy'' and ''The Island of the Immortals,'' which break new ground in exploring the dangers of getting what you wish for. — Gerald Jonas
USA Today
Changing Planes is a fantastical travel guide, reminiscent of Gulliver's Travels, in which the narrator visits 15 planes and describes the people, language and customs with the eye of an anthropologist, and the humor of a satirist. — Denise Kersten
Publishers Weekly
When most people get stuck for hours in an airport, nothing much comes of it but boredom. When a writer like Le Guin (The Other Wind, etc.) has such an experience, however, the result may be a book of short stories. In "Sita Dulip's Method," a bored traveler, a friend of the narrator, discovers that if she sits on her uncomfortable airport chair in just the right way and thinks just the right thoughts, she can change planes-not airplanes, mind you, but planes of existence. Each of the linked stories that follows recounts a trip by the narrator or someone of her acquaintance to a different plane. "The Silence of the Asonu," for example, describes a world where the people speak only half a dozen words in any given year, and "The Ire of the Veksi" recounts a visit to a plane where virtually all the natives are angry virtually all of the time. The majority of these stories are allegorical to some degree. Most have a satiric edge, as in "Great Joy," for example which features an entire world devoted to the commercial side of various holidays, with lots of great shopping in quaint little towns like No l City, O Little Town and Yuleville. Many of the tales echo, or take issue with, other works of fantastic fiction. Swift's Gulliver's Travels is clearly an influence, and one story, "Wake Island," can be seen as a re-examination of the basic premise of Nancy Kress's classic superman tale, "Beggars in Spain." This is a fairly minor effort, but like everything from Le Guin's pen, a delight. B&w illus. by Eric Beddows. 3-city author tour. (July) Forecast: Published as straight literary fiction, this has many subtle references to fantasy and science fiction, and might attract more browsers if shelved with Le Guin's SF works. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In this collection of 16 stories (six of which have appeared in magazines or on web sites), speculative fiction master Le Guin (Tales from Earthsea) explores assumptions about our own world. Presented as travelers' tales about different planets (or "planes of existence"), the stories fit well together as a meditation on culture and what it means to be human. Many illustrate the absurdities of human nature-"Great Joy," for instance, looks at the ultimate commercialization of Christmas. Others are darker in tone; several, including "Porridge on Islac" and "Wake Island," explore our technological hubris. Le Guin's writing is deceptively simple, but she's working with deep themes, including the prevalence of violence, the tension between science and nature, and how we need to fight fear and sometimes risk ourselves in order to feel truly alive. A humorous, imaginative, and thoughtful collection; Escher-like illustrations by Eric Beddows contribute to its charm. Highly recommended for literary short story and sf collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/03.]-Devon Thomas, Hass MS&L, Ann Arbor, MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The inconveniences and exasperations of airplane travel (described in a bilious prefatory Author’s Note) are the starting-point for a sparkling collection of 16 linked stories. This latest from Le Guin consists of delineations of different "planes" of reality visited by passengers who opt for "interplanary travel." In "The Royals of Hegn," for example, a race of blue-blooded epicureans indulges a paparazzi-like fascination with the scandalous misdeeds of oversexed "commoners." Conversely, in "Feeling at Home with the Hennebet," a traveler encounters a placid people who exist quite happily without convictions of any kind. "The Silence of the Asonu" introduces a people who "abstain" from speaking. Elsewhere, Le Guin (The Birthday of the World, 2002, etc.) doesn’t refrain from sardonic political commentary, but gives it several ingenious spins. "Seasons of the Ansarac" depicts people who relive their lives in seasonal migrations, to the annoyance of their briskly efficient colonizers. In "Porridge on Islac," genetic engineering has obliterated distinctions among human, animal, and plant life; and in the chilling "Wake Island," scientific efforts to create "supersmarts" unencumbered by the need for sleep instead produces generations of amoral monsters. A peaceful society has paradoxically evolved from a lengthy history of territorialism, tyranny, and genocide (accomplished with the ultimate weapon of an uncontrollable "Black Dog") in "Woeful Tales from Mahigul." And Le Guin’s mythmaking power is brilliantly displayed in a story of winged people whose mutant birthright is both curse and liberation ("The Fliers of Gy"). One wishes she had avoided some all- too-easy targets (e.g., on "Hollo-Een! Island . . . [children are] dressed as witches, ghosts, space aliens, and Ronald Reagan"). But her stories’ unconventional premises are more often than not shaped into entrancing, provocative narratives. Inventive and highly entertaining tales. Le Guin’s touch is as magical as ever. Agent: Linn Prentiss/Virginia Kidd Agency
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR URSULA K. LE GUIN

"{Le Guin] is a splendid short story writer. [Her] fiction, like Borges's, finds its life in the interstices between the borders of speculative fiction and realism."—San Francisco Chronicle Book Review

"The people, places and emotions in Le Guin's stories are typically strange, but her careful, sudden turns toward the familiar. . . seem like revelations of what's really important or fascinating about human life."—Salon

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780441012244
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 7/26/2005
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 357,367
  • Product dimensions: 4.22 (w) x 6.82 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Ursula K.  Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929. Among her honors are a National Book Award, five Hugo and five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, and the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
www.ursulakleguin.com

Biography

Speculative fiction, magic realism, "slipstream" fiction -- all these terms could apply to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin. Unfortunately, none was in common use when she started writing in the early 1960s. As a young writer, Le Guin weathered seven years of rejections from editors who praised her novels' elegant prose but were puzzled by their content. At a time when the only literary fiction was realistic fiction, as Le Guin later told an interviewer for The Register-Guard in Portland, Oregon, "There just wasn't a pigeonhole for what I write."

At long last, two of her stories were accepted for publication, one at a literary journal and one at a science-fiction magazine. The literary journal paid her in copies of the journal; the science-fiction magazine paid $30. She told The Register-Guard, "I thought: 'Oooohhh! They'll call what I write science fiction, will they? And they'll pay me for it? Well, here we go!' "

Le Guin continued to write and publish stories, but her breakthrough success came with the publication of The Left Hand of Darkness in 1969. The novel, which tells of a human ambassador's encounters with the gender-changing inhabitants of a distant planet, was unusual for science fiction in that it owed more to anthropology and sociology than to the hard sciences of physics or biology. The book was lauded for its intellectual and psychological depth, as well as for its fascinating premise. "What got to me was the quality of the story-telling," wrote Frank Herbert, the author of Dune. "She's taken the mythology, psychology -- the entire creative surround -- and woven it into a jewel of a story."

Since then, Le Guin has published many novels, several volumes of short stories, and numerous poems, essays, translations, and children's books. She's won an arm's-length list of awards, including both the Hugo and Nebula Awards for The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, and a National Book Award for The Farthest Shore. Over the years, she has created and sustained two fictional universes, populating each with dozens of characters and stories. The first universe, Ekumen, more or less fits into the science-fiction mode, with its aliens and interplanetary travel; the second, Earthsea, is a fantasy world, complete with wizards and dragons. As Margaret Atwood wrote in The New York Review of Books, "Either one would have been sufficient to establish Le Guin's reputation as a mistress of its genre; both together make one suspect that the writer has the benefit of arcane drugs or creative double-jointedness or ambidexterity."

More impressive still is the way Le Guin's books have garnered such tremendous crossover appeal. Unlike many writers of science fiction, she is regularly reviewed in mainstream publications, where her work has been praised by the likes of John Updike and Harold Bloom. But then, Le Guin has never fit comfortably into a single genre. As she said in a Science Fiction Weekly interview, "I know that I'm always called 'the sci-fi writer.' Everybody wants to stick me into that one box, while I really live in several boxes. It's probably hurt the sales of my realistic books like Searoad, because it tended to get stuck into science fiction, where browsing readers that didn't read science fiction would never see it."

Le Guin has also published a translation of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, a book that has influenced her life and writing since she was a teenager; she has translated fiction by Angelica Gorodischer and a volume of poems by Gabriela Mistral; and, perhaps most gratifyingly for her fans, she has returned to the imaginary realm of Earthsea. Tehanu, which appeared in 1990, was subtitled "The Last Book of Earthsea," but Le Guin found she had more to tell, and she continued with Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind. "I thought after 'Tehanu' the story was finished, but I was wrong," she told Salon interviewer Faith L. Justice. "I've learned never to say 'never.' "

Good To Know

The "K" in Ursula K. Le Guin stands for Le Guin's maiden name, Kroeber. Her father was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber; her mother, the writer Theodora Kroeber, is best known for the biography Ishi in Two Worlds.

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    1. Hometown:
      Portland, Oregon
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 21, 1929
    2. Place of Birth:
      Berkeley, California
    1. Education:
      B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

SITA DULIP'S METHOD

THE RANGE OF THE AIRPLANE-a few thousand miles, the other side of the world, coconut palms, glaciers, the poles, the Poles, a lama, a llama, etc.-is pitifully limited compared to the vast extent and variety of experience provided, to those who know how to use it, by the airport.

Airplanes are cramped, jammed, hectic, noisy, germy, alarming, and boring, and they serve unusually nasty food at utterly unreasonable intervals. Airports, though larger, share the crowding, vile air, noise, and relentless tension, while their food is often even nastier, consisting entirely of fried lumps of something; and the places one has to eat it in are suicidally depressing. On the airplane, everyone is locked into a seat with a belt and can move only during very short periods when they are allowed to stand in line waiting to empty their bladders until, just before they reach the toilet cubicle, a nagging loudspeaker harries them back to belted immobility. In the airport, luggage-laden people rush hither and yon through endless corridors, like souls to each of whom the devil has furnished a different, inaccurate map of the escape route from hell. These rushing people are watched by people who sit in plastic seats bolted to the floor and who might just as well be bolted to the seats. So far, then, the airport and the airplane are equal, in the way that the bottom of one septic tank is equal, all in all, to the bottom of the next septic tank.

If both you and your plane are on time, the airport is merely a diffuse, short, miserable prelude to the intense, long, miserable plane trip. But what if there's five hours between your arrival and your connecting flight, or your plane is late arriving and you've missed your connection, or the connecting flight is late, or the staff of another airline are striking for a wage-benefit package and the government has not yet ordered out the National Guard to control this threat to international capitalism so your airline staff is trying to handle twice as many people as usual, or there are tornadoes or thunderstorms or blizzards or little important bits of the plane missing or any of the thousand other reasons (never under any circumstances the fault of the airlines, and rarely explained at the time) why those who go places on airplanes sit and sit and sit and sit in airports, not going anywhere?

In this, probably its true aspect, the airport is not a prelude to travel, not a place of transition: it is a stop. A blockage. A constipation. The airport is where you can't go anywhere else. A nonplace in which time does not pass and there is no hope of any meaningful existence. A terminus: the end. The airport offers nothing to any human being except access to the interval between planes.

It was Sita Dulip of Cincinnati who first realised this, and so discovered the interplanar technique most of us now use.

Her connecting flight from Chicago to Denver had been delayed by some unspeakable, or at any rate untold, malfunction of the airplane. It was listed as departing at 1:10, two hours late. At 1:55, it was listed as departing at 3:00. It was then taken off the departures list. There was no one at the gate to answer questions. The lines at the desks were eight miles long, only slightly shorter than the lines at the toilets. Sita Dulip had eaten a nasty lunch standing up at a dirty plastic counter, since the few tables were all occupied by wretched, whimpering children with savagely punitive parents, or by huge, hairy youths wearing shorts, tank tops, and rubber thongs. She had long ago read the editorials in the local newspaper, which advocated using the education budget to build more prisons and applauded the recent tax break for citizens whose income surpassed that of Rumania. The airport bookstores did not sell books, only bestsellers, which Sita Dulip cannot read without risking a severe systemic reaction. She had been sitting for over an hour on a blue plastic chair with metal tubes for legs bolted to the floor in a row of people sitting in blue plastic chairs with metal tubes for legs bolted to the floor facing a row of people sitting in blue plastic chairs with metal tubes for legs bolted to the floor, when (as she later said), "It came to me."

She had discovered that, by a mere kind of twist and a slipping bend, easier to do than to describe, she could go anywhere-be anywhere-because she was already between planes.

She found herself in Strupsirts, that easily accessible and picturesque though somewhat three-dimensional region of waterspouts and volcanoes, still a favorite with beginning interplanary travelers. In her inexperience she was nervous about missing her flight and stayed only an hour or two before returning to the airport. She saw at once that, on this plane, her absence had taken practically no time at all.

Delighted, she slipped off again and found herself in Djeyo. She spent two nights at a small hotel run by the Interplanary Agency, with a balcony overlooking the amber Sea of Somue. She went for long walks on the beach, swam in the chill, buoyant, golden water-"like swimming in brandy and soda," she said-and got acquainted with some pleasant visitors from other planes. The small and inoffensive natives of Djeyo, who take no interest in anyone else and never come down to the ground, squatted high in the crowns of the alm-palms, bargaining, gossiping, and singing soft, quick love songs to one another. When she reluctantly returned to the airport to check up, nine or ten minutes had passed. Her flight was soon called.

She flew to Denver to her younger sister's wedding. On the flight home she missed her connection at Chicago and spent a week on Choom, where she has often returned since. Her job with an advertising agency involves a good deal of air travel, and by now she speaks Choomwot like a native.

Sita taught several friends, of whom I am happy to be one, how to change planes. And so the technique, the method, has gradually spread out from Cincinnati. Others on our plane may well have discovered it for themselves, since it appears that a good many people now practice it, not always intentionally. One meets them here and there.

While staying with the Asonu I met a man from the Candensian plane, which is very much like ours, only more of it consists of Toronto. He told me that in order to change planes all a Candensian has to do is eat two dill pickles, tighten his belt, sit upright in a hard chair with his back not touching the back, and breathe ten times a minute for about ten minutes. This is enviably easy, compared to our technique. We (I mean people from the plane I occupy when not traveling) seem unable to change planes except at airports.

The Interplanary Agency long ago established that a specific combination of tense misery, indigestion, and boredom is the essential facilitator of interplanary travel; but most people, from most planes, don't have to suffer the way we do.

The following reports and descriptions of other planes, given me by friends or written from notes I made on my own excursions and in libraries of various kinds, may induce the reader to try interplanary travel; or if not, they may at least help to pass an hour in an airport.

Copyright © 2003 by Ursula K. Le Guin
Illustrations copyright © 2003 by Eric Beddows

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system,
without permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Table of Contents

Author's Note
Sita Dulip's Method 1
Porridge on Islac 7
The Silence of the Asonu 19
Feeling at Home with the Hennebet 30
The Ire of the Veksi 41
Seasons of the Ansarac 52
Social Dreaming of the Frin 76
The Royals of Hegn 89
Woeful Tales from Mahigul 106
Great Joy 133
Wake Island 151
The Nna Mmoy Language 166
The Building 181
The Fliers of Gy 195
The Island of the Immortals 214
Confusions of Uni 230
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 7 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2014

    Ariana

    I feel as if Mine Turtle is going to appear right... *Something explodes.* ...now.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2014

    Aaya

    She walk in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2014

    117

    Hi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2014

    Ashoka and pika

    Pika runs around ashoka says hi

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2014

    Red

    Hello?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 24, 2005

    Another Le Guin Masterpiece

    I love the book. I haven't put it down for 2 days. Her satirical touch to the pen has once again created a masterpiece that can be read repeatedly without boredom. I found myself laughing in one chapter and crying in the next. I couldn't believe that I would find a book so engaging until this one. I recommend it whole-heartedly.

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    Posted October 26, 2008

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