Sita Dulip has missed her flight. But instead of listening to garbled announcements, she has found a method of bypassing the horrors of the airport. This method—changing planes—enables Sita to visit fifteen societies not found on Earth. She will encounter cultures where the babble of children fades over time into the silence of adults; where whole towns exist solely for holiday shopping; where personalities are ruled by rage; where genetic experiments produce less than desirable results...
“A fantastical travel guide, reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels, in which the narrator visits fifteen planes and describes the people, language, and customs with the eye of an anthropologist and the humor of a satirist.”—USA Today
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||4.20(w) x 6.70(h) x 0.70(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Date of Birth:October 21, 1929
Place of Birth:Berkeley, California
Education:B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952
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.,
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Table of Contents
Contents of Changing Planes
with a little description
The author acknowledges the readers' discomfort with air travel after 9-11.
Sita Dulip's Method
How Sita Dulip, sitting between flights in an awful airport, learned to travel to other planes of existence by focusing her mind in a certain way. The result: a more interesting kind of tourism.
The Porridge on Islac
On Islac, people are physically very different from one another: the aftermath of an unfortunate boom and crash in genetic engineering. Cautionary, humorous, with a touch of poetry (bearwigs are recombinant teddy bears that developed a taste for book glue and paper).
The Wisdom of the Asonu
The Asonu become silent as they mature: their total abstinence from language is unsettling.
Questioning the Hennebet
The Hennebet look just like us, but their minds (sort of Taoist) are totally alien. The traveler tries to but cannot communicate with them; a glimpse of their worldview makes her less sure about her own.
The Angry Veksi
A society torn by violence, which, however, has its human rules of conduct. (It's about human violence, of course.)
Social Dreaming of the Frin
A society in which dreaming is communal, not personal. Fascinating examination of the idea that some loss of self is necessary for selfhood.
The Royals of Hegn
Satire of the Brits and their absurd fascination with royalty. In Hegn, everyone is royal and comeletely dotty about the very few Commoners (who are really low-class).
Tales of Blood from Mahigul
Histories that are political allegories of man's inhumanity to man. All about war, tyranny, self-destruction. (Male-dominated, of course.)
An experiment to make children smarter by having them require less sleep, then no sleep at all, backfires: without sleep, people become mindless animals. (Another approach to the loss-of-self idea.)
The Nna Mmoy Language
A language so alien and complex, it contains an entire culture (its speakers live primitively). The traveler's vain attempts to use a translating machine.
This account of two cultures and of a migration to build a mysterious building, generation after generation, touches on the question, What is art? That is, the transcendental, nonutilitarian strivings of human beings. (Influence of Borges here).
The Gyran Hatred of Wings
The blessing and the curse (more curse than blessing) of growing wings and flying. The Gyr put up with-try to ignore-their affliction, going about their business as lawyers, accountants, etc. Yet the inspiring image of flight remains.
The Island of the Immortals
A horror story, worse than "Wake Island," and probably from Gulliver's Travels: some people, bitten by a fly, cannot die. Buried alive, after centuries, they turn to diamonds, still alive.
Confusion in Uñi
A virtual reality satire taken from the pages of Stanislaw Lem: the traveler becomes lost in a VR machine and passes from one ridiculous dream to another.
Big business and the travel industry produce a monstrous Disneylike theme park, exploiting the natives. Humorous (a village full of Santa Clauses that speak with an accent), but also acerbic, being close to home.
The Seasons of the Ansarac
A society that alternates between city life and country life, each having its joys and miseries. Commentary on the mortality of humanity: its sorrow alleviated by a sexual dance.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
Several years ago while my husband experienced a frustrating flight for a business trip, I acquired travel reading at a local bookstore. The stories in this collection are all different yet tied together through travel, uncovering history and custom, and commentary. Each story is self-contained enough in that the book can be set aside for years when other covers distract the reader. A few stories required a little more thought to follow than I could handle at bedtime (when I tend to read short stories), but I do not begrudge them. Le Guin has built planes I long to visit.
"Confusions of Uni" was my favorite story in this collection about visits to other planes. They are accessed from the blue plastic chairs bolted to the floors of airport terminals, and a two-day trip takes only minutes in our time.
This is a light read, but a good one. I highly recommend it for while traveling. Le Guin's writing here is consistent with what would be expected, but the darker themes she usually employs aren't as prominent in this novel. Indeed, the novel itself is hard to classify as such since it reads much more like a collection of short stories strung together by a narrator whose story doesn't seem to really be the point of the novel.The point of the novel, in fact, seems to be rather thinly veiled commentary on modern society. Society in general is fun to comment on, and she gets fairly wild with some of the alternate worlds she introduces to us in this book. The tone remains throughout one of an anthropological, somewhat distant discussion and study of these fictional cultures. For those who enjoy this style of exploring cultures, this will be a delight. For those who find this style displeasing, I recommending picking up a book by a different author entirely.As a whole, this is both an entertaining read, and a fun examination of how cultures work.
Interesting look at other worlds.
The framing device for these connected short stories from sci-fi/fantasy legend Ursula Leguin is that bored air travelers can slip out of airport lounges into alternative worlds or planes. So, while travelers are waiting to change planes, they can take little side trips by changing planes. The collection is one traveler¿s accounts of her visits to alternative planes. Reading Changing Places is like getting a series of letters from a traveling friend with newsy reports of her latest stops. But these are not your usual colorful locals and odd customs. The narrator meets people who are mostly human (and part plants and animals), entire populations who migrate north to breed and return south when their young are grown, people compelled to build stone structures that no one uses, people cursed with flight where flyers are considered deformed, and others¿each more outlandish than the last. The collection showcases LeGuin¿s world-building talent. Sixteen stories each present a unique world with one or more species of cool, outrageous, thought provoking, or weird sentient beings. It¿s good these various being we meet are interesting because not much actually happens in any of the stories. This gives the collection something of a contemplative mood, like a series of miniature studies in extraterrestrial sociology. So, for LeGuin¿s fans, this collection offers two things she does best: build worlds and examine their social structures. Few writers come up with so many and so varied new ways to imagine life. And few make it interesting enough you want to keep turning the pages to see what the next plane change will bring.
I love this book - its a collection of short stories written almost as an allegory or fable feel to them, each story is about a different plane, and that you can only get to these plains by waiting at airport terminals.
This is a collection of sketches of alternate universe worlds that LeGuin uses to say some fascinating things about the nature of... not humans necessarily, but beings. Each world is related to our own, but the people or the lifestyle differ in ways that make for some fascinating commentary on our own reality. What if we lived in a world without language? What if we shared our dreams with our neighbors every night? Each story has a different character and some are more whimsical than poignant, but the collection works. A thought-provoking but not too heavy read.
This is my first book by Ursula K. Le Guin, and I'm very pleased at this introduction. I'd found this in a bargain stack, so it's double the luck! Changing Planes is a collection of interconnected stories about interplanary travel. It is quite a fascinating concept, and sounds wonderful to experience! The planes and people in these pieces may be very different or similar to ours, but each has something to say about humans and our society. A witty and clever observation!
A neat and amusing collection of fantasy short stories. Quite light, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Wicked satire of American consumer and political culture. Le Guin at her humane best - a great read for the stress of air travel!
I feel as if Mine Turtle is going to appear right... *Something explodes.* ...now.
She walk in.