Changing planes by ursula le guin Review and Opinion


Changing Planes
Ursula Le Guin
Gollancz hardcover £8.99

review by Peter Schilling

So there you are, stuck at the airport. Your flight is delayed, the arrivals and departures boards read like Klingon to your migraine blurred eyesight, the incomprehensibly accented reverb-static PA system assaults your ears, the available fast-food simply is not fit to puke over, and now you're crushed by air passenger lounge boredom and wracked with pre-flight anxieties, while other people's unruly kids are screaming all around you.
   "Stop the world, I want to get off," you grumble, miserably.
   Okay, escapism fan - here's how...
   Ursula Le Guin's latest collection is a volume of cosily experimental writing, an adroitly constructed format that's part alternative worlds' handbook, part speculative xeno-biology reportage, part otherworldly travel journal, part sociological thought experiment, and wholly enjoyable throughout, despite a distinct lack of straightforward narratives or well-rounded characters. Le Guin's clever joke suggests that simply by employing a little sleight-of-mind, any stranded jet-lagged frequent flyer can be instantly transported to another realm, dimension, reality, or universe. You just quit this earthly plane for somewhere else. Free your imagination. Change planes.
   Here's cracking Swiftian satire filtered through the SF affect of Douglas Adams' popular Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy... Not to mention an inspirational cure for any genre writer's block, as this book's ideas-per-page quotient approaches the legal limit. Want a quiet, solitary drink, served with a smile? Try the happily silent Asonu plane, where the adult inhabitants are mute but graciously hospitable. Need to get some sleep but worried you'll wake up from (or to) nightmares? Perhaps the telepathic 'social dreamers' of the Frinthian plane could help explain or soothe your subconscious primal fears? Feel like reading but cannot find anything in any of those stuffy bookstores? Visit the Imperial Library of Mahigul, which is mostly outdoors in pleasant gardens or verdant parklands, where you will find plenty of fascinatingly rare quasi-historical adventure. Keen on exercise but prefer doing something constructive? Get yourself along to the plane of Qoq, where the temperate Aq stonemasons may let you to labour alongside them on their magnificently ambitious, yet mysterious and artfully non-functional, building project.
   There are usually comfortable hostels open to human visitors, yet, as with any sort of tourist destinations, there are places that are probably best avoided (the fiery Veksians have a violent nature, while the Great Joy Corporation ruthlessly exploit your seasonal holiday yearnings - fleecing your expense account in the process), so you will doubtless be pleased to learn that an official Interplanery Agency exists to oversee regular mental 'sliding' between the planes, and, furthermore (if you can find a copy locally) Rornan's trusted "Handy Guide" should prove an invaluable source of dos and don'ts.
   Bringing together wonderful educational fables, uplifting 'alien' community anecdotes, bleak horror stories, elaborate comedy sketches (the extended royal family of Hegn may just ignore you as a peasant), and thought provoking moral dilemmas, the 16 pieces in Changing Planes make it essential reading for any fans of witty imaginative fiction. This is a superbly entertaining cross-genre offering from one of the most intelligent and creative writers in the world... or, for that matter, anywhere else.

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