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Changing Planes: Stories Hardcover – July 1, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1st edition (July 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151009716
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151009718
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #974,028 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

At first, readers may find Ursula K. Le Guin's collection Changing Planes rather light, if not slight. However, as the reader continues through its sixteen stories (ten of which are original to this volume), the collection achieves considerable weight and power.

A punny conceit links the stories and provides the title of Changing Planes. Conceived before September 11, 2001, this conceit now, unfairly, looks odd. Trapped too many times in the misery of pre-terrorist airports, Sita Dulip discovered how to change planes: not airplanes, but planes of existence. Now the people of Sita's earth travel between alternate universes.

The stories in Changing Planes are strong expressions of Le Guin's considerable anthropological and psychological insight. However, these tales don't follow traditional plot structures or character-development methods. They read more like travelogues, or socio-anthropological articles on foreign nations or tribes. They explore exotic literary planes lying somewhere between Jorge Luis Borges's ficciones and Horace Miner's anthropological satire Body Ritual Among the Nacirema. However, unlike Miner's parody, Le Guin's wise tales are rarely satirical, though "The Royals of Hegn" sharply skewers the absurdity of royalty-worship, and "Great Joy" rightly attacks the boundless corporate criminality familiar to anyone who's read a newspaper since 2001.

One of America's greatest authors, Ursula K. Le Guin has received the National Book Award, the Newberry Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, five Nebula Awards, and five Hugo Awards. --Cynthia Ward

From 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.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

Changing Planes is a collection of related short stories by Ursula K. Le Guin.
R S Cobblestone
Their are no real characters to follow, almost no dialogue, and certainly no plot.
Ron Widelec
This collection of short sci-fi stories is a smart and creative cultural critique.
Sheldonian paradigm

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on July 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Ursula Le Guin is funny. I mean, she has a deep, cosmic sense of humor --- a good thing for a writer of speculative fiction. Her new book, CHANGING PLANES, has a near-universal complaint for a premise (the tedium of waiting in airports for delayed/canceled flights) and a play on words for the title (instead of changing to flying machines bound for Memphis or Boise, people transport themselves to different planes of existence). The key to "interplanary travel," the anonymous narrator explains, is the very awfulness of the airport experience: "a specific combination of tense misery, indigestion, and boredom." You might call CHANGING PLANES the ultimate in escape reading.
After this clever set-up, the book becomes a sort of glorified travelogue. Granted, the civilizations on the various planes aren't real --- but they could be, and Le Guin's gift for inventing plausible and detailed alternative societies is as brilliant as ever. In the tradition of her eminent anthropologist parents, she creates a succession of strange lands and customs that overturn our assumptions about what is standard, settled, and normal. It's cultural relativism as you've never seen it before: witty, sophisticated, and gloriously human.
"The Silence of the Asonu" shows us a civilization in which adults don't speak. In "The Nna Mmoy Language," words have ever-shifting meanings ("Learning Nna Mmoy is like learning to weave water," a puzzled outsider says) and "Feeling at Home With the Hennebet" challenges our notion of identity and the individual soul.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Louis N. Gruber VINE VOICE on September 24, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Waiting in airports can be interminable tedium, OR, a passage to other planes of existence, fascinating new worlds. In fact there is a whole world of such worlds, linked by a loose-knit Interplanary Agency, with Interplanary Hotels for travelers, and Rornan's Handy Planary Guide for guidance. Such is the premise for this collection of fantastic allegorical stories.
Strange stories they are, too, stories of people just a little different from ourselves, people whose foibles and fallacies are just a little different from our own. Stories of people wracked by pointless ethnic conflicts that go on for centuries; people who have ruined their worlds and destroyed their ecologies; worlds in which ancient cultures and traditions are fading away. There is a quality of wistful longing in these stories, longing for a simpler, saner world that has been lost or ruined. LeGuin's beautiful writing is complemented by the inventive, Escher-like drawings of Eric Beddows.
Author Ursula K. LeGuin is a master story-teller. These stories are easy to read, compelling, humorous, engaging, and hard to forget. They will get you to thinking and they will haunt you. I recommend this book highly. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By David Rasquinha on June 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Who among us has not experienced the misery of long waits at airports, trapped in a slow-moving time-warp between flights? Le Guin starts this quaint book with a horribly accurate word picture of what such a wait can be before segueing into a neat fantasy. Imagine if, just as we change airplanes on connecting flights, we could switch between different planes of existence (the pun is entirely intentional!) and discover alternate worlds? Sit back then for an enchanting ride as Le Guin lets her imagination create 16 wondrous alternate worlds which this book explores almost like a travelogue. Take the world of the Asonu, where children speak less and less as they mature, till as adults, their communication is entirely silent. The only sounds are those of nature and people going about their business - no conversation at all. (I could go for that!). Contrast that peaceful world with that of the Veksi who are always angry and quarrelsome, or the Hennbet who are either reincarnated beings or multiple personalities (or maybe both!). Even more imaginative are the long migratory cycles and courtship dances of the Ansarac (much to the disapproval of the efficient tech-specialists who try to colonize them) and the slow evolution of Mahigul. The book is not all light hearted fun however. Porridge on Islac looks at the dangers of genetic engineering. The land of Hegn, where everyone is part of the royal family and hence all attention is on the one family of commoners, neatly inverts the usual fascination for royalty, enabling Le Guin to gently skewer the monarchical concept. And Great Joy is a searing look at corporate behavioral ethics (or the lack of them). I must also credit the illustrator, Eric Beddows for some very apt images, including a couple that are startlingly reminiscent of the peerless M. C. Escher. A nice read, though very different from what one usually expects from Ursula Le Guin. (I wonder if she dreamed this one up at an airport!)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Murphy on May 1, 2009
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Just an opinion, but a book whose very title is a pun is off to a mighty good start. The premise of Changing Planes is that a traveler in a U.S. airport becomes so mightily disturbed by flight delay, food that could double as a petro-chemical, and airline attendants that could easily be outperformed by a Tickle Me Elmo doll, that she is able to access interstellar planes, making travel twixt the numerous civilizations in our universe quite accessible.

Daughter of a writer and an anthropology professor (Berkeley), LeGuin's earliest writings often involved imaginary civilizations. What does a writer whose career spans more than four decades, has garnered numerous awards, and gathered a significant band of devoted readers choose to write about in her mid-70's? Well, whatever she damn well pleases, is what. Which, with qualifications (more on this in just a bit), is much to our benefit.

The influence of LeGuin's anthropologist/writer genome is strong in Changing Planes. Some books, to be fit into a nutshell, would require a coconut. The kernel, but not all the richness, of Changing Planes can be fit into a sunflower seed: Think Gulliver's Travels on an intergalactic basis. In a series of short stories, each reflecting a trip to a different plane/planet, our neo-Gulliver (who goes by Sita Dulip)visits civilization after civilization, exploring whatever themes haunt the intelligent and agile mind of Ursula K. LeGuin. Genetic manipulation gone wild, clashes between cultures that differ in technological expertise, tales of the consequences of abandoning rituals that are tuned to the rhythms of nature, a planet turned into an extreme version of Disney's "Happiest Place on Earth": Le Guin simply lets fly, with largely intriguing results. My own favorite story?
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