Monday, April 16, 2007

Changing Planes

Judging a book by its foreword isn't as big as a sin as judging it by its cover, but it does come close.

I ignored Ursula Leguin's Changing Planes on bookshelves for quite a while before stumbling onto a library copy.
I had somehow gained an initial impression that the whole book was about air travel, but it isn't at all (well except for one part which is delightful)
What it actually is, is a woven-together set of short tales, each one describing a society on another "plane" that is just a little bit different from ours.

The first one - Porridge on Islac - is a gently dystopic view of genetic engineering gone horribly wrong.

My personal favourites are the two language ones (not least because I'm struggling at the moment with a language story myself):
The Silence of the Asonu - a few words on a society whose individuals literally never say a word and
The Nna Mmoy Language - a tale of a people whose mono-syllabary language is completely (and hence unintelligibly) contextual.

The third-last tale - The Flyers of Gy - whose bootlegged copy I'd read a couple of years ago seems appropriate for an end to a book about planes and planes. It describes a society of bird-like people, some of whom can actually fly, though for a change, not all of them want to. Its a completely different take of course from the normal fantastic/exultory approach to this (for a brilliant execution read Lisa Tuttle's Windhaven)

And browsing the Wikipedia entry for the book I stumble onto a new word - ethnography
Ethnographic it is then - 15 planes in 200 pages - not a bad deal for an evening's virtual travelling.


Blogger Space Bar said...

ah...another le guin fan! one of my favourites was social dreaming of the frin. she'd done flying people before - seasons of the ansarrac being one, and the child's father in always coming home.

seasons is available online somewhere...matrix or some such site; and social always coming home is much harder to find!

10:57 PM  

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