I first saw a video of Ursula K. Le Guin talked about the failures of capitalism and I knew I had to read some of her work. I ordered this novel because sci-fi genres like this are definitely out of my comfort zone. I figured the 12 different stories would give me some brief tastes of the best of the best, and I was not disappointed at all. Since there are 12 different stories I will choose my 6 favorites and review those individually. I will also take more time on my absolute favorite story of them all. (warning: plot spoilers)
“April In Paris”: This was in my top three for favorite stories. I loved the narrative and the sense of identity, friendship and timelessness she played with. I loved the ending where the reader was forced to confront their communication of language, of livelihood, of culture. Loneliness, being alone, these are themes I have confronted especially in the past year. I find this story to be the kind in her genre which appeals to me; while it is fiction and mystical, in a way it feels extremely real to me. I loved this story.
“The Rule of Names”: This story was also a really great one. The concept of not knowing one’s true name, having others assign a name to you, identity, shapeshifting, etc are what occupy this narrative brightly and fluently. The character of Mr. Underhill is brilliant and the ending words and plot are exhilarating, revealing, and make you question all the clues you had read before without even realizing. Dragons aren’t really an interest that appeals to me, but if all dragon stories were like this I would read a lot more.
“The Good Trip”: This one was also in my top three. This story very much gave me Holden Caulfield vibes which is very appealing to me (I find him to be what I think my alter-ego would be). For those of us that don’t use substances to get high, myself particularly, I found this telling of the ways our mind can create these similar experiences. The motif of the lost wife and skiing were striking in the contrast of the narrative. It really set the perfect picture for this experience to take place, it was a beautiful image to imagine. That was another thing in this story that I absolutely loved: the complete and instantly complex imagery.
“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow”: This was a long and definitely difficult story for me to follow. But the themes she developed were so, so good. The concept of having a person who’s sole role is to feel empathy, have their demise be that hurt from something like a world, nature, the wind, that concept is liberating and completely unique: the symbol of human fear and human- caused fear. The concept of the fear being in everything, it all being one which then led to the feeling of being alone. I won’t even try to summarize the vast themes and events this story escorts, but man is it thought provoking.
“Direction of the Road”: In a way I viewed this story as a palate-cleanser to some of the other narratives in this novel and it was wonderful to read. To me, this shows the vastness and capability of her genre and style of writing. I loved how she adapted first person to tell the story of the tree, something she doesn’t do a lot of in her other stories. Accompanied by her ever present insane imagery this story is not only a beautiful break in the novel but a brilliant exploration of themes otherwise not confronted.
“The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”: This was my favorite story by far. In fact, I would say it was life changing. The only other short story that has hit this true to me in my life would be “How To Tell a True War Story” in The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. When I got to the child scene I literally started crying, I realized exactly the picture that was being painted. And technically speaking she writes this in a way that literally invites the reader in to confront these issues. She often proposes aspects of the book to the reader like through a setting, plot, or object, perhaps to make it even more personal to the reader’s own life. Capitalism, neoliberalism, exploitation, these are described so intensely but not named. I might take another time to just dive super deep into this story with quotes and deep analysis but this is just a short reaction to the impact this story has already had on me. The ending too, those that walk away, man that got to me. The idea she proposed that some people think the child would be too far gone, or that it is bad but still worth it… she forces us to confront these exact thoughts we have in our real life. The construct of the world too makes it so we can simplify all the other distractions and unethical practices and really just focus our one moral on this one conflict. It is insanely brilliant and life changing.