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Short review: An anthology of stories that are presented as cultural perspectives of other worlds... in a very clever and funny way that doesn't stop the stories feeling serious at all. All the stories are fascinating and powerful, and the story that I think most winged people will like (The Fliers of Gy) has a mix of negative and positive treatment of bird people, but it uses that to tell a good message. Really recommended!

Writing: The writing is really fantastic. It has a bit of humour without being over the top at all and the stories feel very serious and real. You really feel you are reading reports from other worlds and they're very alien.

From a winged person's perspective...: There are two stories in this book that I think winged people will like especially: Seasons of the Ansarac, which is about a migrating bird-people that don't have wings but are based on real bird behaviour, and The Fliers of Gy, which is about winged and feathered fliers with a full culture based on having feathers. Both stories, like all the other stories in the book are very evoking, and the culture of the bird people in both these stories feels very real. The message of The Fliers of Gy will be very powerful to bird people I think... even though there's a lot of pain to go through to get to the good part, the message is rewarding.

Trigger warnings: Talk of language used to insult the people of Gy. Negative feelings towards the winged people and cruel torture treatment of them with mocking. Mention of cutting off, binding or injuring the wings, but it's written very clearly that to do anything to their wings will kill them literally. Treatment of wings as deformed or a handicap.

More thoughts...: For this review, I want to do something a little different: I want to philosophically discuss this story, because I think it's very interesting. If you just want to know whether you should read this, I definitely think you should if you can handle the cruelty: I would give it five out of five, for the bird people stories and the others as well. But I also want to talk about the message of The Fliers of Gy. This will spoil the story, so, please don't read this unless you finished the story or you don't mind.

A little later in the story, we hear about the fliers of Gy from two people: a flier, and a non-flier. The story spends a lot of time saying that flying is something that many people look down on, or they see it as unfortunate, because of a problem with the wings of fliers: suddenly, they can give way at any time while they fly, and it's sure to be either death or a long suffering after that, dragging around their crippled wings. But, when we hear the flier's side of the story, somehow, this becomes very powerful. He tells in a passionate way that any winged person will understand how he absolutely needed to fly. He talks about how once you are flying, there's nothing else. Fliers don't have children or do anything on the ground. The non-fliers, who are described as very dull, mock them and think they've become like animals in mind. But, they are experiencing a pleasure no one else experiences. Flying becomes their life because it is so beautiful.

As Ardiadia, the flyer interviewed in the story, says:

Flying is complete. It's enough. I don't know if you can understand. ...It takes everything to fly. Everything you are, everything you have. And so if you go down, you go down whole.

Suddenly, the part of the story where flying is death becomes very powerful during his interview. He knows flying isn't safe. He imagines that some people want to be safe, but he doesn't understand it. When you are a flier, you accept that death comes with flying.

And at the end of the story, when they talk to the non-flier... who is negative towards the fliers all along... at the very end, they ask him, but, don't you want to fly? And he says, "Doesn't everyone?"

And so I think the story is a picture in a way of "the choice". The choice between flying and not flying. The choice between magic and a normal life. The choice between taking the risk, knowing it could destroy you, and staying safe. It's said very literally. Fliers don't understand being safe. It's not important to them. They have something better than safety: a full life with experiences others just dream of. It's very similar to any magic path. Doing magic means being on the outside, not being safe. But you do it because you need that world more than you need to be safe. As someone who always says, "careful is not in my dictionary"... who has a reverence of death... who always has hands covered with scars... and also, as a flying person... this feels very close to my heart.

There are many stories about "the choice", but not many that show why someone would be really okay with not being safe. Or, even think safety is not that important.

Another thing... I was going to say in the rest of this review, don't be put off by the back of the book. It has a quote by Margaret Atwood saying "All Le Guin's stories are... metaphors for the one human story; all her fantastic planets are this one." If you are the kind of non-human who doesn't like every story about non-humans being made into metaphors for human things, this might put you off. But really, that's a wrong quote. The stories in this book aren't like that. Really, the societies in these stories are like nothing you've seen before. They are just showing strange cultures of other worlds, that feel very alien.

But, there is one story that does say a lot about people in this world... The Flyers of Gy. The story feels like a metaphor for "the choice" I mentioned. But, it is also very literal because it describes strongly the need of winged people to fly. That's interesting if you think about it... in a book that is very full of aliens, the flying people are just the same ones we always see, in many ways. It's painful growing their wings, a time of fever and sudden changing in teenage years... they're full of the longing... flying is the most precious thing in the world for them. We can't accuse Ursula Le Guin of not having any imagination, seeing the rest of the book. So... why are they so similar? Does this maybe say that flying is something that runs deeper in the universe than many other fantasies... that we all know in our hearts what it is to be a flying person? It's something to think about....

Discussing the Fliers of Gy

Date: 2011-04-04 04:10 pm (UTC)
ext_4968: A dragon labeled with the name Orion Sandstorrm (sig)
From: [identity profile]
I don’t have a copy of Changing Planes on hand, but I remember the exchange at the end of “The Fliers of Gy” going differently. The question asked was not “Don’t you want to fly?” but rather “Do you dream of flying?” His answer—“Doesn’t everyone?”—is thrilling because it applies not only to the people in the story, but to all people. Wanting and dreaming aren’t the same thing. Of course we all dream of flying… or any kind of adventure that involves a lot of commitment and risk. We all had plans for what we wanted to be when we grew up. When we begin to understand how dangerous and difficult it would really be, then we talk ourselves out of it. We lower our expectations. We think we don’t want those high ideals anymore… but we still dream about them.
Initially, I was perplexed by the fliers’ refusal to wear parachutes to guard against the wing failure that plagues their kind. A while after I read the story, I went to a circus. The acrobats on the high wire and trapeze didn’t use safety nets, and sometimes they didn’t use safety lines, either. It seemed foolish. It wouldn’t change the act much to use a net, so why didn’t they? Were they just trying to make it more exciting? Then I understood that it was the same as with the fliers of Gy: it’s all or nothing.
Synchronicities have been remarkable for me, lately; sometimes I wonder about a question, and then by chance I stumble across some answers for it that other people have written. This past week, I’ve been wondering about the choice between adventure and blending in. I’ve seen fables that argue for both. I’m at an age where I’m starting to feel really pressured to choose the one or the other.
The adventure, the journey, that’s what the Hero and the Fool embark upon. They can’t stay where they are and who they are, because for them, that would be a failing strategy. They’ll travel to new places, but they’ll stick out as different. They could get destroyed for not matching the rest, or they could get destroyed because they’re unfamiliar with the territory. They’ll change and grow. In real life, some examples of the adventure include going through school (especially higher education), becoming famous and/or successful in one’s career, changing one’s appearance or gender presentation, being an artist, a prophet, or expressing one’s self in idiosyncratic ways.
Striving mostly to blend in with the rest, trying to be satisfied with where you are and who you are, staying home, knowing one’s place, and (in some cases) being who you were raised and conditioned to be… it is safer than the adventure, but one can’t fool one’s self into believing that it’s completely safe. Sticking out of a crowd means one is almost certain to get picked on, but blending in doesn’t guarantee that one won’t get picked on. It’s rarely possible to match one’s peers identically, anyhow, as one will have to compete with the Joneses. Both paths have their own kinds of challenges and difficulties.
Although, as you point out, Le Guin’s stories aren’t just fables and allegories for the human condition. There’s an essay that Le Guin put online somewhere, where she explained some of her views about fables and allegories, and how she doesn’t want her stories to be seen only as allegories: “A message about messages.” “My fiction ... is often reviewed as if it existed in order to deliver a useful little sermon … The notion that a story has a message assumes that it can be reduced to a few abstract words … Is the story a box to hide an idea in, a fancy dress to make a naked idea look pretty, a candy coating to make a bitter idea easier to swallow?”
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