booksofafeather: A book and candlestick, with a feather lying across the pages. (Default)
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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....
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