Pros: Marvelously descriptive, imaginative and varied work. Stands up to repeated reads.
The Bottom Line: An intriguing introduction to LeGuin or a great addition for those already hooked on her writing.
Seventeen tales perfect for pondering over on a blustery afternoon from the imaginative mind of Ursula K. LeGuin. For many years I thought the stunning world she offered us in the Earthsea Trilogy was such an enthralling and complete adventure that I honestly never even looked for anything else by this author. *Smacks forehead* What was I thinking? Once again, I am thankful that I am instantly drawn into any resale bookshop that I should happen to chance across and Fate herself smiled upon me yet again.
This is a bouquet of literary flowers lovingly gathered by the author from the fertile garden of her imagination and bound together by her often amusing notes preceding each flight of fancy. These unique tales are quite an interesting mix of soft science fiction and fantasy that most often leave the reader questioning the bounds of our reality. Allow me to share with you some of these choice works of art...
Somewhere in our future times have gotten hard for the inhabitants of Earth. Over-crowding, riots, famine and the like have brought about some interesting changes for us apparently. Space exploration has expanded with the need for new worlds to colonize or from which we can harvest precious resources long since depleted on Earth. Owen Pugh and Alvaro Martin are two officers hard at work for the Exploitation Corps on the desolate and unstable world of Libra.
They have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the additional crewmembers it will take to complete this mission and arent quite sure how to deal with the Ten-clone of the late John Chow that get dropped off. Five males and five females reproduced from superior genes, who work, think, live and breathe almost as one. Think of it, Owen murmurs to Martin, to be oneself ten times over. Nine seconds for every motion, nine ayes on every vote. It would be glorious. Yet it isnt too long before Owens opinion changes drastically.
The Chows were off at one of the mines working with their usual camaraderie and amazing efficiency when disaster strikes in the form of one of Libras more violent quakes. Owen and Martin arrive to late to save more than one of the clones, Kaph Chow, who they find unconcious. They are alarmed and puzzled by the horrible attacks that Kaph suffers from during the night, but just barely manage to nurse him through the night. Imagine the pity and horror that must have welled up in the hearts of these two friends when they soon realize that Kaph is literally suffering through the deaths of his nine brothers and sisters! It is the practical one-lunged, shortsighted Welshman Owen who understands Kaphs ordeal and manages to open the suicidal Kaphs mind and heart to life as an individual amidst the vast loneliness of humanity. When he bluntly desperately inquires of Owen how you can love another human being, Owen answers with heart-wrenching honesty, I dont know, its practice, partly. I dont know. Were each of us alone, to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?
I continue to come back to this tale in awe of its quiet forcefulness. It will certainly make you consider both the subjects of cloning and humanity itself in an entirely different light.
APRIL IN PARIS
This tale is one of the more light-hearted and once again Mrs. LeGuin manages to astound me with both her descriptive powers and endless whimsy. Its 1961 and Professor Barry Pennywither stares in loathing at his completed work (his theory concerning the mysterious disappearance of an obscure poet in the year 1463) in his once beloved city of Paris. He had scraped up his whole life to come back here and write this only to find that he is forty and too old for lonely garrets. Simultaneously Jehan Lenoir, a scholar in the late Mediaeval era, sits in the same garret, in a similar state of dissatisfaction and despair. In complete disgust and feeling more than a bit ridiculous, Jehan uses a spell from one of his tomes.
Professor Pennywither recovers from the shock of Jehans summoning spell first and quickly manages to coax Jehan from where he cowers in his corner. They hit it off at once, become the best of friends quickly come to the realization that their friendship is the only thing that would make their each of their lives a pleasure again. Barry stays and life is grand... for a while. Finally these fellows have found intellectual and scholarly satisfaction only to realize what they both have been missing their whole lives... love! It worked so well before that each decides to use the summoning spell in an attempt to find true love. I guess no matter what time you live in, its really true that there is nothing quite like April in Paris!
and finally VASTER THAN EMPIRES AND MORE SLOW
LeGuin once again explores space, human nature, and social boundaries in this intriguing short story. Here she quite amusingly illustrates the notion that anyone who would actually go out on one of these long space explorations, what with all the complications of extreme personalities in tight quarters and the 256 years that will have passed on Earth should they ever make it back...must be crazy! Actually the crew of this Extreme Survey mission wouldnt have gotten along too badly if it werent for Osden. Osden is the first fully cured case of Renders Syndrome- a variety of infantile autism which was really an innate supernormal empathic ability. Therefore, Osden is also the first ships Sensor. Having the ability to sense the emotions of any other living thing would be such a useful ability in Extreme Survey the higher-ups had figured.
Well they hadnt considered what being confined with a bunch of neurotics would be like for someone who is Constantly aware of every emotion in the room! Unfortunately, this continuous barrage makes Osden the most irritable, angry, offensive personality onboard. As he puts it, I agree that even autistic withdrawal might be preferable to the smog of cheap secondhand emotions with which you people surround me. It was not a pleasant voyage. It is only when they land upon a world where the only living things to be found on the surface is abundance of plant life that the crew begins to get some relief. Relief that is quickly replace with terror and paranoia. Ursula LeGuin pulls another stunning ending out of her hat that must be read to be believed!
These are just three of the astonishing tales that await you in this marvelous collection by a stellar author. A must have for lovers of fantasy, science fiction or merely tales of the bizarre.
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