Ursula Le Guin is a writer that I’ve always meant to read, and I have always felt guilty that I haven’t read her. For years I avoided her because I thought I didn’t like science fiction or fantasy, but I know now that this isn’t true. Then it was just a question of getting around to her, and figuring out what to read first, but I stumbled on that part, too. I was interested in trying her fantasy series, but was put off by the idea that the first book in that series, A Wizard of Earthsea, is considered by many to be a young adult novel. I’ve come up with equally stupid reasons for avoiding the science fiction series – the first books were written in the 1960’s and I was afraid they would be dated. What, exactly, is my problem? Maybe I’ve been afraid that I would try her books, and not like them, and then feel somehow inadequate that I didn’t like the work of this great mistress of fiction.
I finally managed to climb over these made-up obstacles. I found this book, Unlocking the Air, which is a collection of her recent short fiction. Thus, it isn’t dated, it’s not a YA novel, it’s not overly gadgety, like I always fear SF will be…. And it was really wonderful. She is truly a brilliant writer, and I am really sorry that I’ve waited this long. I feel kind of like I did last year when I discovered Alice Munro, like, what an idiot I’ve been for avoiding her for this long, for such stupid reasons.
The stories in this book vary widely in style, length, and subject matter, but each one was a little gem. Even the title story, the resolution of which was incomprehensible to me, was really wonderful and mysterious. The final story, The Poacher, is my favorite, and it was the only pure fantasy story in the book. Her writing, like Munro’s, like Margaret Atwood’s, is so effortlessly brilliant, it just fills you with awe.
Interestingly, I can’t find a review of this book online (except by booksellers) though there is plenty available about Le Guin herself, and her other books.
(Book 26, 2006)