Hello there, Story366! After 341 days of relative health, I’m pretty sick today. I had a cold on Sunday, which seemed to go away by six or seven at night, I was okay on Monday and yesterday, and then woke up with nastiness abound today. Sucks, as it was the last day of classes and I was trying to give that moving last-day speech, rally the troops as they head into finals, encourage them to read and write forever, my evaluations waiting on the desk for them to fill out. Perhaps I garnered their sympathy vote as my voice evaporated mid-soliloquy. Perhaps not. But I’m hopped up on generic Dayquil right now, it’s seventy-four minutes until midnight, and I’m not sure where my fingers are.
With everyone feeling sorry for the sick widdle baby, I should get to today’s post. I had some clear moments to read from Ursula K. Le Guin‘s collection of stories, Changing Planes, out from Harcourt, a book that I got at AWP some years ago after hearing Le Guin read—she even signed it after! I haven’t read a whole lot of her work, but have been a fan of everything I’ve read, including “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas,” her most famous and anthologized story. It’s probably the story that I’ve quoted the most in my life in regards to life situations, as its theme, its revelation, involves the cost of perfect happiness: A small, innocent child suffering in exchange for everyone’s paradise. Whenever, in my life, I’ve come across a person making a huge sacrifice, I’ve referred to the Omelas story, as it teaches us about guilt, about responsibility, about the price of our luxuries. It seems like I should have read more of Le Guin’s work, given how much I’ve liked it and talk about this particular story, but hey, here we are today.
Changing Planes is a collection of stories, but to talk about it, I really have to explain its concept as a whole. The story I’m discussing today, “Sita Dulip’s Method,” is the first story in the collection, a story that serves as an prologue, of sorts, setting up all the rest of the stories. What happens in Sita Dulip’s Method” is this: A narrator spends a few pages discussing the horrors of air travel, how incredibly inconvenient and uncomfortable it is, from the long lines, to the cramped spaces, to the insidious food. Le Guin, or at least this narrator, does not like flying, and when I think about it, neither do I. But, since I can’t make myself go thousands of miles in a few hours without the help of the airline system, I, like most people, succumb. The narrator makes a case, though: Flying is awful.
Le Guin takes us a down an even more interesting path when her narrator starts philosophizing about airports and airplanes being negligible spaces, as they’re not really anywhere. You’re in a strange, confined space when you’re in an airport, a place that’s nowhere, and when you’re on a plane, you’re up in the sky, between destinations, almost like limbo (though she never uses the term “limbo.”). It is this nether region, this void, that Le Guin dubs “between planes.” Here, she’s taking advantage of the double meaning of “plane,” the literal kind and the plane of existence-type plane, real Dr. Strange stuff, and then she applies the pun to the book’s title as well. Furthermore, it is when an individual is between planes that they can transport themselves somewhere else. Sita Dulip, the woman in the story’s title, is a revolutionary who has discovered that, “… by a mere kind of twist and slipping bend, easier to do than describe, she could go anywhere—be anywhere—because she was already between planes.”
Now, I don’t quote stories word-for-word much on this blog, for various reasons, but I thought it appropriate to quote this line as it’s crucial to this story, to this collection. It, more or less, sets everything in motion. From that line, which serves as the complete explanation for the book’s entire conceit, we see Sita travel from her planes, from her gates, from anywhere air travel-related to magical realms. She goes to a place called Djeyo, where she stays at a hotel for a couple of nights. When her trip to Djeyo is done, she goes back to the airport to find that only ten minutes has passed and she gets on a plane to Denver.
From there, Sita teaches a lot of her friends how to change planes, including the narrator of this story and most of the stories that follow. The pieces that I read after “Sita Dulip’s Method” take this narrator, as well as others, on journeys to other planets and other universes. Each story in the book is a different trip to a different place, where its narrator meets new people, has new adventures, and is opened up to the wonders of travel that don’t include waiting, being frisked, peeing in a closet, or eating two ounces of peanuts.
And that’s what Changing Planes is, this collection of interrelated stories about a woman who transports herself from airports and airplanes—with a little bending and twisting—to strange and magical places. The stories that follow, from the few that I’ve read, I can tell that I’m going to read the rest of this book now, as the stories are innovative, creative, and often really funny. In the first piece after the set-up, “Porridge on Islac,” our narrator befriends a woman who has corn as part of her DNA. In “The Silence of the Asonu,” we meet a race of silent beings who communicate in a very different way. Each piece is also illustrated by one page-sized drawing by Eric Beddows, which are neat.
All in all, Ursula K. Le Guin presents a really cool book, one I’ve enjoyed a great deal. She is one of our masters, one who has crossed genre borders perhaps before anyone else. It was a real pleasure to visit Changing Planes today, an honor to include Le Guin here at Story366.