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Unlocking the Air and Other Stories Paperback – 1 Jan 1997

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st HarperPerennial Ed edition (1 Jan. 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060928034
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060928032
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 240,993 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ursula Le Guin has won many awards, including a National Book Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Newbery Honor and the World Fantasy Award For Life Achievement.

Product Description


Eighteen short stories reveal the strangeness that can be found in ordinary life.

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By "mpalsson" on 3 April 2004
Format: Paperback
I've been a big Le Guin fan for many years, counting her Earthsea and Hainish novels among my favorite books of all time. However, with the exception of Four Ways to Forgiveness I've avoided her short story collections. The reason is simple - I generally find it difficult to really enjoy stories that are only 3-15 pages long. There is just not enough substance for me to get into the characters, and obviously not enough time for a plot to develop. It just feels too much like reading fragments.
Unlocking the Air contains 18 stories that according to Le Guin herself fall into the following genres - plain realism, magical realism or surrealism. I was a bit skeptical when I picked the book up, since I've always thought that Le Guin's strength is her ability to develop intriguing alien cultures and deal with their problems. How does her writing work in reality?
Not as well as I had hoped. To my surprise I thoroughly enjoyed one of the shortest stories (The Creatures on My Mind), and one of the "plain real" ones (Standing Ground), but overall I found many of the stories interesting, but in a dry, detached way. They just didn't grip me as I'm used to when reading Le Guin's novels.
Luckily, her writing works much better when there is some magical or abnormal element present. Daddy's Big Girl is an excellent, moving story, while Ether, OR got me hooked because of the relations between the inhabitants and its general otherworldliness. I also enjoyed the more traditional fantasies Olders and The Poacher.
Overall Unlocking the Air and Other Stories was something of a disappointment for me. Despite some glimmers of Le Guin's brilliance I found the majority of the stories very well written, but lacking that extra something to make them truly great.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3 reviews
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
America's greatest living writer 24 Jun. 2000
By Sam N. Keyes - Published on
Format: Paperback
No one can claim more breadth of talent that Ursula K. Le Guin. She's known to science fiction for her brilliant social-science fiction and to the fantasy world for her world of Earthsea, making her one of the few truly original writers in each of those fields. But here she proves that she is not limited by the stereotypes and discriminations of genre writing. They might call this "mainstream" compared to her other writing: it generally doesn't involve other worlds; but Le Guin is entirely incapable of doing anything "mainstream;" it's still her, and she's still the best. These stories are beautiful to read. They are never too light, never too serious: always playful, always pointed. She flirts with ideas of reality, throwing the traditional existential questions out the window. "Ether, OR" tells the story of a town in Oregon that moves from place to place from multiple perspectives. "Unlocking the Air" is about wars and rumors of wars in a small, nonexistent European country (the same Orsinia from "Orsinian Tales" and "Malafrena"). "Sunday in Summer in Seatown" is a simple prose poem. She's always pushing the edge, pushing herself. It seems that she's succeeded again.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
The Jingling of Keys 2 May 2009
By Steve McCluskey - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Le Guin's recent collection of stories take place in a wide range of her personal territories, from fantasy worlds to the Pacific Northwest to her fictional country of Orsinia.

The title story is in my opinion among the most powerful and moving of all of Le Guin's short stories. I read it five times and each time it brought tears to my eyes. It draws on real events from the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, to bring up to date the vital interactions within the family of Stefan Fabre, who with his ancestors was one of the chief protagonists in her earlier Orsinian Tales. In doing so she reminds us of the difficulty and ambiguity of the continuing struggle for a just society, a struggle in which stones take on power as they are thrown as weapons, rutted by tanks, and sometimes run red with blood.

In the real Prague of 1989, protesters and their leaders (Vaclav Havel among them) jingled their keys as a sign of protest and to symbolize the opening of hitherto locked doors. Le Guin's story ends:

This is the truth. They stood on the stones in the lightly falling snow and listened to the silvery, trembling sound of thousands of keys being shaken, unlocking the air, once upon a time.
0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Hit and Miss Collection 23 April 2010
By thing two - Published on
Format: Paperback
I have never read any of Ursula Le Guin's other writing; I understand she is a gifted fantasy writer. Her short stories, however, were hit and miss. My favorite was "Standing Ground" about a teenage daughter and her pregnant, retarded mother. Reading this collection of stories was not enough to drive me to look for more from her, gifted or not.
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