Ursula K. Le Guin proves with Unlocking the Air that she's talented across multiple genres. While this collection may not be composed of Speculative Fiction, the stories are surreal, filled with magical realism, and fantastical events that border, and sometimes cross into, the supernatural.
There's a total of 18 previously published stories that, for the most part, left me feeling like I couldn't interpret them even if I tried, but were beautifully expressive in ways only Le Guin can manage. She plays with themes of location and place, belonging, relationships, family, perspective, and socially conscientious issues (homosexuality, abortion). Her writing is always delicate and insightful. There wasn't a single story I didn't like, only stories I like better than the others. And the fact that she veers willingly into the mysticism of dream-like situations reminds me her strengths are in toying with our sense of reality. Being a fan of her writing, I don't think I'll ever mind that.
I did have some favorites that I wanted to share my thoughts on. It's always hard for me to write about a collection without going into some detail on the stories themselves--the following stuck out in my mind the most:
"Half Past Four" is a story of perspective; the same characters play different roles with each other, revisiting the same time of day from other planes of existence in which a daughter can be a mother in one dimension and a sister in another.
"The Professor's Houses" is an exercise in the illusions created to separate the stresses of our daily lives from the escape of daydreams; "Limberlost" tells of a novelist who finally discovers what she's been looking for on a writer's retreat as she's leaving; "The Creatures On My Mind" projects the narrator's guilt as literal and metaphoric in the poor, wounded animals and insects she/he finds in the everyday of life; "Ether, OR" (a dedication "For Native Americans") is told from the voices and different perspectives of the townsfolk who live in a city constantly on the move; "Unlocking the Air", the title story, seems to be about an Eastern European Civil War or protest that is touching despite not knowing the real politics; "A Child Bride" is a Persephone tale from the confused perspective of a daughter unsure whose decision her marriage was; in "Olders" a husband begins an arboreal transformation--issues of nature vs. humanity are brought up, trees are given emotions (jealousy, anger), and made sympathetic in this way; and "The Poacher" is a re-telling of Sleeping Beauty that vilifies the fairy tale as an exercise in belief of the dream that happy endings can only exist as such: dreams.
Unlocking the Air is a cohesive collection of stories ranging from the experimentally poetic ("Sundays in Summer in Seatown") to the jarringly real ("Standing Ground"); all are lyrical. I think in particular, what all the stories share is a warning to remember those who we might least think of, or think the least of. Together, they are a plea to always consider another perspective, to make the effort to understand one another, lest we, and others, fall victim to memories, dreams, and intentions.