Unlocking the Air: Stories

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Paperback, 1997



Call number



Harper Perennial (1997), Edition: Reissue, Paperback


The title story portrays the birth of democracy in Eastern Europe, Standing Ground is set in an abortion clinic and features a teenage girl, and the story, Poacher, offers a new twist on Sleeping Beauty.

User reviews

LibraryThing member AltheaAnn
Billed a a collection of Le Guin's "mainstream" short stories, nonetheless, this includes 2 out and out fantasy stories ("Olders" and "The Poacher") and one which can only be described as a "tall tale." ("Daddy's Big Girl.") Others range around in the "magical realism" genre, and others are explorations of basic human relationships.... Le Guin, as always, is an excellent writer. (that said, I thought the first story in this collection is probably the weakest piece I've read by her - an odd choice to open the book.)… (more)
LibraryThing member cait815
Of all of the star ratings one can give a book, 3 stars has to be the worst. Maybe not for the author but surely for other readers. 3 stars is far from a negative review, but it's nowhere near a glowing review either. It's ambiguous and generally unhelpful without extensive commentary backing it up, yet who wants to comment extensively on something that they felt so middle of the road about? However, when it comes to anthologies and other collected works, 3 stars actually seems to make sense as the standard. Of course I have read some (like the phenomenal Flannery O'Connor) that just blow me away from start to finish. More often than not though, especially when reading anthologies of stories written by a number of different authors, it's a mixed bag. 3 stars says hey - it wasn't perfect, but there are definitely a few stories more than worth reading in here. That is exactly the case with Unlocking the Air, Ursula K. Le Guin's Pulitzer Prize nominated book of short stories. While not comprised of her normal fantasy and sci-fi , there are still elements of magical realism and fairytale-like fable woven throughout. The 4 and 5 star stories balanced out the 1's and 2's, making this a solid 3 star collection. Hey - it wasn't perfect, but there are definitely a few stories more than worth reading:

Half Past Four
The Professor's Houses
In the Drought
Daddy's Big Girl
The Poacher

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LibraryThing member juniperSun
Great collection, tho I haven't figured out what her connecting thread is (she states "subtle interconnections that make a bunch of stories into a book"). Jumped into the first story before I read the jacket--expecting scifi, and it was strange enough to pass, but not that strange (unlike "The Olders" which would work as scifi). That first one, "Half Past Four", I'd rate a 5* for its creative rearrangements of characters in different settings. "Sunday in Summer in Seatown" is creative in a different way, using repetitive sentence structure which caused me to read more slowly, pay attention, look at the images. In the end, tho I wasn't sure what the point was. On the 2nd page of "The Spoons in the Basement", I think I've read this before (only without the spoons), but no, that was Doris Lessing, or maybe it's my own dreams of discovering unknown space--good story.
"Ether or" is another 5* story with a quote that I wanted to remember (perhaps because of my age, or perhaps as something to resist) "But I have made my soul and I don't know what to do with it. Who wants it? All I'll do from now on is the same as what I have done only less of it, while I get weaker and sicker and smaller all the time, shrinking and shrinking around myself, and die....Nobody young can afford to believe in getting old."
I liked how LeGuin identified portions of "Unlocking the Air", an insider's view of a people freeing themselves, as history, fairy tale, stone...making the me see stones in a new way, seeing how things are connected....history that sounds like a fairy tale, fairy tales that are real people's hopes. This story contains another quote I marked--not because I suppor the message, but because I support making us aware of what we are shown--""It was always for love. That's why the camera snout came poking and sucking into this dirty basement room where the lovers meet. It craves love, th sight of love; for if you can't have the real thing you can watch it on TV, and soon you don't know the real thing from the images on the little screen where everything, as he said, can be done in two seconds. But lovers know the difference." (p.136)
"Standing Ground" blares at us with different viewpoints, obviously written to espouse a cause, and draws my pity for Delaware.
About "The Poacher": the other short story collection I've read in this challenge ([Fire Watch]) also retold this same fairy tale, and both rewrites changed it completely differently. And then "A Child Bride" retells the Persephone myth--obviously writers must at times look to the past for inspiration.
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LibraryThing member Vivl
Really I'd like to give this 3 and a half stars. Some stories fall flat -- the first one in particular was rather a chore to get through and I never did figure out what the point was. That was a bit discouraging, but there are some absolute gems in this collection. For me, it was worth persevering, and has inspired me to pick up the collected EarthSea novels from my local op shop. When she's on song, Le Guin's writing is beautiful.… (more)
LibraryThing member devilwrites
The premise: I'm gonna grab the description from BN.com, which also matches the description on the back of the book: This collection of mainstream stories, written from the early eighties to the mid-nineties, is a stunning example of the virtuosity of the legendary Ursula K. Le Guin. Diffusing the traditional boundaries of realism, magical realism, and surrealism, Le Guin finds the detail that reveals the strange in everyday life, or the unexpected depths of an ordinary person. Written with wit, zest, and a passionate sense of human frailty and toughness, Unlocking the Air is superb fiction by a beloved storyteller at the height of her power.

My Rating

Worth the Cash: any Le Guin fan will enjoy curling up with this text and simply absorbing her stories. They might not all speak to you personally, but the writing in all of them is something to admire, as are the myths, fairy tales, and social issues she brings to life. These stories are most all mainstream, though some have a magical realist or slight fantasy touch. Le Guin cares about people, and it never fails that her stories highlight those people. It's an enjoyable read, and I'm glad I've got the rest of her short story collections on the way.

Review style: Really general, and I won't be reviewing each of the 18 stories. I will, however, comment on which ones stood out and why, on the ones that I think make this collection worth reading.

So if you're interested in the full review, feel free to hop over to my journal. As always, comments and discussion are most welcome. :)


Happy Reading!… (more)
LibraryThing member iansales
This is a collection of Le Guin’s mainstream stories, and though it pains me to say it, I think her genre fiction is much better. Which is not to say her mainstream stories are bad, because they’re extremely well-crafted. And it’s not as though I only appreciate genre stories… because I find a lot of current genre short fiction unreadable, and I like the mainstream short fiction of Helen Simpson, Malcolm Lowry, Rose Tremain, Karen Blixen, and many others. But I didn’t much enjoy another of Le Guin’s mainstream collections, Orsinian Tales, which are linked stories set in an invented town. There is no such linkage in Unlocking the Air. The stories originally appeared in a variety of publications, from The New Yorker to Playboy to, er, Asimov’s, between 1982 and 1995. The one from Asimov’s, ‘Ether, OR’, is borderline genre. The title refers to a town in Oregon, which seems to change location at random intervals, on the coast some times, inland at others; and the story is told from the viewpoints of a number of the residents of the town. Another story is pure mainstream and recounts a daughter taking her mother to an abortion clinic. The stories are feminist, which comes as no surprise; most are told from a female point of view, although not all: ‘The Professor’s Houses’ is about a male professor and the doll house he works on ostensibly for his daughter. The collection all feels very… worthy – well-written stories making important points, but just a bit dull. Ah well.… (more)
LibraryThing member LisaMorr
An interesting collection of 18 short stories that are more mainstream than her sci-fi. My favorites were Standing Ground; Ether, OR; Olders and The Poacher. Not surprising given my tastes, all but one of these had magical realism or fantasy elements.
LibraryThing member mbmackay
Collection of non-scifi short stories.
Read in Samoa May 2003


Original publication date


Physical description

224 p.; 8.11 inches


0060928034 / 9780060928032
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