Eight tales, several on churten technology which allows people to travel instantaneously. In the title story a scientist is sent back in time, his opportunity to accept the love he once rejected, while The Kerastion is on a musical instrument which cannot be heard. By the author of Searoad.
Onto the stories!
Introduction - Essentially, in a nutshell, Le Guin writes that science fiction has evolved from the early "Cardboard Character" escapist type writing of the early years, but now science fiction stories have evolved to describe human situations, rather than escaping a world. Le Guin herself describes herself primarily as a fiction writer who stories are not set on earth.
The First Contact With the Gorgons - This is one of the weaker stories of the book. Essentially, tourists in Australia make first contact with Aliens. I liked it, but felt the message was a bit heavy handed - husband who doesn't listen, is so short sighted that he can't notice that the "aboriginals" are not human, and thinks that he is superior to the supposed native people.
Newtons Sleep - I liked this one. Premise is that the Earth is dieing, and few people made it to a space station to start a new life. The station is totally sterile, so when its inhabitants start seeing things, it throws things into confusion. It was hard to pinpoint where this was going half way through. Also, the story works on a number of different levels. The overall message is quite nice - you can leave Earth, but it follows you.
The Ascent of the North Face - This is another one I liked. It a cute story. This is one of those stories that is twisty and it works. You catch references to what the climb is, but the story is written so well that unless you are a climber, you think the references are part of the rock climber lingo.
The Rock that Changed Things - This story is my favorite in this collection. It is well thought out and is surprising. The use of the made up words puts the readers on one thought path (is this two species or one, and what exactly is the relationship?) Also, this is a folk tale. The language is simple, the ideas are simple, but taken altogether, it tells a very complex tale that questions your role in the world.
The Karastion - This is a sad story about a rigid culture. Le Guin has a knack for creating societies that are both very strange and very identifiable. Le Guin also is one of the few writers who is able to successfully write about what people do to themselves and why rather than what the outside forces does to a person. In this story, a shame so bad that it ends in suicide.
The Shobies Story - I read this once before and found it to be disjointed. On second reading, it came together to tell a tale of the first instantaneous Faster Than Light Ship jump and what happens. The mechanics aren't important. Its the people who choose to travel this way, 10 humans, 3 of them children, from four different cultures and how they bond. They need that bond to get out of a bad situation. This is the first story about Churten Theory in this this book.
Dancing to Ganam - This is the second story of the Churten Theory. This story happens shortly after the Shobies Story. Dalzul, a man from Terra and once worshipped as a God, convinces the scientists the the Churten Drive needs to be tested by an individual. He gets sent to a planet that might have human life, finds it, and returns claiming that the princess wants him as the planet's king. He goes back, but with 3 other people, and the story than follows Shan, from "The Shobies Story". Essentially, this is a story about the sanity of Dalzul, if the Churten Drive caused or something else. Its a dark, funny story. Well written.
The last story, and the last of the three Churten stories, is Another Story. This is an alternate story to the development of the Churten Drive. It starts, as many of Ursula Le Guin's Stories, with the introduction of the lead character's, Hideo, family and childhood. Instead of staying on the family farm, he decides to go away to Hain, which potentially means never seeing his family again. He is torn, but wants to study. He eventually gets involved with the Churten drive, and actually develop parts of it. This is a story of coming home, and how the road changed you and what stayed the same. Its a deep story, full of regrets and second chances.
The rest of the collection is rather mixed, containing a couple of fables, a workshop piece, and some playful manipulation of genre conventions. Many of these stories pick up the theme of storytelling again in various ways. "Newton's Sleep" and "The Rock that Changed Things" are both compelling stories with a hint of moralizing. The rest are fairly minor offerings. Although these remaining stories are worth reading, I can't help feeling like it might have been better to publish just the final three stories in a volume by themselves; as it is, the collection is torn between a selection of loosely related stories and a desire for a greater cohesiveness which is never quite satisfied.
"Newton's Sleep" - I had a hard time figuring out what was going on in this story; I had to read the first few pages a couple of times to figure out where exactly there characters were located. Spoiler alert: they're on a space station. I guess they feel guilty about it or something because the "ghosts" of the people they left behind on the dying earth keep showing up there. The main character can't see them and thinks everyone else is insane. This is an interesting premise, but I wish it had been fleshed out more (no pun intended).
"The Ascent of the North Face" - I had to read this short-short twice, but when I figured it out, it was awesome.
"The Rock that Changed Things" - LeGuin likes to write about alien societies in order to experiment with gender relations and permutations. This is one of those. It's a pretty depressing one, too. LeGuin states in the introduction, "I wish I could have given my blue-green stone a lighter setting." I wish that, too.
"The Kerastion" - A little creepy, but sorta poetic. I kind of liked it.
The last three stories are longer and have to do with LeGuin's new invention, Churten. It's like the ansible, but for matter. Eventually, it's supposed to be able to transport people instantaneously between planets, but there's a small issue with the technology that seems to affect people's perceptions of reality.
"The Shobies" - The first higher-intelligence crew to attempt Churten begin by trying to come together as a cohesive unit. This is very important, as it turns out. The crew is made up of persons from several different planets and cultural backgrounds. This is also important. LeGuin does a good job of conveying the crew's confusion in writing. It didn't end up as confusing for the reader as it probably was for the characters, but again, that's a good thing.
"Dancing to Ganam" - A very charismatic commander is able to ascertain that the confusion effect of Churten is lessened by making the voyage alone. The next phase of the experiment is to take several others, all originally Terran, to the same planet the commander visited before. Again, individual perception is challenged, with somewhat tragic results for both the crew and the natives.
"Another Story" - This is my favorite in this collection. The action takes place somewhat at the same time as those other two stories, following the experience of a scientist from O (and by do they have some interesting romantic/sexual/gender relations) as he works on the Churten theory. The narrative is more character-focused, and I really loved the character and enjoyed learning about society on Planet O, but it reveals something extremely interesting about Churten. I hope LeGuin continues to explore that.
This is a decent collection, not my favorite, but still very entertaining.