Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Paperback, 1990




Roc (1990), Edition: First Mass Market Edition, 1 pages


Ten stories and 19 poems, many of which have been published previously, on the theme of the oneness of life, told mainly from the point of view of animals attempting to open the eyes of humans to the larger community of life. Recommended.

User reviews

LibraryThing member lyzadanger
When I was 10 or 12 years old, my mother read the short story 'Buffalo Gals' out loud to my sister and me. It seeped into my subconscious. I remembered little of the plot as my life stretched on, but recalled nuance, shapeshifting, dreamlike visions and a near worship of the Oregon high desert landscape I would, as a teenager, come to see as my spiritual mirror.

But, at 10 or 12, I wasn't ready yet for Le Guin's more grown up themes--they rendered me at the time wary; certain concepts seemed creepy or nightmarish.

So I put Le Guin out of my life for 20 years. Until I saw mention of the story somewhere and it sparked a memory that led to wild Googling and pursuing. I found a used copy of this collection at Powell's Books in Portland, Ore. Even deeply used it was $20, presumably because it is out of print.

About 75% of the book's content is astounding. Le Guin's facility with scaffolding out entirely new frames of reference within a page or two is masterly, and the stories drip with emotive invention.

Not everything works sparkles for me. 'Horse Camp' distorts adolescent girl obsessions that I never had. 'The Wife's Story' sets one up for a twist that feels obvious in hindsight. 'Vaster than Empires and More Slow' suffered from my reading it too near to my reading of Asimov's 'Green Patches' and is now just a jumble in my head.

But! 'The Direction of the Road' is wonderful, though I can't tell anything about it without giving the entire secret away. The short collection of 'Therolinguistics' (translating Adele Penguin and Ant) is riotous and endearing.

Splendid stuff here, to say nothing of the eponymous short story that leads the book. Which, by the way, won the Hugo. Deservedly.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member Brian.Gunderson
Fiercely contrary to common understandings and wildly wise, this is an interesting exploration of ideas through short stories and poetry by Le Guin. I feel as though much of the writing here was literary experimentation, but perhaps its just the nature of poems and short stories that aim to shake or topple other ideas.
LibraryThing member Heidicvlach
This short story collection marks my first time reading anything by Le Guin. The author's reputation preceeds her but this book is a real mixed bag for me.

I liked the titular novelette, "Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Home Tonight". If all the stories were like this one, I'd be giving the book a higher rating. "Buffalo Gals" blends native American mythology and the modern, "real" world in a dreamlike way that changes depending on who's perceiving it. I found Coyote a vivid, oddly endearing character despite all her gross mannerisms, and the minor characters seemed random in a genuine sort of way — the way real people are random.

Another story I liked was “Author of the Acacia Seeds”, a translation of ant lore. Ah, I do appreciate any story that allows non-humans their own quirks of language and self-awareness. And "May's Lion" makes profound meaning out of a senseless animal death. It started out in a humble, folksy voice and quickly surprised and moved me.

But I didn’t connect with the other stories and poems much. Many of them seemed stiff to me, and many are reliant on “life is senseless and cruel” as a message or a plot twist. That falls flat for me because I don’t consider sadism to be automatically meaningful. It frustrates me when a fantasy/sci-fi story builds up an interesting scenario just for the sake of saying, “And then this character’s life continued to suck, The End.” In particular, “The White Donkey” ended in a nihilistic anticlimax and made me want to throw the whole book out the window.

Like I say, a mixed bag for my tastes. One suggestion I have for others planning to read this collection: skip the forewords until you’ve read their accompanying stories. Many of Le Guin’s forewords skew the reading experience in a way I found intrusive (possibly because she admits to ignoring other writers' forewords). One foreword outright tells the reader that the following two stories are not about X and Y, so don’t interpret them as X and Y. You know that example where someone says “Don’t think about elephants” and you're suddenly fixated on the thought of elephants? Yeah, it's like that. My mind was cluttered with the X and Y I wasn't supposed to think about. Not the best way to approach a speculative story — which is a shame, because Le Guin clearly respects the power of animal characters.
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LibraryThing member dbsovereign
LeGuin writes fun fantasy and her storytelling gives us insight into our lives and how magic works - these are transformative tales.


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Physical description

6.7 inches


0451450493 / 9780451450494
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