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Unlocking the Air and Other Stories

3.65  ·  Rating Details  ·  496 Ratings  ·  59 Reviews
In a superb collection of 18 short stories, National Book Award winner Le Guin shows that the boundaries between realism and magical realism lie in the eyes of the beholder. In each story, she finds the detail that reveals the strangeness of ordinary life or the unexpected depths of an ordinary person.
Paperback, 207 pages
Published 1996 by New York: Harper Collins
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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 ...more
Aug 09, 2009 Erika rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 11, 2014 Alisa rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Finally finished this book from my shelf. I think it took so long because some of the stories are bad, so I kept putting it down and forgetting about it, then starting again at the beginning, only to be once again irritated by the first story. Like many stories, "Half Past Four" is almost like a class writing exercise, in that it explores a particular unconventional approach to the short story, in this case the shuffling of the characters (the daughter in one section is the mother in the next et ...more
Sep 27, 2008 Hal rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good, but she's definitely better with science fiction.
Bob Rust
Apr 26, 2016 Bob Rust rated it it was amazing
Half Past Four • (1987)
The Professor's Houses • (1982)
Ruby on the 67 • (1996)
Limberlost • (1989)
The Creatures on My Mind • (1990)
Standing Ground • (1992)
The Spoons in the Basement • (1982)
Sunday in Summer in Seatown • (1995)
In the Drought • (1994)
Ether, OR • (1995)
Unlocking the Air • [Orsinia] • (1990)
A Child Bride • (1988)
Climbing to the Moon • (1992)
Daddy's Big Girl • (1987)
Findings • (1992)
Olders • (1995)
The Wise Woman • (1996)
The Poacher • (1993)
Josephine Ensign
Nov 17, 2014 Josephine Ensign rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A lovely and disturbing collection of Le Guin's finest short and short-short stories. It is fascinating that she included a story first published in Ms. magazine alongside a story (the title story) first published in Playboy magazine. My favorites in this collection are: The Professor's Houses, A Child Bride, Olders, The Wise Woman, and The Poacher--all fantastical fairy-tale type stories with layered Jungian psychology. Read any one of these before bed and you'll have highly entertaining dreams ...more
Stephen Gallup
Nov 22, 2013 Stephen Gallup rated it liked it
It feels like I've read quite a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin over the years, although perhaps not so much in comparison with all she has written. I admire her ability to evoke mood and the variety in her styles, genres, subjects.

That's a lead-in to saying this story collection didn't fulfill my hopes. Nothing stands out as being particularly wrong, it's just that I didn't stay connected.

The first story, "Half Past Four," concerns a family in which the parents have divorced and the grown daughter has
Oct 07, 2011 Kate rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
"This collection of mainstream stories, which have been published in such distinguished magazine as The New Yorker, Harper's Omni, and Playboy, is a stunning example of the virtuosity of the legendary Ursula K. LeGuin.

In her own words:'These stories span twelve years of writing, from the early eighties to the mid-nineties. It took them a long time to gather themselves into a whole, with the shape and the subtle interconnections that make a bunch of stories into a book.

'Recently I have published
A strange mix here. I had never read any of LeGuin's realistic fiction, and honestly, I found most of it pretty ho-hum. The stories that purported to be about people and relationships felt more like skimming over a Facebook page, not actually getting to know someone. I'll confess I couldn't even bring myself to finish "Ether, OR," a rambling plotless story told from the points of view of too many residents of a small town. I barely finished "Half Past Four" for the same reasons even though I kno ...more
Claire H
Mar 01, 2013 Claire H rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I read only three of these stories and couldn't finish. There's an emotional turbulence running through each of these stories that reminds me of both A.S. Byatt and Ray Bradbury, and left me with a profound sense of unease. A strangeness haunts these stories, both metaphorical - as in the tale of a miniature, almost-but-not-quite dollhouse a professor builds as a stress reliever (a microcosm of his world) - and literal, as in the tale of a family who wakes up one day to find their water running ...more
It's genuinely just about impossible to rate short-story collections, isn't it? They're such a mixed bag, and so subjective in quality, even from the best authors. And this is another instance where I wish Goodreads allowed half-stars; this book occupies the 3.5-star territory in my mind, or even maybe 3.75.

Stories I liked a lot (*=favorite):
--"Half Past Four"* (interesting to see that reviews are so divided on this; some people love it, and some people thought it was dull/confusing/pointless/po
Rodrigo Bahamondes
May 01, 2014 Rodrigo Bahamondes rated it it was amazing
This is a superb collection of beautiful tales by one of the best fantasy writers ever. Not very fond of short stories myself, I find it hard initially to read some of these stories, but lately I found that they are like hard-shelled eggs, only when you finally break inside you know the real value of them!!! Worth reading for a first try, and definitely enjoyable for a second!!! I extremely recommend this.
Felice Picano
This collection was published in 1996 and consists of a bunch of "literary" stories and at the end three "fantastic" stories. I can take or leave the literary ones, although women respond to these more positively. But the three later tales, "Daddy's Big Girl" "Poachers" and "The Wise Woman" completely satisfied me and are among the most tinterresting that Le Guin wrote.
Jun 13, 2013 David added it
Shelves: liminalfiction
A friend recommended this author and since I have enjoyed Ray Bradbury's short stories I thought this might be a good place to start with a new science fiction author. But it turns out although there were fantastical elements to a few of the stories in this collection it was not the symbolic and allegorical science fiction that I was hoping for. The stories had some strong feminist elements, including a story about the difficulty of having an abortion. Generally it was too much of a hodge podge- ...more
William Crosby
Jan 04, 2016 William Crosby rated it liked it
Short stories (not my favorite genre): many are odd and inexplicable.

They deal with relationships, farts, various creatures, dancing, spoons, abortion, folklore, alternative neurology, drought, mini-bios, gigantism, tree people, and others.

[Iowa mention]
Nov 07, 2008 Keith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
forgot to review this one! I finished it... dunno, when it was still mostly warm out.

Unlocking The Air is a collection of short stories by renowned science fiction/fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin. There are some outstanding stories here. Just as a caveat when you pick it up, there aren't any sci-fi/fantasy stories within. The closest it gets is a sort of magic realism, or maybe just post-modern experimentation. Don't let that scare you though, if you're a fan of Le Guin and at all open to non-s
Dec 24, 2011 Sarah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
Just skip the first story. I don't know what she was trying to do there, but it didn't work. There are a few unreadable stories and some better ones. The longer ones are dull and you want them to end before the boredom kills off some of your brain cells. The short-shorts are a relief, they are very light and impressionistic. I have to say the story 'Ether, OR' is really the only story that makes me feel any affection for this book now that I'm done with it and am reading over the titles, trying ...more
Mar 08, 2015 Elena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While it is true that I prefer Le Guin's SF/F anthropological stories, this book has some gems. The middle section, with "In the Drought,"Ether, OR," and "Unlocking the Air" was my favorite.
Jul 27, 2014 Dwhale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yine kalbimi çaldın Ursula. Tanıdığım, bildiğim, aşık olduğum en edebi, en entellektüel, en sade kadın. En az bir beş yüz sene daha yazmanı diliyorum. :)
John Orman
Lots of psychological thinking goes into Le Guin's intricate stories, as the characters are revealed as being far more complex than originally believed at the story's beginning.
Not a compilation of science fiction, but realistic stories told from an imaginative perspective.

I really liked the introspective piece "The Creatures on My Mind," concerning very short profiles of a beetle, a sparrow, and a seagull. The story of the gull with a broken wing, waiting on the shore for the quickly approachin
Jul 28, 2014 Maria rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: never-finished
I couldn't finish it. the writing isn't bad but I'm not at all captivated and even trying to skim it is dreadfully dull.
M. İlknur
"Burası tam ortası. Neresi su neresi gökyüzü belli değil. Batmak uçmak aslında." Dört Buçuk'dan.

"Dünyada kendilerini evlerinde hissetmişlerdi, serçeler gibi gamsızca sebep sonuç ilişkisine duyarsız, sekoyalar gibi ölüm ve coğrafyadan yana cahil." Limberlost'dan.

"Gittiler. Eve, yapay hayatın küçük parlak kutusuna." Yazın Seatown'da Pazar Günü'den.

"Hayat bana seri kurbanmışım gibi davranıyor, teşekkür ederim." Ethergezer'den.

"Bir kadın ona bir keresinde, kadınların zihinlerini ağlayarak temizledi
Althea Ann
Mar 03, 2013 Althea Ann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 choic ...more
Ursula Le Guin's writing is as lovely as ever, in these stories. They're all beautiful and clever and full of her own particular brand of magic. The first one, "Half Past Four", was rather strange -- but that's not surprising, coming from the mind of Ursula Le Guin. I especially liked "A Child Bride" and "The Poacher"; I love the Demeter/Persephone/Hades legend, in the former case, and the latter is just lovely, the slow reveal, the slow realisation of what's going on. I'm really happy I finally ...more
Anna Finley
I'm accustomed to reading plot-driven novels, so this collection was hard to get through. The stories showcase Le Guin's beautiful and lyrical writing style, but I was very impatient for a plot.
Mar 12, 2010 Esmeralda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Le Guin is most known as a sciecne fiction. Instead, I picked up these short stories. They are characterized by realism with just a few narratives whose sci fi edge made me visualize the story lines like the movie "Big Fish." Topics include: reservations, animal perspective, writing, family relationships, freaks, abortion, etc. A few of the stories take very fun non linear and successful sequencing.

Le Guin skillfully uses sparse dialogue in the domestic sphere to provide background, mood, and ch
Mar 02, 2015 Simay rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Babasının Koca Kızı", okuyup okuyabileceğim en güzel öykü olabilir. Ursula, eşsiz dili, yumuşak cümleleri, insanı iki nokta arasında binbir gerçeklikte ve gerçekdışılıkta sarsmadan silkeleyerek gezdirebilen öyküleriyle beni gene büyüledi.
Sep 02, 2013 Betty rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Some of these are a little slight- almost just atmospheric prose pieces rather than proper stories, but they were still a pleasure. A good chunk of the stories really stuck with me, though (The Poacher, Daddy's Big Girl, Standing Ground) and LeGuin's writing, to me, is always this rich, enveloping presence and I can't get enough of her words. Not the first thing I'd recommend for someone unfamiliar with her work, but worth picking up if you admire her anyway.
Ian Rose
Nov 16, 2012 Ian Rose rated it really liked it
This is one of those books that breaks the star rating system a bit. I would rate the first half of the book about a 2, maybe 3. It's essentially poetry, which is fine if you call it that, but it's a stretch to call the early parts "stories". Lovely writing, nonexistent plot. The book is saved by the last three stories, two of which are fantastic. The Olders and The Poacher are both great short stories, and they alone push this up to a 4.
This is...not representative of Le Guin's best work. I found these stories to be lacking in depth, even superficial. Frustrating and disappointing, especially since the was the first Le Guin book I read after the amazing Searoad: Chronicles of Klatsand, which I think of as one of her best books, and one of the best collections of short fiction I've found. This one just doesn't live up to that standard.
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As of 2013, Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. Forthcoming ...more
More about Ursula K. Le Guin...

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“I tried to think about what he had asked me to do, to step so far beyond myself. I found it difficult to think about. It was as if it hung over me, this huge choice I must make, this future I could not imagine.” 4 likes
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