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Vol 1, Issue #4
"Stand By For Mars!"
April 2006
Children's Fiction Book Reviews
by Kathy Thomason

Changing Planes
by Ursula K. LeGuin
Ace Books, reprint edition
2004 (originally published 2003)

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Sita Dulip, just like so many of us, has missed her flight at the airport. She finds herself stuck, bored and frustrated. But as she twists and fidgets in the hard blue chair, trying to ignore the sticky floor and equally sticky, screaming children, she finds herself in Strupsirts, a picturesque region of waterspouts and volcanoes, a place that remains a favorite with novice interplanary travelers. She soon discovers that you can only access these planes at airports because you are already between planes. And much to her delight, she discovered that time moves differently in these planes and what is a week there is only minutes here so that one could take a weeks vacation in an exotic locale and still catch ones plane to Cleveland. She taught several friends her technique, who then taught it to other people. Soon an Interplanary agency was formed to both help travelers and protect the locals of these other planes. Several travel guides were written, because you don't always end up at the plane you were intending and it helps to read up on the plane you find yourself on.

Le Guin, with a great deal of humor, tells of fifteen societies visited by a friend of Sitas. In one society, the adults do not speak at all, the children talk until they get about 5 or 6 and then gradually they talk less and less until they too are silent. Many people enjoy the Christmas plane, where it is Christmas all the time and you can go Christmas shopping year round. One really fascinating plane was called Islac, where genetic alterations had gotten out of control and some of the most fantastic beings you could imagine lived there, but they were very unhappy, with most of the people living in abject poverty. The genetic experiments got out of control and were eventually banned, but it was too late, most of the people and animals had been changed. Then the government passed a purity law, restricting jobs in the professions and government to those who tested 99.44% human, which relegated the majority of the population to menial labor jobs.

And of course, we all want to live forever, at least we did until we visited the plane with the immortals. On this plane, those bitten by a certain fly were infected with a virus that made them immortal so when our travel guide first arrives she doesn't understand why everyone is dressed in netting to avoid the flies. Then she travels to a small island and meets one of the immortals. It is little more than a lump of flesh, having lost all its limbs and it's eyesight in accidents. And she learns the reason people die, sometimes there are conditions that just don't warrant continued life.

This book illustrates the true genius of Le Guin, her ability to create an entire society in just a few pages and bring it to life for the reader. Each of her societies that created in this book makes a social statement about a situation in our own world. She was a master of philosophical fiction, much like Jonathon Swift. Changing Planes has the tone of travel journal written by a satirical anthropologist and highlights her unique talents and shows why she is an award winning author.

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