Thursday, March 30, 2017

Book Review: The Wind's Twelve Quarters

Book Review: 'The Wind's Twelve Quarters: Volume II'
by Ursula Le Guin


1 / 5 Stars

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters: Volume II (138 pp) was published by Panther Books (UK) in 1978. The cover artwork is by Peter Gudynas.

All of the stories in this anthology first were published in various sf magazines, digests, and story collections from 1970 – 1974, so they appeared at the height of the New Wave movement.

Each story has a brief Introduction from Le Guin, in which she relates some details about the story’s concept. Many of the entries in Wind’s revolve around what she refers to as her ‘psychomyths’, i.e., subjects that lend themselves to the allegorical storytelling that dominated much of the New Wave era.

My capsule reviews of each story:

Things: this story was titled ‘The End’ when it first appeared in Orbit 6 (1970). It’s the best entry in this collection. A brickmaker living in a coastal town subconsciously seeks to survive an impending disaster. Moody and atmospheric, it works due to its more ‘traditional’ short story structure, and less as a work of Speculative Fiction.

A Trip to the Head: a ‘psychomyth’ about a man recovering from amnesia. About as unrewarding a New Wave story as I’ve ever read. And that says........something, I think.

Vaster then Empires and More Slow: a team of neurotic, quarreling colonists (there’s a New Wave trope for you !) are dispatched to survey a promising,  Earth-like world. While written as a conventional ‘Hainish’ story, this tale has some remarkably stilted dialogue. For example:

I felt a strong anxiety with a specific spatial orientation. But I am not an empath. Therefore the anxiety is explicable in terms of the particular stress-situation, that is, the attack on a team member in the forest, and also in terms of the total stress-situation, that is, my presence in a totally alien environment, for which the archetypical connotations of the word ‘forest’ provide an inevitable metaphor.

The Stars Below: fleeing a Church-sponsored purge of the scientific class, an astronomer takes refuge among a group of miners. His worldview comes to adapt to his subterranean existence. This is one of the more accessible stories in the collection.

The Field of Vision: after a Mars expeditionary team examines what appears to be an ancient shrine, they are stricken with various neurological ailments.

Direction of the Road: the first-person narrative of ……….an oak tree. 


I’m not kidding. 

(This was heady stuff in the New Wave era).

The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas: of one of the most well-known short stories to emerge from the New Wave movement; it was not unusual to find it in ‘regular’ short story anthologies used in introductory literature classes in college. It’s an allegory about a city where the presence of peace and prosperity comes with a secret price. It remains an effective tale, although its prose could politely be termed ‘lumbering’ (for example, one paragraph is two and one-half pages long…………)

The Day Before the Revolution: this story is set in the Odonian world of Le Guin’s novel The Dispossessed. It deals with the remembrances of an infirm elderly woman whose actions as a revolutionary helped bring about a victory in the Class Struggle.


Summing up:

When I think of William Gibson's short story collection Burning Chrome (1986), any of the stories in it is superior to any appearing in the LeGuin anthology.

When I think of Bruce Sterling's short story collection Crystal Express (1989), any of the stories in it is superior to any appearing in the LeGuin anthology.

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters: Volume II demonstrates that the more sophisticated approach to writing triggered by the New Wave movement could never, on its own, rescue short stories whose plots were contrived or superficial.This volume is for LeGuin completists only.

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