Review: The Wind’s Twelve Quarters by Ursula K. Le Guin

In April I finished the first draft of my latest manuscript, and almost immediately after, a friend asked me to look over one he had recently finished, which I was happy to do, as I like to put some time between drafts of my work. After finishing his and starting on mine, I started to feel like reading something else. I don’t tend to read a lot while revising my own work, but I had spent too long away from the pile of books beside my bed. It was around that time I decided to pick up The Wind’s Twelve Quarters, thinking a short story collection might make for easier reading while I worked on my own writing. This proved to be a miscalculation, as I had trouble putting the book down.

Mentioning Le Guin’s work will most often draw to mind her fantasy, namely the Earthsea Cycle, which would pave the road for the likes of Neil Gaiman, Hayao Miyazaki, and J.K. Rowling. Perhaps less famous (but equally as influential, not to mention good) is her science fiction work, most of which falls under the Hainish Cycle. What most people won’t think of, however, is horror, which is a pity because she is perhaps the best writer at it. I’ve read books and found them disturbing, perhaps creepy, but never have I seen them as more than words on a page, which are not inherently horrific. Some of the stories in this book changed that for me. I would be hard-pressed to argue that the point of any story on the book is to be a work of horror, but there’s no doubt that Le Guin has managed to capture fear. I’m not talking about the gruesome and grisly, or the idea of some grotesque creature coming to “get” you, but the real horrors: Madness, isolation. The realization that you are not alone in a dark room, the comprehension of that which renders us infinitesimal.

“Semley’s Necklace” opens the collection. A short story on its own, it also happens to be the first chapter of Le Guin’s first novel, Rocannon’s World. Reading that novel was probably my first experience with the horror Le Guin is capable of writing: At first a mild science fiction work, it slowly works its way toward a terrifying realization. It was the perfect way to open both books.

“April in Paris” offers an immediate change of tone, being a more light-hearted fantasy work. “The Masters” presents the idea of persecution of the scientific, a theme that will recur in many of the author’s works, and contains one of my favorite passages in the book. “Darkness Box” is another fantasy piece, and one I enjoyed. Only a few pages long, it presents a world more rich than ones I’ve visited for entire novels.

“The Word of Unbinding” and “The Rule of Names” are both part of the Earthsea Cycle. The latter has elements of dark comedy, and in the last sentence returns the horror theme present throughout the collection. “Winter’s King” takes us back to the Hainish Cycle, and while a strong story, I thought it might have been better if it were extended into a full novel. Entire revolutions are passed over in a paragraph, which I assume is because they are perhaps not directly related to the central character’s internal story, but seeing years go by in a sentence was inescapably jarring.

“The Good Trip” provided a nice change of pace, being a short speculative work between two larger science fiction pieces. Following this is “Nine Lives”, one of my favorite stories in the collection. After this is “Things”, another short but very rich piece, and another favorite of mine. “A Trip to the Head” is a much less “conventional” story, being speculative through and through, and I appreciated the story it had to tell and the way it was told.

“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” marks the point at which I couldn’t stay away from the book for more than a few hours. Another science fiction piece and part of the Hainish Cycle, this one stands perfectly well on its own. In this story were passages that gave me chills; perhaps for the first time, reading a book terrified me. Yet the story is not gloomy; it is beautiful even at its darkest, perhaps when it is darkest. This is not only my favorite in this collection, but easily one of my favorite short stories.

“The Stars Below” runs parallel to “The Masters” but is perhaps more enjoyable. “The Field of Vision” is one of the most terrifying stories I’ve ever read, and one of the most interesting. “Direction of the Road” offers a change of pace, another dark comedy and one of the most imaginative things I’ve read.

“The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” was the first of Le Guin’s works I read. After a few years, it holds all the power it did when I first read it, and I was glad to re-visit it. I could write at great length about this story, but for now I’ll just say that I hold this one close to my heart.

“The Day Before the Revolution” solidly closes the collection. It might make more sense to me once I read The Dispossessed, but I did enjoy the story.

Nearly every story left me wanting to start the same story again, so this is a collection I look forward to coming back to time and again. It only grows more relevant with time, and I hope to read it over every few years, noticing things I hadn’t before, taking away lessons that passed me by the previous time. I can tell already that it has a lot to teach.

For more book reviews, be sure to check out my Goodreads page.

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The River

Hey guys, I put a new page up on my blog. It’s a sub-page of the Published Works section, or you can click this link.

The page contains the entirety of my short story “The River” from the collection After the Bite. If you like what you see, there’s a longer preview featuring a few more stories on the book’s Smashwords page.

If zombies aren’t your thing, feel free to share the page with anyone you think might be interested. I’d be eternally grateful to you.

Thanks for everything, and take care!

After the Bite

cover art by Laura Soret
After the Bite by David Lovato and Seth Thomas. Cover art by Laura Soret.

This is that big announcement I’ve been talking about. My friend Seth Thomas and I have written a collection of short stories about zombies, and we’re self-publishing it. It’s called After the Bite.

We’ve been working on this for a while. We actually wrote a book, and these are stories set in the same universe, but they stand on their own.

You can buy After the Bite on Smashwords for $4.99. It should be available through other retailers (like Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Apple iBooks and more) in the coming weeks. We’re also looking at a print edition.

If you’re at all interested in zombie fiction, it’d mean a lot to us if you picked up a copy of our book. The first few stories are available as a free preview on Smashwords, and I’ve decided to write up a brief summary of each of the stories so you’re not going in blind. If zombies aren’t your thing (and even if they are), you’ll forever be awesome to me if you pass this link around to your friends and family.

Thanks again to everyone who has followed Seth and I, our blogs, our facebook pages, our lives in general. You mean the world to us.

If you decide to get a copy, it’d also mean a lot if you left us a review on Smashwords or Goodreads or wherever. Every little bit helps us out, and we appreciate it so much.

We love you guys.

Here are the summaries:

1. The River – Jack and Henry are brothers and best friends, but the world threatens to pull them apart. The zombies aren’t helping, either.
2. On the Road – Larry embarks on a survival road trip across a post-apocalyptic America.
3. Holy War – A Jewish man and his Muslim neighbor meet daily in a battle of words.
4. The Living Dead – A brief glimpse of what it means to one man to be alive.
5. On 68th and Woodland Drive – A short poem about the zombie apocalypse.
6. Tragedy in Belford – A successful writer pens the moments leading up to the zombie apocalypse.
7. Sanctuary – A man named Garrett is looking for safety, like a lot of people. Finding none, he decides to make it himself.
8. Death’s Robe – A portrait of the zombie apocalypse.
9. Grampa’s War Story – A group of soldiers on a secret mission in the Middle East must battle enemy combatants and zombies alike.
10. Concrete Nightmare – It’s just another day on the job, until people start eating each other.
11. Dead and Gone – A poem written on a blood-stained scrap of paper.
12. Acceptance – Sometimes it’s hard to share our secrets, even with those we love.
13. Alone Up There – The crew aboard the International Space Station find themselves adrift in a sea of stars.
14. Dog’s Story – The zombie apocalypse isn’t limited to human beings.
15. Thy Neighbor – Two men whose families have been at it for generations might be each other’s only hope.
16. Grim is the Truth – The diary of one survivor of the zombie apocalypse.
17. Two Worlds – When zombies run him out of his home, a young Mexican man heads across the border into America, looking for his brothers.
18. Did Your Mama Ever Tell You the Story of the Day You Were Born? – Everyone has a baby story. Caleb’s involves zombies.
19. BAZK – These guys just want to be rock stars, but zombies keep getting in their way.
20. Like Fish – Brent struggles to hold on to his humanity when the world takes everything away.
21. Ghost Story – When the world is long gone, what happens to those left over?

P.S. The cover art was done by Laura Soret, you can find more of her work here: http://suthnmeh.deviantart.com/