"The Flyers of Gy: An Interplanary Tale" by Ursula K. LeGuin: An Appreciation by Christopher Barzak
Appreciation by Christopher Barzak
I’ve been reading Ursula LeGuin’s fiction since I was a teenager. She is the author whose work I continually turn to in both dark times and light. She is the kind of author who has the ability to change voices, genres and vision whenever it pleases her to do so, which I’ve always admired and, as I began to write my own stories over the years, modeled myself after. There tends to be a trend in professional circles where authors are expected to write in the same style, to write the same sort of stories over and over, as if it is their brand name or signature style. All that is great—-I love many of those sorts of authors—-but I find my relationship with those authors begins to plateau at some point in my reading of their work. With LeGuin, though, I’m always prepared to be surprised.
In “The Flyers of Gy” LeGuin has written a story that is reminiscent of both the invisible cities created by Italo Calvino crossed with the precise observation of the material world found in an anthropologist’s notebook. It is full of dreamy fantasy, but it also contains a logical intelligence that forges the fantasy into something as solid and sharp as a sword. In this story, LeGuin imagines a society of feathered beings who once possessed the racial quality of wings, and along with those wings, the ability to fly. But as this imaginary society is described, we learn that at some point in their evolution, wings and flight left them. Now it is only in rare cases that a child, when they hit puberty, grows wings and becomes a flyer of Gy. These beings have their own subculture, which LeGuin also describes, and in her description of those flyers who live in a culture that no longer flies, we see glimpses of our own world, of people who live outside what our society has deemed normal and natural.
LeGuin has always specialized in the outsider, the intellectual, and the revolutionary. At this moment in history, I find her work more compelling than ever. We need voices like hers to show us light in the dark. Thank you, Ursula LeGuin, for writing this and many of your other stories that have brought us a seeking mind in times when we are told by our leaders and culture to distrust thinking people. And thank you, Ellen Datlow, for publishing "The Flyers of Gy: An Interplanary Tale," in Scifiction.
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