‘The Fliers of Gy’ by Ursula K. Le Guin

I could fill this list with Le Guin stories, but ‘The Fliers of Gy’, in Changing Planes, a later short story collection, is my favourite. So many of Le Guin’s stories have an anthropological lens; in ‘The Fliers of Gy’, the people observed by the visiting narrator ‘have plumage, not hair’, but she notes they are ‘staid, steady’ and ‘traditional’. Amongst them, shunned, misunderstood and yet occasionally revered, are the winged people, those who can grow fully-fledged wings on their backs and fly – analogues of anyone who is chosen by fate to stick out in their society and lead, irrevocably, a different life. 

Those with wings move between ecstasy at their ability and terror of it, especially because soaring above the earth is not without its perils – while you can sleep as you fly, you might also experience a wing breakdown, fall to earth and die. I’ve always loved this story because it’s about whether you answer the call of fate. If you choose not to, you avoid risk, danger and failure but you also lose the superpower of flying, the dreaming and the dizzy heights. And what does Le Guin think? She plays her cards close to her chest here, but seems to suggest the risk is worth it.

First published in Changing Planes, Harcourt, 2003/Gollancz, 2005, and collected in The Unreal and the Real, Gallery, 2016

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