The Wind's Twelve Quarters

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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The Wind's Twelve Quarters was published in 1975, collecting into a retrospective Le Guin's short stories that had been published over the previous twelve years. The stories are: "Semley's Necklace," "April in Paris," "The Masters," "Darkness Box," "The Word of Unbinding," "The Rule of Names," "Winter's King," "The Good Trip," "Nine Lives," "Things," "A Trip to the Head," "Vaster Than Empires and More Slow," "The Stars Below," "The Field of Vision," "Direction of the Road," "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," and "The Day before the Revolution."

In "Semley's Necklace," Semley is a young noble of the planet Fomalhaut II, as poor in material goods as the noble husband who "loves no gold but the gold of her hair." Semley goes on a quest for the lost treasure of her family, among the Fiia and the Clayfolk and the Starlords. She makes a relativistic journey to the museum planet of the Starlords, a trip that takes her one long night but lasts seventeen years for the planet she returns to at last.

"April in Paris" brings together four lonely people on an island in Paris. Each is brought from a different century by a magic spell, finding what they need most in their new company.

"Darkness Box" is set in a sunless fantasy world, where gryphons fly and dead soldiers come alive again to follow their prince, until he opens a small box washed up by the sea, restoring time and daylight as well the darkness and mortality that his father the king had trapped in the box.

"The Word of Unbinding" tells of the struggles of the wizard Festin, imprisoned by an invading wizard who ruins islands and all that live there.

"The Rule of Names" shows that a comical, inept wizard may have a true name, showing him to be something far different from what his village neighbors expect.

In "Winter's King," the young King Argaven of Karhide on Gethen is kidnapped, drugged, and brainwashed so that she (the Gethenians are all androgynes) will, subconsciously, rule the country in a way so as to favor the fraction who kidnaped her. She escapes from this plot by traveling to another planet of the Hainish Ekumen, where her mind is restored. After an education as a diplomat of the Ekumen, she returns to Gethen. Her heir—an infant when she left, but now old due to Argaven's relativistic journey—is an incompetent ruler. So, backed by both the Ekumen and the Karhidish people, King Argaven resumes her reign.

"The Good Trip" is a story about a man who has had to watch his wife slowly go insane. He is now on drugs, but this time he goes off on a better trip—without the drugs—which reaches not only to his wife's mind in the sanatorium but also their future together, well and content.

When "Nine Lives" begins, Martin and Pugh have been isolated on the sterile planet Libra, setting up a mining operation there. Then a working team arrives: five men and five women, all cloned from the same man. The ten-clone is very efficient, but does have some peculiarities unique to clones. When nine of the ten are killed in an accident, the only survivor has to learn how to cope with being alone, as singleton humans are all alone.

In "Things," the end is nigh on an island. Nothing new is being built, made, grown or bred, including children. The Ragers are killing off the animals and burning the fields. "It is well to be free of Things." But there is one man who still has a dream of the...

(This entire section contains 1017 words.)

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islands said to exist somewhere out there. And so he tips his huge stock of bricks into the sea—much to the Ragers' pleasure. But secretly, under water, he arranges the bricks into an underwater causeway, a sea road.

"A Trip to the Head" is a strange, surrealistic tale of someone who has lost the names of things and does not know who he or she is or what he is looking for. But then again, neither does her or his companion.

"Vaster Than Empires and More Slow" tells of ten misfit explorers sent to investigate an unreasonably distant planet. The strangest of the crew is Osden, an empathic who feels exactly what everybody else really thinks about him and each other. The planet they come to has no animal life, just one interconnected mess of plants, trees, and vines of different kinds. This huge biosphere learns from them fear of the Other, but comes to accept Osden.

In "The Stars Below" an astronomer, Guennar, hides in the cellar when his observatory is burned to the ground. He is hidden by a friend in a mine, and survives there when the few miners come to trust him. His search for knowledge continues, even underground, and eventually before disappearing, he tells the miners where he has seen stars in the rock, a great wealth of silver undiscovered.

"The Field of Vision" tells of astronauts returning with strange effects from a visit in a mysterious 600 million-year-old city on Mars. One of them sees things and another hears things. After a long struggle, they learn to make sense of their sounds and visions. They see and hear the imminence of God in everything.

"Direction of the Road" is an old oak tree's story about itself, growing beside a road as a living being interacting as it is perceived by all who pass.

In "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," the narrator speaks to the reader, asking him or her to imagine Omelas, city of joy, and the scapegoat whose misery keeps all the rest in peace and plenty. But then, there are some who cannot stand the thought of the suffering child—the ones who walk away from Omelas.

The final story in this collection is "The Day before the Revolution," in which readers are introduced to Laia Aseio Odo, hero and founder of a political philosophy. She is seventy-two, living in an Odonian collective, and putting together in her mind all her memories of life.