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Buffalo Gals and Other Animal Presences (1987)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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545632,869 (3.71)1 / 15
Ten stories and 19 poems, many of which have been published previously, on the theme of the oneness of life, told mainly from the point of view of animals attempting to open the eyes of humans to the larger community of life. Recommended.

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
LeGuin writes fun fantasy and her storytelling gives us insight into our lives and how magic works - these are transformative tales. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
This short story collection marks my first time reading anything by Le Guin. The author's reputation preceeds her but this book is a real mixed bag for me.

I liked the titular novelette, "Buffalo Gals, Won't You Come Home Tonight". If all the stories were like this one, I'd be giving the book a higher rating. "Buffalo Gals" blends native American mythology and the modern, "real" world in a dreamlike way that changes depending on who's perceiving it. I found Coyote a vivid, oddly endearing character despite all her gross mannerisms, and the minor characters seemed random in a genuine sort of way — the way real people are random.

Another story I liked was “Author of the Acacia Seeds”, a translation of ant lore. Ah, I do appreciate any story that allows non-humans their own quirks of language and self-awareness. And "May's Lion" makes profound meaning out of a senseless animal death. It started out in a humble, folksy voice and quickly surprised and moved me.

But I didn’t connect with the other stories and poems much. Many of them seemed stiff to me, and many are reliant on “life is senseless and cruel” as a message or a plot twist. That falls flat for me because I don’t consider sadism to be automatically meaningful. It frustrates me when a fantasy/sci-fi story builds up an interesting scenario just for the sake of saying, “And then this character’s life continued to suck, The End.” In particular, “The White Donkey” ended in a nihilistic anticlimax and made me want to throw the whole book out the window.

Like I say, a mixed bag for my tastes. One suggestion I have for others planning to read this collection: skip the forewords until you’ve read their accompanying stories. Many of Le Guin’s forewords skew the reading experience in a way I found intrusive (possibly because she admits to ignoring other writers' forewords). One foreword outright tells the reader that the following two stories are not about X and Y, so don’t interpret them as X and Y. You know that example where someone says “Don’t think about elephants” and you're suddenly fixated on the thought of elephants? Yeah, it's like that. My mind was cluttered with the X and Y I wasn't supposed to think about. Not the best way to approach a speculative story — which is a shame, because Le Guin clearly respects the power of animal characters. ( )
  Heidicvlach | Feb 23, 2015 |
Fiercely contrary to common understandings and wildly wise, this is an interesting exploration of ideas through short stories and poetry by Le Guin. I feel as though much of the writing here was literary experimentation, but perhaps its just the nature of poems and short stories that aim to shake or topple other ideas. ( )
  Brian.Gunderson | Apr 18, 2013 |
In her preamble to this collection of stories and poems which feature animals Le Guin refers to the denigration talking-animal tales receive at the hands of “grown-up” critics and theorists. They are seen as children’s fare and not worth serious consideration. But of course it is in pointing up the differences and similarities between species and their use in morality tales that their usefulness lies. And that usefulness is no small thing. It is to the credit of fantastic fiction - perhaps its glory - that only in its area can such things be fully explored. To know what it is to be truly human we must contemplate the non-human.

Le Guin has of course investigated the many different ways in which humans can be human beings, and in particular altered in sexuality, throughout her career, so this is no departure.

The lead tale here, the award winning novelette Buffalo Gals Won’t You Come Out Tonight, is I suppose a fantasy wherein a human girl, never named throughout, the sole survivor of a plane crash, is taken in by a community of animals. The animals appear to her to live as humans - and they talk of course - but have animal behaviours, especially in terms of waste disposal and sex. Their attitudes and behaviour are the norm here though and it is this simple transference that highlights the peculiarities of our species, our detachment from nature, our oddness. The strangeness of the milieu, the fact of the animals being animals, their kindness and the child’s simple acceptance of things is essential to the story’s success. It is, in the original sense of the word, fabulous.

The Wife’s Story and Mazes are stories of transference in which we get almost to the end before the true natures of the protagonists are revealed. The Direction Of The Road has an unusual narrator, a tree, and is a fine exemplar of the working through of an initial premise.

Trees are something of a Le Guin theme. There was of course The Word For World Is Forest and in (Hugo Award nominee) Vaster Than Empires And More Slow - in this collection - there are arboriforms which turn out to be part of a planet wide intelligence.

The White Donkey and Horse Camp are slighter tales which are nevertheless effective. Schrödinger’s Cat considers a third outcome to the famous thought experiment beyond the either/or that quantum theory appears to suggest. The Author of the Acacia Seeds and other extracts from the Journal of Therolingiustics is an amusing dissection of the academic style as well as a thorough exploration of the possibilities of language in the non-human world. May’s Lion is presented first as a true story then as fiction while She Unnames Them is a strange piece about the power of names to circumscribe, or provoke, thoughts and actions.

Included in the nineteen poems by Le Guin is one which is her own translation of one of Rilke’s. ( )
  jackdeighton | Jul 31, 2011 |
In an undergraduate creative writing course I read an Ursula Le Guin short story that has stayed with me for over 25 years. This book is the second reading of Le Guin for me, and too much time has passed since we crossed paths. This dark collection of short stories, poetry and illustrations, many from the animal or plant perspective, also will stay with me. I read the first story,"Won't You Come Out Tonight," while reading a nonfiction work on coyotes, and the two enhanced each other with both fact and fantasy, a serendipitous exchange. "The Wife's Story" and "The Direction of the Road", caused "of course!" and "aha!" moments. As someone whose first horse came from a summer camp, "Horse Camp" made me laugh in recognition of the horse personality (or horsenality as Linda Parelli is found of saying), and I immediately reread it. "She Unnames Them," preceded by a translation of a poem by Rainier Maria Rilke, initiates feminine environmental independence, a gentle and nearly passive act of respect and communion to reverberate through the generations. Some stories were confusing because the characters behaved and interacted as if I knew what was going on from the first sentence, which I did not, and I was slow to catch on; this was a bit frustrating so that those particular stories were not as satisfying to me. My copy of this work has acidic paper and is dogeared, a testimony of its longevity. Be prepared to think when reading Le Guin's words. ( )
  brickhorse | Jan 24, 2011 |
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Introduction: Although I whined and tried to hide under the rug, my inexorable publisher demanded an introduction for this book of my stories and poems about animals.
Come into animal presence.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Ten stories and 19 poems, many of which have been published previously, on the theme of the oneness of life, told mainly from the point of view of animals attempting to open the eyes of humans to the larger community of life. Recommended.

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