Sunday, June 8, 2008

"City Of Illusions" by Ursula Le Guin

Author: Ursula Le Guin
Title: "City of Illusions"
Pages: 232
Publisher: Ace Books

“City Of Illusions” is the third book in the Hainish cycle, which I had happened to stumble on, before I reached “The Left Hand of Darkness” and I wasn’t left disappointed. From the three so far I enjoyed this book the most.

The story this time is set on Earth, our Earth referred to as Terra in the distant future and well we pretty much find it in ruins in a state after a major apocalypse, but not the way most people think. Terra has healed all wounds, has overgrown all the cities, know humans are nearly extinct and live in single Houses, giant ranches, miles and miles apart. Our future descendants never recuperated from the War culturally and exist on a pre-technology level of society. This of course is done against their will, since Terra is ruled by the Shing, rumored evil aliens referred to as the Enemy, who can lie with their minds, when general belief around the galaxy states that with telepathy no one can lie. So the Shing live in a giant city, the only one existing city Es Toch or the City of Illusions/Lies and forbid humans to evolve in any way, while they thrive with electricity and technology.

Falk is the protagonist of the story, an unusual human specimen with yellow eyes of a cat, who is also rumored to be a Shing, but he can’t tell for certain. Mainly because his brain was telepathically fried, so he sets on a journey to Es Toch to find his identity and answers. He teams up with Estrel, once he gets abducted by the fearsome and quite brutal in its rituals tribe Basnasska and escapes with her to the city. However things get kind of messy, when he learns that she is actually a tool of the Shing. To that initial shock comes the knowledge that the Shing are actually humans, who in order to prevent more wars have pretended to be the enemy. Then comes a boy, who announces that he is Agad Ramarren from the world of Werel (yes the same Werel from “Planet of Exile”), who has come here on a mission to contact Terra. The highest point in the novel is when Falk has to choose whether to make a psychic surgery to regain his memory. The dilemma consists in that once he regains his old memory his current life will be deleted, which he doesn’t want since is in love with a woman from his House. Secondary reason is that he knows that the Shing are lying about their history and intentions to help him regain memory and travel back to Werel. However as the story progresses we see Falk and Ramarren meld into one personality and escape earth with a hostage without revealing Werels’ coordinates to the Shing so that they may not attack Werel.

All of this happened in 232 pages, which is unbelievably deep and skillfully written. I can even forget the fact that this is sci-fi, a genre, which initially doesn’t attract me much, but this book certainly changed my view if not a little. The main theme of the book is clearly about truth and deception. For quite a time I was fooled by some of the false theories Le Guin has presented, which were later revealed as false for new ones to fill in their places. The endless circle of lies and truth, which is later announced as lies and myths that were deemed as lies become true, is perplexing, intricate and overwhelming in the positive aspect. Then comes of course how the novels in the Hainish cycle interconnect is also enchanting. When we left “Planet of Exile” Werel was just about to settle down and here in “City of Illusions” we learn of Werel as a fully blooming world with a new rave forged from the two before. As a fan of world building, these tiny tidbits of setting, beliefs and history are precious and add volumes and depth to the experience.

Characterization here also is important and is mainly shown through Falk-Ramarran, who consists of two polar personalities, which reflect the struggle between truth and lies. Falk is naïve and in tune with his heart’s desires and emotions, while Rammarran is a mathematician, a person of logic and in full control of his spirit through a complicated spirit discipline that suppresses emotions. The process of both personalities melting together is parallel to the assimilation of what is fact and what is deceitful information.

I am confidently recommending this classic to anyone!


Nymeth said...

Usula Le Guin is one of my favourite authors, yet for some reason when I read this some years ago I just couldn't get into it. Maybe it helped that I picked it up without having read any of the other Hainish books. But you know, your review has got me thinking that I should give it another try.

daydream said...

The thing with books, movies and all other forms of art is that they are tightly connected to our state of mind, emotion and understanding of the world. You might have picked the right book for you in general in the wrong time. It has happened to me you know. Under the right circumstances this book will leave an impression.

Nymeth said...

Yes, that's certainly very true, and it has happened to me too in the past. I will give this one another go :)

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