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City of Illusions Paperback – 4 Oct 1973

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Paperback, 4 Oct 1973
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Product details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Grafton; New edition edition (4 Oct. 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0586037551
  • ISBN-13: 978-0586037553
  • Product Dimensions: 17.3 x 10.9 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 181,687 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Ursula Le Guin has won many awards, including a National Book Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Newbery Honor and the World Fantasy Award For Life Achievement.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mikko Saari on 6 Aug. 2007
Format: Paperback
City of Illusions is an early book from Le Guin (published 1967). It is set in her Hainish worlds, however. The story takes place on future Earth, after some kind of apocalypse has wiped most of humanity out and the rest live down to earth under the rule of the Shing.

A mysterious alien man appears from the woods. He's lost his memory and learns a new life like a child. Is he a Shing, a tool of the Shing or a friend? He wants to find out and eventually sets out to the city of Shing.

The book is divided into two parts: first is the man's journey through the Northern American plains to the Shing city Es Toch - the city of illusions. There he starts to unravel his past and decipher what the Shing actually want. It's a web of lies and deceit and quite an challenge.

While City of Illusions is far from being Le Guin's greatest work, it is a pleasant little book that offers solid entertainment.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 10 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
City of Illusions 19 Sept. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
A man crawls out of the woods, naked, hungry, without knowledge, without spirit. The people who take care of him call him Falk. He is being educated, he gains knowlegde and spirit. He becomes a man of honour and truth. But who is he? After 5 years with his new family, he starts on a quest to find his true identity.
He is on Earth, in a far future. Earth that has conolized many planets, is now a barbaric world. The people of Earth are no more what they used to be. No more explorers, inventors, politicians, scientists. They became tribes, nomads and slaves.
He leanrs that he actually is a man from another world. And he IS human. He tries to find a way to win this 'battle' he is in.
This book tells of the value of truth and honour and of the importance to know yourself.
It tells a good sf story about the human race that is conquered by an alien race that used the lie as their main weapon. And this is not an sf story in which technology and space battles are the main ingredients, but everyday life, a long journey, weird lines of thought, psychological struggle and conversations that don't seem to make any sense.
I have read The Left Hand of Darkness as well, another wonderful book by Ursule LeGuin. They are on the same line of history in a far future. In both books, an individual will change the future of a whole world. In both books, honesty, honour, integrity, intelligence and courage turn out to be the way to conquer problems.
In this line of history, LeGuin has written two more books: Rocannon's World and Planet of Exile, and I can't wait to start reading them.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The best of the Hainish novels? 30 Jan. 2009
By P. Johnston - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Why do so many science fiction lists have places for every cocktail napkin that Philip K. Dick scribbled a note on, but a real writer like Ursula K. Leguin is frequently restricted to only two novels? I suppose literary cannons, whether for academics or sci fi nerds, are as subject to fads as anything else, but in this case its really a pity. The Hainish novels are worth the effort to read, and give great insight into a Titan of Science Fiction.

"City of Illusions" is a terrific quest novel. It is a welcome reward for having read the two previous Hainish novels, and perhaps slightly better than the undeveloped metaphor of Left Hand of Darkness. By this point in her career LeGuin has mastered her trademark motif of having a man cross a world on foot. More playful, and interesting than the boring trek that pads out the last third of "Left Hand of Darkness" the walk of Falk, our hero, across a sort of apocalypse United States, is the best part of this novel which has many great features. Let me first note that LeGuin, as always with the Hainish novels, shows us a post race world which is absent in most science fiction written by male writers. Again the foundation of the book is an excellent characterization of a likable hero who always behaves in human ways, and logical, subtle world building that is only ever shown to us through the speech, and the gestures of the characters, and never in dreary, long winded exposition. The spare science fiction of "Planet of Exile" harmonizes the over abundant fantasy of "Rocannon's World" as a realistic world is peppered with talking animals, and bits of technology. The overarching element of science fiction/fantasy, however, are psychic abilities, that characters have to varying degrees.
The ending loses its way our hero and the book switch gears from adventure, to intrigue and spy games, but still its a satisfying peice of work.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Stylistic eloquence but weak resolution 17 Sept. 2001
By Barry C. Chow - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Here are the early glimmerings of a future mastery. Le Guin will come into her own with the Earthsea trilogy and earn pre-eminence with The Left Hand of Darkness. But here, in her first efforts, we can see the developing touch--the sure hand and the restrained voice already at work.
The City of Illusions is the last of a loose trilogy of works that the author calls the "Three Hainish Novels". Set in the same Hainish universe as two earlier works, this novel shares little with its predecessors, except for a hazy reference to a collective history and the common device of telepathy.
Still, it is pure Le Guin. The author likes large themes - in this case, truth, falsehood, and the crisis of identity. The protagonist is on a journey, both figuratively and literally, to find his true being - not just his being, but his true being - a subtle but important difference. When we are introduced to him, he is a blank with no identity and no past. He must painfully build a new identity from nothing; burdened with the belief that a previous lifetime has been erased. In searching for that past, he is forced to face the fear of a false self; a life based on a lie.
Such a psychological drama could have sunken into contrivance but for the skill of the author. Le Guin navigates this hazard by making the anguish of the protagonist real and immediate, and she avoids manipulation by revealing rather than directing.
Yet, for all the written skill, this novel does not fulfill its potential. It is unsatisfying - not severely, but enough to diminish the reading experience. For one thing, the plot is incomplete: it needs an epilogue to sate our curiosity. It is also incomplete in a more vital and thematic sense: a large need is filled in a small way. When the human race is enslaved to aliens, what significance can we attach to the fleeting freedom of one man? The weight is all off kilter. The final passage ends on a note of hope, but is insufficient to redress the imbalance.
Though better than most science fiction, this book remains uneven. The austerity of the writing is cool and bracing; but the ideas lack expansiveness and the story lacks a resolution. While reading it, we set aside the immediate for the promise of things to come; but when that promise goes begging, we are so flustered by its unexpected absence that we lose sight of the vibrancy in the present. This book appeals more to stylists; less to seekers after an organic whole.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Exploring Truth in the City of Illusions 21 Nov. 1997
By - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
In City of Illusions, Ursula K. LeGuin shares an interesting insight about truth. In a war where lies are used as weapons, she says that the most powerful counteragent is truth. The liar will not recognize truth as such, or trust it, and will thus be suspicious of everything. To use a lie against a liar is to fight on the enemy's domainÐa great tactical advantage for the liar. Similarly, to use truth against falsehood will confuse the enemy. In either case, the side or sides using lies will inevitably become so mired in falsity that no real victory can be declared indefinitely. If the side of the liar appears to win, it will only be undermined eventually by lies from within. It is a tenuous victory at best, and very hollow and unfulfilling to keep power solely by subtle word-twisting.
How tempting it is, though, in real life, to attempt to use a lie to gain a tactical advantage. Le Guin shows the validity of maintaining integrity and refusing to lie. One slip of the tongue may not destroy an empire, but a slip of the tongue can be the stumble that can send one down the slippery slope from which there is no ascencion. City of Illusions is just thatÐa city set not on a hill, but in a gorge, attempting to hide from the light that may reveal it to be what it is, a foundation of falsity that can crumble when struck by anything unwilling to immerse itself in the lie. Is integrity a realistic idea in the real world? I believe it is the only thing that will endure. Anything less is simply attempting to build a society, or a city, or a life on a foundation of illusion.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Hainish Cycle #3 13 Dec. 2012
By Kat Hooper - Published on
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"You go to the place of the lie to find out the truth?"

Ursula K. Le Guin's HAINISH CYCLE continues with City of Illusions, which I liked better than its predecessors, Rocannon's World and Planet of Exile. City of Illusions takes place on Earth sometimes in the far future after an alien invasion has killed off most of the people and has completely changed the Earth's ecology, infrastructure, and geopolitical arrangement. There's a large capital city run by an alien race called the Shing, but most of the humans are spread out and divided into small clusters in the hinterlands which have gone back to their natural state after Earth's cities were destroyed. While there are futuristic technologies in the capital, the rest of the people live off the land without technological help and with only occasional glimpses of the advanced society that their ancestors knew before it decayed.

To prevent takeovers, the Shing do not allow the people to organize or even to communicate over long distances. If anyone attempts anything that threatens the government, they are arrested and, since the Shing do not allow the taking of human lives, they are "razed," meaning their memories are wiped out. To keep humans subjugated, the Shing also use their powers to cast illusions and to lie with their minds, which is why their capitol city is called the City of Illusions.

Our story begins as a man with cat-like eyes wakes up in the wilderness and doesn't know who or where he is. In fact, he doesn't know anything -- his mind is blank. His only potential clue is a gold ring he wears which tells him that he once belonged somewhere. When a wilderness family takes him in, they name him Falk and teach him how to be a man again (if he ever was a man -- his eyes suggest at least some non-human genes). After several years, Falk decides to set out for the City of Illusions to find out who he is. Along the way he meets other types of people, experiences different cultures, and has some scary adventures. By the time he gets to the city, he has made a new life for himself, has made friends, has fallen in love, and has learned a lot about the world he lives in, but not any clues about himself.

When Falk meets the Shing in the City of Illusions, he discovers who he is, but he learns that he must choose between his old mostly unknown life and the new life he has been living for several years. He also learns that the aliens have a different story about what happened to Earth than the stories he has previously heard. It's not easy to separate truth from lies or to know who can be trusted. Falk has some major dilemmas to resolve and some major choices to make.

The setting of City of Illusions -- America's ruined cities being gradually overtaken by forests -- is appealing (reminds me of Gene Wolfe's NEW SUN books) and so is Falk (especially when we find out who he is) who is developed better than the protagonists in the previous HAINISH CYCLE novels. It helps that Falk doesn't need a backstory, so we're not really expecting much there. Unfortunately, none of the other characters are particularly engaging and the villains seem inconsistent (e.g., their insistence that life is sacred doesn't fit with their other beliefs and actions), but I enjoyed Falk's travels and dilemmas nonetheless and I liked the ambiguous ending and how this story fills in some information we were left wondering about at the end of Planet of Exile. City of Illusions is short and fast-paced with Le Guin's usual economy of words which I've always admired and which becomes more appreciated the more epic fantasy I read.

I listened to Blackstone Audio's excellent production narrated by Stefan Rudnicki. City of Illusions refers to events that occurred in Planet of Exile and is sort of a sequel. It's not necessary, but it'd be helpful to read that book first.

Originally published at FanLit.
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