Tuesday, 13 January 2009

City of Illusions

I'm quite a big fan of Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels. It's not that easy to explain this Hainish universe but basically it's sort of an organisation of planets connected by a body of people known as the Ekumen. Wikipedia does a good job of explaining it here. Not that it matters that much to be honest and I'm nothing if not a bit confused by it, but that doesn't stop me loving these loosely connected books. Possibly the most famous is The Left Hand of Darkness which I read as my first Hainish novel several years ago. After reading that I decided to start at the beginning and read through all seven or eight of the novels Le Guin has written in this universe. Three books begin the series, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile and this third book that I've just read - City of Illusions.

The story itself is quite straightforward. Earth has become a barbarous place. An enemy called The Shing rule it from the city of Es Toch, somewhere in the Rocky mountains, and the human population is either scattered and tribal, or live on small farms in the great forests of eastern North America. To one of these, one day, comes a wild man, so unlike any human with his huge yellow eyes that the community are undecided about whether they should kill him. They keep him instead and set about restoring his empty mind. The result is 'Falk' and he lives among these people, learning more and more every day about their existance but never knowing who he truly is. Eventually, it's decided that he must travel to the distant Shing city of Es Toch to find out who he is. The first half of the book charts his amazing journey. The second half of the book details what happens when he gets to the city and I won't go into that as there are several twists and turns that would spoil it for others who might pick up this book.

As I said before this is the third book in the Hainish series, and I have loved every one of them. All three are old fashioned, traditional science fiction and take me back many years to the time when that was about all I read. There are themes running through all of these books. Colonisation, how alien cultures deal with each other, how easily misunderstandings happen, ecological matters and so on. Authors that remind me a bit of her are Sherri Tepper (Grass), Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow) and Anne McCaffrey's Freedom's Landing series. (I didn't realise I liked this sci fi theme as much as it seems I do...) The next book is The Dispossessed which is apparently a bit of a sci fi classic; I don't have it so have just sent for a copy. I would also highly recommend one of Le Guin's more recent anthologies, The Birthday of the World. I bang on about this short story collection quite a lot but it has quite a few Hainish stories in it, about sexuality (though not in any way explicit), and is quite honestly one of the best anthologies I've ever read. Le Guin apparently calls her Hainish universe, 'My pseudo-coherent universe with holes in the elbows'. Well quite. But I call it simply 'brilliant'.

My first read for Carl's Sci Fi experience.


Nymeth said...

I read this so long ago. I remember it being my favourite of the Hainish books (I've only read the first three), but somehow I can't get into her science fiction as much as into her fantasy. Perhaps it's time to give it another try, though. And the collection you recommended sounds like the perfect starting point.

Vintage Reading said...

Have you read the Earthsea trilogy? It's on my tbr list, as well as Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time.

Cath said...

Hi Nymeth. I really want to read all of Le Guin's books, especially that series that you've read that I can't remember the name of. Fantasy or sci fi, I just love her writing to bits. Oh yes, *do* read that collection, *please*. It is utterly fantastic, especially the Hainish stories which will really make you rethink your whole outlook on sexuality, it's so off the wall.

Hi Nicola. Yes I have read The Earthsea Quartet. I own it in fact and would never part with it as I absolutely loved it. I hope you decide to read it. I haven't read A Wrinkle in Time but many people love it so I really must try to do that this year. Le Guin is also a very interesting essay writer.

DesLily said...

Hi Cath: the only stuff I've read by her is the Earthsea books and I read those eons ago! Did England get the made for tv mini series that was made of Earthsea over there?? It wasn't bad.

Nymeth said...

The series is The Annals of the Western Shore, and the books are called Gifts, Voices and Powers. I really think you'd love them, Cath!

I'm definitely getting that collection. Last year I read The Left Hand of Darkness and she made me rethink assumptions about gender and sexuality I didn't even know I had. And I adore her writing too.

Also, have you read the 5th and 6th Earthsea books (Tales from Earthsea and The Other Wind)? They're my absolute favourites...The Other Wind in particular is probably one of my top 5 all-time favourites. They're more along the lines of Tehanu...quieter and more introspective rather than epic.

Anyway, sorry for blabbing. I could talk about Ursula all day :P

Cath said...

Hi Pat. The Earthsea books are superb. One of these days I really must reread them and I also have the two new ones to read. No, we didn't get the mini-series and I haven't searched it out because most people who talked about it, didn't seem to like it.

Nymeth: I looked for Gifts in the library yesterday but all they had was Powers. I know they have Gifts but it's obviously out at the moment.

The wonderful thing about The Birthday of the World was that Le Guin didn't start from the traditional wife/husband perspective - she started in another place altogether and went places I would never have thought of going. Utterly brilliant and I don't even own the book. I *must* get my own copy.

No, I haven't read the two new Earthsea books yet. I was aware of them but they sort of fell off my radar somehow. Must get to those. I have The Dispossessed on the way and own The Word for World is Forest and The Eye of the Heron. Also own a book of her essays entitled, The Wave in the Mind and another book of short stories, The Compass Rose. Really looking forward to getting my teeth into some of these this year.

DesLily said...

I can't say it was a great mini series Cath, but I did enjoy it, but then maybe that was because it was so very long ago that I read the books that I had forgotten much of the books!