Avast! Thar be spoilers ahead!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

City of Illusion

City of Illusion is the last in Three Hainish Novels. The species from Weral in Planet of Exile now journey/return to Earth, the nearest planet in the possibly defunct League of All Worlds. It is also a mystery story.

The main character, Falk or Agad Ramarren, has his memory wiped clean. He is released into the wild, a child in a man's body. He chances upon a Forest House, a small kin group, who shelter and teach him despite his unmistakably alien eyes. He remains with them for five years, wooing the woman who saved and taught him. He is happy among them but troubled by his own lost identity. He determines that he must travel to Es Toch, the city of the Shing, to regain his memory.

The Shing are an invading alien group who control the Earth by denying its inhabitants access to technology. They are said to tbe the only species capable of mind lying, or lying while communicating telepathically. According to legend, this talen for deception is what enabled the Shing to destroy the League of All Worlds.

Much of history has been forgotten. No one is sure whether the League was ever real or just a legend. As Falk travels, he hears many conflicting histories and descriptions of the Shing and struggles to determine what is true. Falk is himself hopelessly scrupulous and honest, a trait that both endangers him and saves him on his quest.

Eventually, Falk reaches Es Toch. He is possibly betrayed by his travelling companion, Estrel. The Shing claim to be true Earth humans who accepted the onus of hatred in order to maintain peace. Falk also hears details of his own (possible) past. Of the 20 members of his exbition to nearest inhabited planet, only two survive, Falk and a young boy named Orry, who has accepted all the explanations the Shing give him. Falk is less willing to believe them.

To regain his memory, Falk permits his current identity to be erased to regain his previous identity. Despite what he had been told, he is able to keep his memories as Falk alongside but distinct from his Weral personality. Falk/Ramarren realizes that the Shing are real, are the enemy, and restored his memory only to learn where his planet is so that they may destroy or enslave its inhabitants. Falk manages to steal a shing starship in order to return to his home planet to warn and prepare them for the Shing.

The biggest element in this novel is doubt. We see the world through Falk. Like us, he has not knowledge of the world he is in. Each community he comes across has its own culture, its own history, its own myths and legends. Falk has a difficult time determining who to trust and often has his knowledge and memory violated against his will. While readers of Le Guin's other Hainish novels grants us insights into the history of the League, we are still dependant on Falk's perception and experiences to learn about the world.

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