Author: Ursula K Le Guin
Details: (c) 1967 Ursula Le Guin; Pub Panther Granada 1978; ISBN 0586037551
Verdict: City of illusions is not bad but not wonderful either.
Reasons for reading it: It's Le Guin! I have read some bad stuff by Le Guin, but the great majority of everything she writes is sublime.
How it came into my hands: Can't remember now. A charity shop somewhere, I think.
There's nothing terribly wrong with City of Illusions; it's a sensible, even a flawless, example of the kind of book that is hard to classify as either SF or fantasy. It's readable, the characterization is fine, it conveys emotions well, the premise is original and interestingly explored. It's only because I have such high expectations for Le Guin that I'm underwhelmed by it.
Similarly its treatment of gender is not by any means disastrous, but it is weak compared to the amazing insights that many Le Guin books present. I caught myself thinking of it as sexist, which it isn't really, it's just using the standard assumptions about gender from relatively progressive sections of 1960s American society without challenging them at all. I think the thing where one major female character stays at home weaving, and the other is a sexual temptress, is actually an allusion to the Odyssey, rather than a statement about what women's roles should be, but this kind of lazy archetyping isn't worthy of Le Guin.
I did like the way that the ending section resolves what seemed like a hopeless predicament for the hero. The use of quasi-multiplicity and the exploration of what identity and personhood mean are well done. The world building is also strong, with a lot of subtle but effective incluing about the history of the galaxy and the far future fate of Earth.
I think the biggest problem with City of Illusions is that the evil aliens are too obviously evil. The opening of the book sets a scene where Falk must save the world from this evil occupying force of aliens who make lying a principle and exploit and enslave everybody for no very obvious reason. And after Falk's adventures this turns out to be exactly the case. I generally don't like bad guys who are evil for the sake of being evil and because that's their racial nature, not if the story includes some personal interaction with them rather than just being about monsters.
In general, City of Illusions made for decent entertainment while I was travelling, but it's nothing special.