Book: City of Illusions - Livre d'Or — LiveJournal

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Book: City of Illusions
Thursday, 29 March 2007 at 09:32 pm

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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.

Moooood: okayokay
Tuuuuune: Cranberries: Zombie
Discussion: 3 contributions | Contribute something

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rysmiel: swan raised by wolves
Date:May 9th, 2007 08:37 pm (UTC)
24 days after journal entry, 04:37 pm (rysmiel's time)
I generally don't like bad guys who are evil for the sake of being evil and because that's their racial nature,

It depends on how you define evil. For me there's a grey area wrt, for example, aliens who are obligate carnivores and therefore have a morality that incliudes not considering vegetarians as people - simplistic example, definitely. I'd love to see your reaction to Cherryh's atevi books - the aliens in which are not evil, but have very non-human psychologies in which certain fundamental human virtues do not compute, as a standard for how all of them work - save that they are several long volumes which really need one to take the entire first book on trust that the human protagonist stuck among said aliens will grow up and get competent and stop being so hapless, and there are a couple of other things wrong with it by way of superfluous prolegomena which were not Cherryh's decision. He does grow up very satisfyingly, IMO, bot not really until the second book.
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livredor: livre d'or
Date:May 10th, 2007 05:09 am (UTC)
24 days after journal entry, 06:09 am (livredor's time)
Oh, I'm definitely interested to read about interactions with an alien race who have a completely non-congruent moral system. The Shing aren't like that though, they have the standard human morality but just go against it. Their self-definition is based on how much they can lie, for a totally human concept of lying. And they subjugate planets simply because it gives them prestige and more victims to lie to, rather than for a sensible reason like needing the space or resources or even not regarding the indigenous population as sentient.

The Cherryh series sounds interesting, though having to take the whole first book on trust isn't really a selling point.
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rysmiel: wilde thing
Date:May 12th, 2007 02:44 am (UTC)
26 days after journal entry, May 11th, 2007 10:44 pm (rysmiel's time)
"take the whole first book on trust" is a bit strong, on reflection; it's just that it grows quite irritating - well, to me - to have the central character be so utterly at a loss for so long.

They are also quite peculiarly paced, because having worked out the alien psychology she has worked out one of their literary traditions that makes sense for that different emotional make-up in the way that for example classical tragedy does for some kinds of human emotional reality, and has given the novels themselves structures that reflect those traditions. So what gets the attention of climax and what of denouement is not where one might expect. It's an extremely clever thing to have done.
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