City of Illusions by Ursula Le Guin (Hainish Cycle)

City of Illusions by Ursula Le GuinSummary: A man who appears to have had his brain completely erased is found in the woods in a future post-apocalyptic Earth.

I have been very slowly working through Le Guin’s Hainish Cycle. These are a series of science fiction books that are only very loosely related. Most within the series have almost no connection to any other book in the series. But they all are set in a future where hundreds of worlds have been settled by humanity. But due to genetic manipulation and isolation due to war or other reasons there have been evolutionary shifts that have altered humanity to be a number of different species. This has allowed Le Guin to explore a number of features of what it means to be human or in society. Although they are considered a series, Le Guin says they are not intended to have internal cohesion and form a single story or even have a suggested reading order.

The Disposessed explored how societies organize politically and socially as a scientist moved from an anarchist utopia (described as non-authoritarian communism’ to a repressive capitalist system that permits a type of slavery. The Left Hand of Darkness is a more physical exploration of what gender means. An outsider comes to a isolated world to attempt to bring them into an intergalactic United Nations style system. But this isolated world does not have fixed gender. Everyone is genderless except once a month when they create gender to mate, each person sometimes becoming male and sometimes becoming female. Most people will be both fathers and mothers at different times and in general mating is temporary and not a permanent marriage arrangement. Children after infancy are raised communally.

The City of Illusions was the third published book in 1967. The Earth has been reduced to a small fraction of its population, most of whom live in small villages or in nomadic tribal system. There is very little trust of outsiders, but a man is found without memory and with the bodily control of an newborn. He is nursed to health and taught so that after about 5 years he has developed the skills and understanding of an adult, but without any knowledge of where he came from or how he came to be in the woods near the community that found him.

Eventually he decides to leave the community, and the woman that he has loved and was living with, to search the world for his identity. The story then has a mix of travel elements, both good and bad sort of like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. But also science fiction elements with mind control and telepathy and aliens and lasers. Because of the ending I wonder if Robert Heinlein stole the idea of the ending for his book I Will Fear No Evil which was published just a couple years after this.

The Hainish Cycle is mostly a series of ideas and exploration of what it means to be human. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have some good stories, but the ideas can overwhelm the thread of the stories. Of the three I have read so far, I think this does the best job of balancing the stories and the ideas so that there is a coherent and interesting narrative as well as a conceptual framework.

As far as I can tell there is not a print edition where City of Illusions is published in print or ebook by itself. This audiobook version was published in 2007.

City of Illusions by Ursula Le Guin (Hainish Cycle) Purchase Links: Audible.com Audiobook , out of print in a stand alone edition, Worlds of Exile and Illusion includes City of Illusions in kindle, The Library of America hardcover includes it in The Hainish Novels and Stories Vol 1

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