City of Illusion

Ursula Le Guin


The long war against the Shing had been lost and the League of Worlds shattered. The colonies were long gone and Earth herself occupied. The Shing had seen to it that those who remained would not rebel against their new masters, destroying all technology and mind blasting those who would attempt to rebuild the Past for if the Shing had been the victors in that long ago confrontation, the victory was a pyrrhic one and their power much reduced.

With Terrans reduced to semi barbaric villages scattered over the globe, the only technology allowed were the electronics sheds that were as much a part of life as the villages’ weaving sheds.

However, into this near ideal world, a stranger was injected. At first, badly injured, the villagers take him in and treat his injuries but not without a trace of fear as it is obvious from the start that he was not of Earth – his amber coloured eyes had not developed under Sol’s gaze. As he recovered, it was clear that he had no memory of where he had come from and a young girl of the village did not share the general fear that he might be one of their alien masters.

As his memory gradually returns, the stranger remembers who he was and where he came from (his rescuers were still suspicious of him, for hadn’t the Shing come from the stars?). A world that had been settled from Earth many centuries ago. A world that had lost contact with Earth back then. A world where colonist and native merged and built a new civilisation that eventually took them back to the stars, then finally to an occupied Earth. He also recalled that there was another survivor from his ship that had been destroyed in Earth orbit; an impressionable boy now in the hands of the enemy.

In his desire to rescue his young companion, the Visitor has to make his way through the fractured societies of Earth to the virtually mythical city where the Shing live.

Like most of Le Guin’s books, the strength of this book is in the description of the societies that the Outsider finds himself in, mainly that of the villagers who rescued him, but in his trip to the eponymous city as well we get to see the strange societies that had sprung up in the fracturing of Earth’s star spanning society.

This is part of Le Guin’s Hainish/Ekumen universe and shows what had happened to one of the three leading planets of the League. The Visitor and his young companion come from the planet that was the backdrop for the story of Planet of Exile. Like many of Le Guin’s books this has the almost obligatory long journey detailing the societies.


This is another book in the Gollancz Classic Science Fiction range.

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