I'm a very particular person when it comes to taste. Or rather, I am by nature, but am attempting to unravel that nature by design.
I was never overly interested in Science Fiction. Something about the future feels too familiar, too close to now. Fantasy, on the other hand, always evokes a sense of the archaic, the antiquated, the old and long forgotten artifacts of past ancestry. I adore this, and so Fantasy has been my touchstone for fiction, both as a consumer and as a creator, as far back as I can remember. Yet, variation is among an artists greatest tools. The unfamiliar is the catalyst of innovation, of change. Knowing this truth, and having felt it as I've allowed myself to branch into other ecosystems of life with which I initially felt distant from and disinterested with, I've started wandering into the realm of Sci-Fi. To my joy, I've discovered a realm betwixt and between Fantasy & Sci-Fi, a realm that blends the two, a realm so simply and so aptly named Sci-Fantasy.
Within this in-between place I've stumbled on City of Illusions, by Ursula K. Le Guin.
Until now, I've only known Ursula as a writer of Fantasy; as the writer of The Earthsea Cycle--a fantasy series some say was as influential to the genre as Tolkien. I stumbled over City of Illusions while seeking a new Audiobook, and found it was voiced by Stefan Rudnicki, a voice actor whose previous works I very much enjoyed (and the quality of the actor is a massively influential aspect in what books I listen to .vs. read). So, knowing the author and the actor were of equally respectable accomplishments and influence, and having enjoyed some of their past works, City of Illusions was an easy sell. My first foray into a Sci-Fantasy novel. And what a foray it was. I adored it.
Ursula K. Leguin's prose is simple and lyrical. It has a beautiful cadence to it, standing in truth somewhere between prose and verse. The setting of the world in City of Illusions suits her writing style, or is perhaps suited by it. It is ancient and ambiguous, a fallen world in a post-post apocalyptic state. We see it through the eyes of Falk--an amnesiac alien to himself, us, and the inhabitants of the world in which he finds himself. His world? A world to which he ventured from distant space and far away time? Mystery abounds. A mysterious world with a mysterious origin myth perceived for us through the eyes of a man both bound up in and an integral part of. It's all so delightful.
Falk's tale is a tale of recovery and rebirth. Reviving the self he once was but has forgotten. It is a quest of self-discovery through a world he is discovering at the same time. The side-strays, helpful and hurtful cast of characters (all equally unique and soul-deep), and wide-ranging revelations all unveil a story familiar in terms of its structure, direction, and message, while still feeling like an authentic and personal interpretation of the Rebirth story arc.
A soft Sci-Fi woven with a soft Fantasy, where the focus is on character and the world's myth and mystery, City of Illusions has become a fast favorite, and a first favorite of Sci-Fantasy. I was excited to learn that it is only one work in the extended Hainish Cycle, disappointed only that the breadth of the work isn't narrated by Stefan. But that is neither here nor there, and the physical volumes will sit well worn on my library shelf.