ALONG the eastern seaboard of an unnamed continent the authorities have built a wall. The city sprawls along the coast beaten by the mush-brown sea, protected from outsiders or invaders and, most important of all, from anything which flies. The city is shrouded with high nets, constantly repaired by men who no longer fish. The nets are covered in guano and corpses, the city below made murky by the myriad dead birds.
The citizens, the occupants of the city, have few rights and less knowledge. They are terrified of any creature with feathers. Bird is a banned word and the sound of gulls brings horror. At night the untouchable caste of Cheerful Federators cleans every comb and barbule from the streets. They sweep up anyone out past curfew: abandoned children, dying elders, the rebel too absorbed in his graffiti to notice the dark. Such sinners are dispatched to the orphanage, the Mental Wing or the subterranean Godown Prison. They disappear and few, if any, ever return.
Beyond the city wall stretches the terrible Inland, a massive desert of heat and sand, though at its very centre is rumoured to be a place of sweetness and calm. Predators and vermin roam out there, to be avoided at all costs.
Of course, all walls look different from the other side. The long construction bars the way to the sea for the roaming Camel Wallahs, Blue Wallcreepers, Wallachs and other mysterious continental denizens. For them, the loss of the cities has brought economic collapse to match environmental destruction. Nomads wander a barren, hostile landscape collecting goods for the teeming markets and shanty towns lined against the outside, the downside, the unknown side of the wall.
Some find or stumble upon ways to penetrate the wall and face the dangers of the outside. (No-one is coming the other way, into the lucky privileges of the chosen few.) A message is carried: it is cold…we have no blankets. All routes are circuitous, perplexing, accompanied by fable and myth. Bird-tracks in the dust are as legible, as meaningful, as human words. Eventually, inevitably, the wall is breached. The tyrant falls and a young, wise, enigmatic man tears up that mantle to begin again, to make something different.
A life or a time looks simple when you leave out the details
Don’t let my description suggest that this is a linear novel. It is a series of fragments, pieces of news from nowhere. The city finds echoes in the streets of Hav of the Myrmidons; Inland is the antonym of Le Guin’s Valley. Stories come and go, meander through the dried wadis, in and out of sad villages and past infants left to starve until adopted by birds. A child plays in a gutter till she is swept away, reunited with her lost sister fifty tales later after circumnavigations and drowning.
 Ursula Le Guin The Birthday of the World and Other Stories
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