The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin

The Lathe of Heaven

Read February 2014

★   ★   ★   ★

For those new to or unaware of the wonders of Le Guin, this is a short book about George Orr, a man who has been taking too many drugs in an attempt to stop dreaming. Some of his dreams become true–not in the prescient sense, but in the reality-is-reordered sense, and George is haunted by the changes. In his highly regulated society, his drug deviance results in a mandatory visit to a psychologist and his dreaming machine. Dr. Huber discovers George’s power is real and convinces him that intentional dreaming is the solution. As the political world, environment and  history change around them, George and the psychologist struggle with reality, responsibility and consequences.

A number of thoughts after finishing this very powerful story. 

One: the book and I are roughly the same age.

Two: I can’t help but feel like LeGuin was scarily prescient.”The Greenhouse Effect had been quite gradual, and Haber, born in 1962, could clearly remember the blue skies of his childood. Nowadays the eternal snows were gone from all the world’s mountains, even Everest, even Erebus, fiery-throated on the waste Antarctic shore. Humanity, I’m disappointed in you: you mean that we’ve known about climate change for fifty years and it’s accelerating? That the snow is indeed receding from the world’s mountains? It is disorienting to realize we are living the dystopia.

Three: I think this is likely a book that needs to be read and re-read to understand it, particularly when young. I think the first time I read it was for the plot, which, while quite good, is only one facet of a sharp gem. I think it would also help if one had more than a passing background in Taoism. In my old age, I suspect it more of reinforcing the idea of inner peace over action.

Four: yet, it feels a little dated. Not in ideas, but in writing style. It was written for an age of few distractions, when a novella could also be a philosophical treatise. I found the pacing of it a challenge, but it could have been because I was reading it in between stations at my mammogram appointment.  It was also written in an age where science fiction was instruction as much as entertainment.

Five: reading it this time, I was more than a little bothered by the psychological horror story aspects. Maybe I’ve become particularly sensitive to the concept of benevolent psychological coercion.

Sixth: I continue to love what Le Guin does with language:

Even as he spoke he could hear the elevator whine up and stop, the doors gasp open; then footsteps, hesitation, the outer door opening… The real trick was to learn how not to hear them. The only solid partitions left were inside the head.

Seven: and what she does with character: “That geniality was not faked, but it was exaggerated. There was a warmth to the man, an outgoingness, which was real; but it had got plasticoated with professional mannerisms, distorted by the doctor’s unspontaneous use of himself. Orr felt in him a wish to be liked and a desire to be helpful; the doctor was not, he thought, really sure that anyone else existed, and wanted to prove they did by helping them.”

Eight: and ideas: “Orr had a tendency to assume that people knew what they were doing, perhaps because he generally assumed that he did not.

Interesting, glad I took time for a re-read, and yet a little uncomfortable. Deserves a place on the shelf so it gets a re-read.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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