The Lathe of Heaven Paperback – 1 Oct 1998
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First published in 1971, Ursula Le Guin's SF novel The Lathe of Heaven combines a sheaf of future possibilities--including an early evocation of global warming--with a parable about wishes that has the terrible clarity of a fairytale.
The uncomfortably gifted George Orr is desperately drugging himself to avoid sleep, because he knows his dreams can change the world. Psychiatrist Dr Haber begins with good intentions of curing Orr, but when he finds he can shape Orr's "effective dreams" and force his own wishes into reality, the lure of power is too much. Though Haber believes he wants only to do good, he's also quick to upgrade himself from obscurity in a windowless office to Director of the prestigious Oregon Oneirological Institute.
During his flawed attempts to create an earthly paradise, we see that each sweeping change makes matters worse. Let's fix over-population: suddenly there's a new past in which humanity was almost destroyed by plague, billions of people are written out of existence, and Haber drinks a toast--"to a better world". Let's fix war: the hapless Orr's dreaming mind can only imagine and create a new threat that unites Earth against outside foes. Let's fix racism: the result is even more painful. As Orr broods:
The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means.
In this mad round of poisoned wishes, it becomes necessary to stop. But power-crazed Haber refuses to stop....
Beautifully written, jolting in its moral force, The Lathe of Heaven is one of Le Guin's finest SF excursions. --David Langford --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"A very good book...A writer's writer, Ursula Le Guin brings reality itself to the proving ground."--Theodore Sturgeon"Profound...Beautifully wrought...Her percetions of such matters as geopolitics, race, socialized medicine, and the patient/shrink relationship are razor sharp and more than a little cutting."--"National Review""Le Guin neatly and eerily conveys the bad-dream civilization which is George's everyday world."--"Washington Post Book World""A brilliant novel about the future."--"Pensacola News""Gracefully developed...Extremely inventive...What science fiction is supposed to do."--"Newsweek""A rare and powerful synthesis of poetry and science, reason and emotion."--"The New York Times"
"Profound. Beautifully wrought...[Le Guin's] perceptions of such matters as geopolitics, race, socialized medicine, and the patient-shrink relationship are razor sharp and more than a little cutting." -- "National Review"
"When I read "The Lathe of Heaven" as a young man, my mind was boggled; now when I read it, more than twenty-five years later, it breaks my heart. Only a great work of literature can bridge - so thrillingly - that impossible span."--Michael Chabon
"A rare and powerful synthesis of poetry and science, reason and emotion."--The New York Times
"Gracefully developed...extremely inventive.... What science fiction is supposed to do."--Newsweek
"Profound. Beautifully wrought... [Le Guin's] perceptions of such matters as geopolitics, race, socialized medicine, and the patient-shrink relationship are razor sharp and more than a little cutting."--National Review
"A very good book... A writer's writer, Ursula Le Guin brings reality itself to the proving ground."--Theodore Sturgeon
"When I read The Lathe of Heaven as a young man, my mind was boggled; now when I read it, more than twenty-five years later, it breaks my heart. Only a great work of literature can bridge - so thrillingly - that impossible span."--Michael Chabon --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
The 'if' world scenarios are a favourite of Science Fiction writiers. Some other classics are Philip K. Dick's 'The Man in the High Castle' and 'the Zap Gun', the Asimov and Arthur C Clarke short stories of people going back to the past and changing the future, and more recently Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' trilogy. In film there's 'Twelve Monkeys' and for TV there's the much underrated early Dr Who classic 'Inferno'.
The Lathe of Heaven, however, is a completely different take and a very original and compelling solution. In this story, the man's dreams are bizarrely transmitted into new realities. This is just a disturbing personal experience, until he falls into the hands of an unscrupulous psychotherapist.
The ensuing catalogue of disastrous choices — similar to genie-wish stories — opens the door for LeGuin to explore philosophical themes with much greater depth and precision than her Ekumen scenarios do. For example, a dream aspiring to end race hatred results in everyone having the same grey skin colour.
I enjoyed this book immensely. Even if you aren't a fan of LeGuin, the Lathe of Heaven should be a cracking good read.
George is anxiously trying to stay awake throughout this novella. For when he dreams about an alien invasion, aliens will be (and they are) flying down to earth when he wakes up. His psychiatrist exploits his gift, not always with evil intentions, but everything goes horribly wrong – dreams can never be truly controlled.
I haven’t read much sci-fi (yet), but when someone told me about the plot of this novella I had to read it. This is really a great story about love and human responsibility, questioning what we actually can and should do as humans. Should you change the world for the ‘better’ if you can? As George says:
“To be God you have to know what you’re doing. And to do any good at all, just believing you’re right and your motives are good isn’t enough.”
I loved that this book reverses the typical hero story. The man with the powers to change the world, doesn’t actually want to do save the planet. The man who doesn’t have the powers, but is actively trying to change reality (he’s trying to improve the world by removing for example poverty, war and racism) is the bad guy here.
I will reread this novella again soon. I have the feeling there is much more in there that I’ve yet to discover.
Initially, George is simply getting by in the world, struggling to live day by day, despite tremendously powerful dreams which occassionally cause his world to change in uncontrollable ways. Afraid he may cause more harm with these dreams, he seeks out the help of a psychiatrist. Dr. Haber has other ideas, however -- meaning well, although misguided, he attempts to control this power in order to shape reality to his own liking. Things progressively begin to worsen, until the world begins to collapse around them. All the while, George remains the same -- he, who appears weak and controllable at the outset through his accepting personality, is the only one who can cope as reality begins to crumble. What seemed to others a weakness is precisely what gives him strength.
All in all, a beautiful work of science fiction.
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