- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (April 15, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1416556966
- ISBN-13: 978-1416556961
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 380 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #12,823 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Lathe Of Heaven: A Novel Paperback – April 15, 2008
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"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)
About the Author
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry, and four of translation, and has received the Hugo, Nebula, Endeavor, Locus, Tiptree, Sturgeon, PEN-Malamud, and National Book Award and the Pushcart and Janet Heidinger Kafka prizes, among others. In recent years she has received lifetime achievement awards from World Fantasy Awards, Los Angeles Times, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, and Willamette Writers, as well as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award and the Library of Congress Living Legends award. Le Guin was the recipient of the Association for Library Service to Children’s May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award and the Margaret Edwards Award. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, Words Are My Matter, an essay collection, and Finding My Elegy, New and Selected Poems. Her website is UrsulaKLeGuin.com.
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And, man, am I glad I checked it out. Often viewed as Le Guin's tribute to the works of Philip K. Dick, The Lathe of Heaven undeniably feels a lot like a Dick novel, with a surreal hook used to explore philosophical questions about reality and who we really are. But as you'd expect from Le Guin, there's no shortage of more social questions raised here, from the nature of peace to the dangers of global warming, all done within a great narrative that twists and turns underneath you.
The hook is simple enough: there's a man named George Orr (yes, the half allusion is probably intentional) who is scared to dream, because his dreams become real. But what makes this hard to prove is that his dreams don't just create reality; they rewrite it, making whatever he dreams not only true, but making it always have been true, so that no one remembers the change but him. That's true until George goes to court-mandated therapy, where his therapist seems to be aware of the change - and his ability to possibly control George's ability.
Like she did in The Dispossessed, Le Guin explores any number of ideas about utopias, the role of the individual in society, the question of the greater good, and her concerns about utilitarianism. At what point should the individual give way for society? Where is the cutoff between acceptable sacrifice for the greater good and too much? And what is the responsibility of one person to give it all for the world? But whereas The Dispossessed engaged with these ideas in the forms of detailed discussions, The Lathe of Heaven lets them remain more subtextual, unfolding as a battle of wills between George, his therapist, and a lawyer George brings in to help him. More than that, The Lathe of Heaven unfolds as a bizarre thriller of sorts, with reality constantly bending and shifting underneath us, and Le Guin able to explore the ramifications of so many changes, and what it would take to fix some of the problems in our world.
It all adds up to a great book, one that I really enjoyed. And if it's a bit derivative of PKD, well, that's okay, because Le Guin makes it her own, following the political and social ramifications of her conceit, not just the philosophical ones. It's a book I really enjoyed and absolutely couldn't put down, and has me eager to dive into more of an author I don't feel like I ever properly appreciated in her lifetime.
Orr gets assigned to voluntary therapy with a psychologist who specializes in sleep disorders. Orr tells Dr. William Haber about his unique condition, but, once the doctor recognizes Orr is telling the truth, Haber draws the opposite conclusion from Orr. Haber thinks that Orr should be using his “power” to make the world a better place, rather than being scared of it and trying to avoid it. Haber presents the classic example of good intentions gone awry. While the doctor does use the hypnotically-induced sessions to improve his own career situation, the worst outcomes result from the doctor’s attempts to help Orr (without Orr’s approval or prior knowledge) to improve the world. The law of unintended consequences is ever-present, and the dreams guided by Haber often result in “out of the frying pan and into the fire” situations.
This is an interesting premise in a highly readable book. The contrast between Orr and Haber reflects a broader societal tension between those who think they can engineer a utopian future and those who think that one’s attempts will always blow up in ways that one can’t anticipate. It should be noted that the title comes from “The Book of Chuang Tzu” and the virtue of “wu-wei” or “actionless action” in contrast to the corresponding vice of trying to manhandle the world into a desired state is central to the story.
I enjoyed this book. It’s a short novel with a clear theme that is thought-provoking. I’d recommend the book for fiction readers, and highly recommend it for readers of sci-fi and speculative fiction.
George Orr lives in a world beset by climate instability and overpopulation. However, his dreams have power over reality. When he awakens from vivid dreams, he finds that the world has become strange. It does not fit the clear memory of the world before he slept. Terrified of this power, he seeks the help of psychiatrist Dr. William Haber. Dr. Haber realizes what a powerful tool this could be for good. George becomes a pawn in Dr. Haber’s playing God. With each dream, humanity grows more imperiled.
This is the first novel I’ve read by the late Ursula K. Le Guin. The concept itself is interesting. What if a person found he had the power to change reality? Could this person manage all the variables that go into changing reality? This is a fascinating element of this novel. As Dr. Haber manipulates George Orr’s gift to change the world for the better, new problems seem to replace the old ones.
My problem with the book is that it becomes confusing. This is a danger for books that deal with alternate reality stories, such as time travel. As the world changes, so do the settings, antagonists, and goals. Being an action/adventure type, this may not have been the Ursula Le Guin story to cut my teeth on.