- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 6 hours and 29 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
- Audible.com Release Date: December 16, 1999
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0000545AF
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The Lathe of Heaven Audible – Unabridged
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The plot centers around the personal struggle of George Orr who is blessed and (mostly) cursed with the ability to change reality through his dreams. This Midas-like touch tortures the protagonist due to his inability to completely control his dreams and avoid the unintended consequences.
You might be able to boil this story down to the simple posit that this is what happens when one is granted god-like powers. Not an exactly new storyline [Insert magic lamp and rub]. However, the author’s unique take is that Orr’s dreams don’t exactly change things for individuals. Instead the changes are realized more so on the macro level, which in turn affects the individual to varying degrees.
Le Quin manages to stencil in distinct and sympathetic personalities with the three main characters of this novella without excessive prose. She shies away from the trappings of rote evil and refuses to prop up some symbolic villain to be slain (I understand this to be a theme with her writings). That said, I did find myself searching for the design of evil lurking in among the fringe motivations of the characters. Everyone in this book seems to want to do the good that they see fit to do (don’t we all). However, I will contrast her writing with other authors like George R. R. Martin who also explore the many gray facets of imperfect personhood. In this novel, there is no deep-seeded, nefarious mystery that must be dredged up to elicit a sympathetic revelation for the reader.
Instead, Le Guin, has developed characters who pursue a hero’s journey that is guided more so by their philosophical ideals than by any personal faults or weaknesses. That is not to say the characters are without personal struggle and conflict. They still must question their loyalties to their own beliefs and the limits of their abilities to carry out their convictions. The struggle is thoughtful and heartfelt. The pain real. Life, reality and living are incredibly complicated without the forces of evil laying out traps and undermining one’s best efforts. Even the best of intentions cannot come without unforeseen consequences (credit: Gandalf: “Even the wise cannot foresee all ends.”).
Le Quin also has a sweet and subtle way of gently weaving in some Taoist philosophies into the storyline without any pedantic overtones. Her juxtaposition of these eastern notions against a more concerted western altruism is compelling. So too is her ability to create a world that is constantly changing with characters who must perceive more than one reality at once. Le Quin is dealing with something akin to writing about time-travel and all the confusing questions and inconsistencies that can abound from such a storyline. Here her masterful prose paints a perfect and understandable story as she tackles multiple realities at the same time and yet still manages to move things impossibly forward (with a protagonist whose chief talent is to hit the BIG reset button every time he sleeps). And she does it with such ease and such spare masterful prose that you simply float through. It would be so easy for another writer to become mired in the mechanics of such concepts.
Podcast: If you enjoy my review (or this topic) this book and the movie based on it were further discussed/debated in a lively discussion on my podcast: "No Deodorant In Outer Space". The podcast is available on iTunes, Tune-In Radio, Stitcher, Google Play Music, YouTube or our website.
A well written story that draws you in.
All told, I really enjoyed the book and look forward to reading more of her work.
When George Orr dreams "effectively", the world changes to align with George's dream and only George notices that there has been a change. George lives in an overcrowded, humid, desolate Portland. It's the future humankind deserves, not having paid attention to The Greenhouse Effect. Depressed citizens like George live cheek by jowl on poor food and overdose on drugs from auto-dispensaries (until they die from pollutant cancer). George admits himself, not entirely voluntarily, for Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment and reports to psychiatrist Dr William Haber's Efficiency Suite which is (take note) dominated by a mural of Mount Hood. Although George cannot control his dreams, the not so subtle Dr Haber can, and does - sort of. Dr Haber can improve humankind's lot, even if George is a bit lily-livered, so he gives it his best shot. Of course George is not the cipher he seems to be and things just won't go the way Dr Haber wants.
Le Guin can be preachy and less than subtle. Climate change bad. Communism bad. Being nice to each other good. This book was published in 1971 and at times it shows-
"Are there really people without resentment, without hate? she wondered. People who never go cross-grained to the universe? Who recognise evil, and resist evil, and yet are utterly unaffected by it?
Of course there are. Countless, the living and the dead. Those who have returned in pure compassion to the wheel, those who follow the way that cannot be followed without knowing they follow it, the sharecropper's wife in Alabama and the lama in Tibet and the entomologist in Peru and the millworker in Odessa and the greengrocer in London and the goatherd in Nigeria and the old, old man sharpening a stick by a dry streambed somewhere in Australia, and all the others. There is not one of us who has not known them There are enough of them, enough to keep us going. Perhaps."
But when she is on form - as she is at the climax of the book, we see why she maintains her reputation as a great of science fiction -
"Up on the top story, the floor was ice. It was about a finger's width thick, and quite clear. Through it could be seen the stars of the Southern Hemisphere. Orr stepped out onto it and all the stars rang loud and false, like cracked bells. The foul smell was much worse, making him gag. He went forward, holding out his hand. The panel of the door of Haber's outer office was there to meet it; he could not see it but he touched it. A wolf howled. The lava moved toward the city."
The turtle-like Aliens who are gentle and wise (in at least one verson of Orr's world), speak in a charming formal manner laced with quotes from Shakespeare. They call George "Jor Jor" and one of them even runs an antiques store in a forgotten slum area under a broken freeway. Familiar? The explanation for their change from antagonistic to friendly (it was all a misunderstanding) is humorously dealt with and far more effective than the same trope in Card's Ender's Game.
The sub-conscious, sleep, race, mismatched couples are all blocks to Le Guin's lathe. This is a slight book but resonant. The beginning needs to be rethought when the last page is read and that is always a good thing.
Still a great book overall and well worth a read. A good buy for sure, even if you're not a fan of the author.