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The Lathe of Heaven Mass Market Paperback – January 1, 1973
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Mass Market Paperback
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- ASIN : B006T77EOS
- Publisher : Avon; Mass Paperback Edition (January 1, 1973)
- Language : English
- Mass Market Paperback : 175 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0380145308
- ISBN-13 : 978-0380013203
- Item Weight : 4.8 ounces
- Best Sellers Rank: #2,871,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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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.
But lets get down to whats important. This novel is really about exploitation. The antagonist is using the powers of the protag for his own purposes. It feels like a commentary on how human services can rapidly shift towards exploitation when left to people with ill intentions. But who knows? That could be a dream.
Its a relatively fast read adding to its dream like feel.
Adding more to its dreamfulness is its rapid fading from my memory. While its a good novel, i didnt feel particularly invested in the characters.
Top reviews from other countries
However it is not time travel that is the mechanism here but designer dreams, and the dream mechanism isn’t just used as a cop out one for one replacement for time travel. The dynamics are different and engaging, and the actual motivation of, and the impact of events on, the main characters is intriguing.
Even more intriguing are the aliens that pop up. Would those aliens even be in existence if it wasn’t for the dreams? Do they have the same dream powers as they seem to hint at? If so do they refrain from using them or have they used them?