Ursula Le Guin: The Lathe of Heaven

March 5, 2021

     Seriously, if you know your science fiction, and had read this book anonymously (without knowing the author) you’d be very surprised to learn it wasn’t by Philip K Dick, so close does Ursula Le Guin come to his style and his manner of exploring the workings of the human mind and the nature of reality… picking the book up again after some 45 years (!) I was taken aback.

She begins in medias res, dropping us into a future USA where we easily accept all the assumptions she has made; it was also interesting to note that in a novel first published almost 50 years ago, she vectors in the effects of the greenhouse effect and global warming on her part of that country.

It’s the story of a man who realises that his dreams can change the nature of reality. He’s not happy about this, and the psychiatrist and sleep researcher to whom he’s assigned for help quickly realises how this can be exploited… once he’s got over the shock of realising that changes do happen after George Orr has been dreaming. The shrink is basically a good man, with the best of intentions for people and planet, but: is what he’s doing ethical? Are the decisions he makes when influencing Orr’s dreams the right ones? The best laid plans are capable of going awry, and do.

Le Guin creates convincing characters – which Dick doesn’t always do – the states of consciousness are effectively portrayed, and the moral dilemmas and personal consciences of the characters are thoughtfully explored. I found myself at times reminded particularly of Dick’s Eye in the Sky, although altered states of consciousness and the individual’s ability to influence reality are pretty general tropes in his writing.

Le Guin’s interest in Eastern philosophy was woven thoughtfully into her novel, and her concerns for the future of the species, and realisation that there can be no magical short-cuts to utopia, which will be explored at much greater length in the Hainish novels and stories, are already emerging here. This was a novel which I’d stuck in the non-Hainish box as only marginally interesting, one to re-read before I passed it on to a charity shop; I was most surprised by this second encounter.

One Response to “Ursula Le Guin: The Lathe of Heaven”

  1. cooperatoby Says:

    Thanks Stef.


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