Posts Tagged ‘the Hainish novels’

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.

China Mieville: The City and the City

May 11, 2015

9780330534192I really enjoyed this novel when I first read it five years ago. It scrambled my brain then, and a re-read hoping to make things a bit clearer produced the same effect, as well as convincing me at the end that it really is brilliant.

It’s a detective story/ thriller with a science fiction twist to it, but that doesn’t mean it’s anything like Gibson & Sterling’s The Difference Engine, for example. Mieville sets the story in a city, recognisably East European or Balkans post 1989, but with a difference: it’s two cities in two different countries, but which in some way overlap in places in time and space, occupying the same spaces whilst alongside each other. And if that isn’t clear, then perhaps you’ll understand why I say it scrambled my brain, and perhaps it will be clearer if you read it… or not. Contact via the interstices must not happen, and such breaches are ruthlessly dealt with.

At one level you find political allegories linking to our world and think of Palestine/ Israel, or Croatia/ Serbia perhaps, but only fleetingly. There are also hints that the confusion is the result of some alien presence many centuries ago – reminiscent of the chaos left behind in the Zone in the Strugatsky brothers’ Roadside Picnic, filmed as Stalker. Then I found myself reminded of Ursula LeGuin’s Hainish civilisation seeding planets across the galaxy.

A lone detective investigates a murder which is not what it seems, and involves the spaces between; he has a helpful Watson-type female companion in the first half of the story, but then the roles swap when the investigation takes him to the other country and he must play second fiddle to his detective chaperone from the other national crime squad.

It’s fast-paced, but the extra concepts make the plot more complex and add further twists and complications; out hero eventually ends up in breach of the rules, where he discovers that, even in the spaces in-between, things are not what they seem, and his life is changed for ever as a result. Not all the loose ends are tied up – they rarely are in a novel like this – but the sheer originality of the plot and the ideas blow you away. I’ve written about another of his novels, Embassytown, here, and he’s definitely on my watch list.

%d bloggers like this: