Tuesday, 6 October 2015

The Lathe Of Heaven Is A Good Book

Or why you should read The Lathe of Heaven
by Ursula K Le Guin

The Lathe of Heaven is a novel about a man with the power to change reality with his dreams. George Orr, a humble draftsmen, is abusing drugs to prevent himself from sleeping because he is convinced his dreams are warping reality. Fearing for his sanity Orr is sent to Dr. William Haber for psychiatric care and counselling. Dr. Haber begins a course of induced dream therapy using hypnosis and a trancap, his invention, and discovers that Orr *can* affect reality with his dreaming mind. Rather than try to cure or suppress Orr's dreams, Dr. Haber decides to try and use this power to fix the ills of his overcrowded, war torn, polluted world. But to do this Dr. Haber must navigate the complexities of reality, Orr's subconscious, and his own questionable intentions.

The Lathe of Heaven is an extremely sharp book that asks some very fundamental questions about the nature of reality. Specifically, the novel asks just how solid reality is, whether there is an objective continuity to events or if it's all an illusion based on limited perspective. Which... is a thing that sometimes bothers me in this kind of facile, academic way. One of the events which The Lathe of Heaven makes reference to is the fact that Japan sent fir balloons, essentially weather balloons laden with explosives, to terrorize the United States and Canada and that one balloon did manage to kill some US civilians in Oregon. This is a fact I only recently learned about on the Radiolab podcast before encountering in this novel written in YEAR that I am only now just reading for the first time. Which is weird right? Or, in a longer coincidence, a US thriller novel I was reading made a small reference to the French town of Narbonne and I read this while sitting on a train platform in Narbonne while en route from Marseille to Barcelona. These kinds of coincidences always make me feel like reality has a dream-like quality, like my observations and ideas are somehow shaping reality. And so the questions about a mutable reality in The Lathe of Heaven really resonate with and fascinate me.

The Lathe of Heaven also asks some less academic and more practical questions about the kind of people who want to wield power. In the novel different people try to harness the power of Orr's dreams. Orr himself is afraid of the power and tries his hardest to not change reality with his dreams. However, when pushed to it by necessity, he makes altruistic use of his powers to help others. Dr. Haber, meanwhile, has a combination of confidence, altruistic intentions, and a special kind of greedy drive that makes him deeply want to exploit Orr's dream powers. He blithely uses and abuses the godlike dream powers in a way that imposes his goals on the world and helps himself. The contrast between these two characters really gets at what makes someone seek corporeal power. It's deeply insightful stuff. 

I would recommend The Lathe of Heaven to anyone who enjoys speculative fiction. It's as smart and thorough as any other classic work of Science Fiction. It's also, like many of the other giants of Sci-fi canon, beautifully written with wonderfully rich prose. The Lathe of Heaven is a joy to read. It is a novel that should really be on your reading list if not your classic Sci-fi bookshelf.

The Left Hand of Darkness
The Dispossessed 

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