The Lathe Of Heaven - A Mind-Bending Dystopian Novella

December 30th, 2020

The Lathe Of Heaven is a sci-fi novella (or a short novel?) by the great Ursula K. Le Guin. It tells the story of George Orr, a man who believes that his dreams influence reality. As he tries to solve this problem with the help of the psychiatrist William Haber, the world around them becomes more and more bizarre.

The Lathe Of Heaven cover: a dark mountain and a bare tree in the background, burning orange sky

Characters

There are three primary characters: George Orr the dreamer, William Haber the psychiatrist and Heather Lelache the lawyer. The narrative switches between their points of view. They are all very different, have distinct personalities, motivations and thought patterns.

I enjoyed how the author presented each character from various points of view, and how different they came out though each other's eyes. It shows her deep understanding of psychology and demonstrates that we don't really have too much control over the way others perceive us. I liked Heather, sympathized with George and was annoyed by William. Most importantly, they all felt like real people to me.

World-building

World-building is tricky here because the world itself is not a stable thing. It all starts in an overcrowded and polluted Portland where food is rationed and a commute is a nightmare, but as the story progresses, nothing stays the same. Some things become utterly strange and surreal. It all fits really well within the plot and helps the author tell the story.

Plot

The plot is clear despite its weirdness. There are not so many events taking place: it's mostly about the changes and the experiences of the protagonists, but it was still captivating, and I kept wondering where it was going.

Impressions

I really enjoyed the book. It started in a confusing way, but it was also brilliant because the author managed to captivate the experience of a self-medicating man waking up from a dream. It was strange and intriguing, mind-bending and thought-provoking, flowing slowly forward through the surreal experience where nothing is permanent and reality itself is questionable.

Ursula Le Guin explores the issues of climate change and overpopulation, pollution and the destruction of the environment, mentions racism and shows how one's life experiences shape their personality. However, the most important question she keeps asking throughout the book is does the end really justify the means?

There is a juxtaposition of George Orr's passivity and William Haber's power hunger that might also be a comparison of the Eastern and Western mentalities. While Orr mostly goes with the flow and feels like he has no right to impose his ideas on the world, Haber is eager to use the power that suddenly falls into his hands. Yes, his intentions are good, he really wants to solve the world's problems, but he fails to see all the destruction that his actions cause. He also refuses to take Orr's discomfort and unwillingness to participate into consideration, doesn't hesitate to manipulate and threaten him and never forgets about improving his own position in the world. He doesn't ever question his methods or doubt himself.

I think it's a brilliant critique of the people who believe the end justifies the means and who are willing to overlook atrocities and suffering in the name of "greater good".

Even though the book is mainly about those ideas, it's very character-centered and explores these issues though their personal experiences.

You might enjoy this book if you like mind-bending, thought-provoking sci-fi that isn't action-based and shows like Black Mirror.

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