Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Lathe of Heaven

The premise of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven is a simple one: what if someone could change the world with their dreams? But the resulting speculative novel is anything but simple.

George Orr is an average guy. Almost spectacular in his averageness. Except that when he has particularly vivid dreams, whatever happens inside them manifests itself into reality when he wakes. Frightened of his power, he seeks help from a psychologist, who in turns wants to harness this incredible opportunity to change the world. But power, even used with noble intentions, can have devastating consequences.

The entire story leaves you on edge, questioning what's real, the reliability of the protagonist, and ultimately the reliability of the world outside the story. Reading it I felt like Bastian making his way through the Neverending Story, seeing himself mentioned, and just being like

My first thought after reading was, how has this not been turned into a movie yet? Especially after the success of Inception in 2010? Then I did my research and found out it has. Twice. Neither being a blockbuster by any means. But the first attempt, a 1980 public television flick with a shoestring budget, actually turned out to be pretty decent. Oh, the special effects are somewhat hilarious, but it follows very closely to the book. And I bow down to anyone trying to make a film that involves volcanoes, space wars, aliens, nuclear disaster and beautiful ponies with $250k. You can watch the entire thing on Youtube.

Here are some passages that will hopefully convince you to become a Le Guin-head like me.

"But in fact, isn't that man's very purpose on earth--to do things, change things, run things, make a better world?"
"What is his purpose, then?"
"I don't know. Things don't have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What's the function of a galaxy? I don't know if our life has purpose and I don't see that it matters. What does matter is that we're a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass."

That Haber could have thus got out of communication with himself was rather hard for Orr to conceive; his own mind was so resistant to such divisions that he was slow to recognize them in others. But he had learned that they existed. He had grown up in a country run by politicians who sent the pilots to man the bombers to kill the babies to make the world safe for children to grow up in.

There is a bird in a poem by T. S. Eliot who says that mankind cannot bear very much reality; but the bird is mistaken. A man can endure the entire weight of the universe for eighty years. It is unreality that he cannot bear.

192 pages
7,309 / 20,000 page goal


  1. I do book reviews, too! Follow back if you're interested :)

  2. I hadn't heard of this book before, but it sounds really good.