The Lathe Of Heaven — A Mind-Bending Dystopian Novella

This post was first published on my website about sci-fi by women and non-binary authors.

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 bare tree and a mountain in the background, a fiery sky

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.

A longer version of this review that also discusses characters, plot and world-building is available here.

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Entanglement cover: an outline of a female face made of a tree trunk and branches, black background with distant stars

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