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The Lathe of Heaven

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In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George’s dreams for his own purposes.

The Lathe of Heaven is an eerily prescient novel from award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin that masterfully addresses the dangers of power and humanity’s self-destructiveness, questioning the nature of reality itself. It is a classic of the science fiction genre.

184 pages, Paperback

First published May 1, 1971

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About the author

Ursula K. Le Guin

901 books23.7k followers
Ursula K. Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. She lived in Portland, Oregon.

She was known for her treatment of gender (The Left Hand of Darkness, The Matter of Seggri), political systems (The Telling, The Dispossessed) and difference/otherness in any other form. Her interest in non-Western philosophies was reflected in works such as "Solitude" and The Telling but even more interesting are her imagined societies, often mixing traits extracted from her profound knowledge of anthropology acquired from growing up with her father, the famous anthropologist, Alfred Kroeber. The Hainish Cycle reflects the anthropologist's experience of immersing themselves in new strange cultures since most of their main characters and narrators (Le Guin favoured the first-person narration) are envoys from a humanitarian organization, the Ekumen, sent to investigate or ally themselves with the people of a different world and learn their ways.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,531 reviews
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.7k followers
April 3, 2021
Warning: contains major spoiler for A Wizard of Earthsea

When I first came across this book as a teenager, I think I only really noticed the surface story. George Orr is a man whose dreams, literally, come true; he dreams something, and when he wakes up the world has changed. There's an unscrupulous psychiatrist who wants to exploit George's gift, a love story, some interesting aliens, and a good ending. I really liked it.

I've read it three or four times since then, and each time I've appreciated it more. One could imagine a book with a similar plot being written by Philip K. Dick, but, if Dick had done it, it would have had a different focus. Le Guin is also interested in the arbitrary nature of reality, but she is above all a moral writer, and it's easiest to explain why I think The Lathe of Heaven is a great novel if I compare it with some of her other books. Perhaps my favorite moment in her work is the ending of A Wizard of Earthsea. Ged has been relentlessly pursued for years by the deadly Shadow, whose one purpose seems to be to destroy him and everything he cares for. If only he could learn its true name, he would be able to use his magic powers to overcome it. Finally, when he can run no further and is forced to confront it on the open sea, he realizes what he has knows all along. The Shadow's true name is his own name. He, himself, is the dark force that is trying to ruin his life.

The struggle with the dark forces inside oneself is one of Le Guin's main preoccupations. This shades over into her fascination with creativity and the creative process, and in particular with the scientist, whose dreams can create reality in the most unexpected manner. Einstein turned a dream of matter, energy, space and time into a reality which soon crystalized as nuclear weapons. (My Japanese friend Yukie, who studied in Hiroshima, met several people who had come directly into contact with Einstein's escaped dream). In The Dispossessed, Shevek is a scientist who manages to control his dream. Le Guin, who clearly understands scientists well, shows just how difficult this is for him. He has to fight his society, and many of the ideas he has been brought up to believe in. As in A Wizard of Earthsea, a lot of the time he also has to fight himself.

The Lathe of Heaven, published three years before The Dispossessed, is a kind of rehearsal for the later novel, but with a myth-like treatment more reminiscent of A Wizard of Earthsea. George Orr's supernatural gift hands him a huge responsibility, which he is slow to accept. Like most dreamers, he lets himself be manipulated. And, just as in The Dispossessed, love is the key. There, Takver's unquestioning love for Shevek is what makes it possible for him to unlock the Principle of Simultaneity; here, the simple and touching romance with Heather is what gives George the strength to make the right decision when he reaches the crucial moment.

Dreams, truth, responsibility, love. If you're interested in that kind of thing, you should consider reading The Lathe of Heaven. Like all her books, it's beautifully written.
Profile Image for Nataliya.
745 reviews11.9k followers
April 26, 2023
The Lathe of Heaven asks the reader - is it ever okay to play God?
You have to help another person. But it's not right to play God with masses of people. To be God you have to know what you're doing. And to do any good at all, just believing you're right and your motives are good isn't enough.
Who would you normally root for? A guy with the power to change the ugly dystopian world but is unwilling to do so? Or a guy who actively tries to harvest this power to change the world for better? If you think the answer to this one is easy, think again.
It never stops raining in this dystopian Portland, Oregon. So basically just like present-day Portland.

This short beautifully written novel is very eloquent and thought-provoking. It raises endless questions. What is our responsibility as humans? Are we responsible for changing the world if we have the means? And for fixing the damage? How far can we go? When do we stop? Is it possible to stop? What are the consequences of playing God? How do we decide who should hold power? How much power can we handle? Can we control it? Do the means justify the ends? What do we choose - activity or passivity? Is it balance or complacency? Is our vision of the perfect world actually perfect and who is to decide?

George Orwell Orr is quiet, passive, introverted. On every scale from 0 to 100 he is an average 50. His "style" is to escape, get away. He is "afraid of his own mind", as Haber puts it. He is afraid indeed - of his unexplained ability to change reality via his "effective" dreams in an unpredictable way, while retaining the memories of the previous realities. As a matter of fact, he may have dreamed his present world into existence when dying in the middle of a nuclear war four years previously. Outwardly docile, he has inner strength. And he has zero desire to play God.
“A person who believes, as she did, that things fit: that there is a whole of which one is a part, and that in being a part one is whole: such a person has no desire whatever, at any time, to play God. Only those who have denied their being yearn to play at it.”
Dr. Haber is an extroverted proactive sweet-talking dream specialist who wants to harvest Orr's power to make the world a better place (and get himself a bit of power in the meantime). He is frustrated with Orr's passive resistance. After all, "isn't that man's very purpose on earth - to do things, change things, run things, make a better world?" . His is sleazy, condescending, and manipulative, but ultimately NOT evil. His intentions are good - but what do they lead to? What means are used to change the world?
"The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means."
George becomes Haber's unwilling accomplice/subject, his goose who lays golden eggs. He is afraid of what his subconsciousness may do. Just because something is "ought to be", should it? What are the consequences? And he is right to be afraid - what we get in Haber's attempts to better the world is horrifying Plague to deal with overpopulation, gray skin color to battle race issues, euthanasia to battle cancer, alien "invasion" to achieve peace. Seems that the world may be better the way it is, imperfect as it may be.
"We're in the world, not against it. It doesn't work to try to stand outside things and run them, that way. It just doesn't work, it goes against life. There is a way but you have to follow it. The world is, no matter how we think it ought to be. You have to be with it. You have to let it be."
And yet ultimately the frustration is with George as much as it is with Haber - after all, George's non-interference allows the horror to continue. But does he have the right to interfere at all? The previous attempts were not so good, after all. So is it our place at all to mess with the world order? Who are we to do this? What happens to the balance of things?
Haber: Life - evolution - the whole universe of space/time, matter/ energy - existence itself - is essentially change.
Orr: That is one aspect of it. The other is stillness."
It's a short read, but the one that is bound to stay with the reader for quite a while as we ponder over the questions it raises. The questions to which there may never be satisfying answers.
Beautiful, intelligent book. 4 solid stars (not 5 only because Orr can be quite clueless. He could have solved his predicament halfway through the story, and it's a bit frustrating.)

Recommended by: Catie
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
January 25, 2018
“To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come,
 When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
 Must give us pause.”

Ursula K. LeGuin delivers a riveting but simple tale of a man whose dreams can affect and alter reality. Told with an Arthur C. Clarke like elegance and minimalism, but with her signature mastery of the language, LeGuin goes beyond an interesting concept and explores the ins, and outs, and what-have-yous of someone with God-like, but mercurial powers. Reminiscent of Frank Herbert at his best, this is a psychological thriller and a philosophical examination rolled up in a LeGuin gem.

LeGuin’s gift of descriptive narration is in full form in this 1971 publication that was nominated for both the Hugo and Nebula awards and won the Locus Award for Best Novel. Her prose is stylish and beautiful: “Are there really people without resentment, without hate? People who never go cross-grained to the universe? Who recognize evil, and resist evil, and yet are utterly unaffected by it?” I also loved the descriptive terms she used to describe Miss LeLache the lawyer, with words and phrases that made her appear menacing and bug like.

LeGuin’s protagonist is George Orr and he is another Shevik (from The Dispossessed) like character: minimalistic, with inner peace, calm, unaffected by outside forces but enmeshed and swallowed whole by his own inner problems to solve. But unlike Shevic, who had a purposeful dynamic, LeGuin has cast Orr as a peaceful, humble dreamer.

I don’t always cast the characters in a book like a film, but this time I did, I imagined Dr. Haber as a bearded, fast talking George Clooney even though LeGuin’s description of him was more larger than life and like a huge bear.

This was a great pleasure to read.

** 2018 - Ms Le Guin passed from us yesterday, she will be missed and never forgotten.

Profile Image for s.penkevich.
856 reviews5,897 followers
January 25, 2023
'Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.'
- Zhuangzi

A few years ago I was listening to Margaret Atwood on NPR discussing how for every person’s idea of a utopian society, there is someone who would find it to be a dystopia, and vice versa. Dystopian sci-fi has been quite popular in the past few decades and champions the spirit of rebellion and resistance, but something I find so charming about Ursula K Le Guin is that she tends to focus less on the struggles within dystopias and instead on the struggles that come trying to envision and forge a better world towards a eutopia. Though Le Guin also agrees with Atwood, having written ‘every eutopia contains a dystopia, every dystopia contains a eutopia,’ and in her novel The Lathe of Heaven, Le Guin explores the idea that even best intentions in creating a perfect world can fracture to chaos and hunger for power and be full of imperfections. Le Guin explores the philosophies of Taoism—central to many of Le Guin’s works— and critiques of Utilitarianism in this wildly imaginative story. Through shifting realities that barrel through an exciting variety of sci-fi tropes, The Lathe of Heaven is an excellent examination on power and control, the nuances that make up society and an expression that ‘it’s not right to play God with masses of people.

This was the way he had to go; he had no choice. He had never had any choice. He was only a dreamer.

Philip K. Dick wrote that Lathe of Heaven is ‘one of the best novels, and most important to understanding of the nature of our world.’ Which is high praise from another master of science fiction, and the author this novel is most often compared with. He adds that in Lathe the dream universe is articulated in such a striking and compelling way that I hesitate to add any further explanation to it; it requires none.’ Which I tend to agree with, and there is nothing I can say that hasn’t already been better expressed by others of Le Guin herself but I love this book so much that I can’t help but ramble about it.

A short novel, but packed with amazing ideas, Lathe of Heaven rotates between three perspectives. First is George Orr, a man with the power to change reality with his dreams, keeping them at bay with a harsh drug addiction that winds him in the care of the character who is our second perspective: Dr. Haber. The doctor, representative of the taoist yang, has a belief in Utilitarian ideals leads him to exploit Orr in order to reshape the world as he sees fit. He has the best of intentions at first, but chaos and a thirst for power befall even the noblest of pursuits. Finally we have Heather Lelache, a Black civil rights lawyer and ACLU observer who attempts to aid Orr against Haber’s quest for control and with whom Orr falls in love. The three of them guide us through the changing realities as Haber directs Orr to imagine a more perfect world, though the results are often not what they expect.

The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means.

With each new reality—only Orr and Haber can remember what came before and the world is whiplashed into new realities with each dream—Le Guin is able to create a lot of good fun examining how these changes might go awry or how they alter society. Haber, a utilitarian, finds his quest for perfection often misses the nuances in their implications and one must ask if the maximum amount of happiness is actual extreme unhappiness for others. Such as his fears of the world being overpopulated leads Orr to dream of a plague that causes mass death and chaos, or his desire to world peace creates an alien race threatening the Earth which unites all the nations against a common enemy but has us on the brink of galactic war.

One of the most effective digs into the nuances of society comes when Orr dreams everyone into having gray skin under Haber’s orders in an attempt to eliminate racism. This makes for an excellent rebuttal against the ideas of ‘not seeing color’ or color-blindness in society as showing that cultural differences are a lively part of life and without them the world is rather bland (hence the grayness). As Heather is of mixed parentage, she is eliminated entirely from this reality, with Le Guin telling this segment from Orr’s perspective in a way that makes her absence emphasized. When Orr brings her into the world again through his dreams, the absence of her background that formed key elements of her personality leaves her docile and practically not Heather at all, the one who would ‘come on hard’ and intimidate with ‘fierce, scornful’ remarks (though it should be noted this is playing into a pejorative stereotype of the ‘angry Black woman’ that is rather harmful).

We're in the world, not against it. It doesn't work to try to stand outside things and run them, that way. It just doesn't work, it goes against life. There is a way but you have to follow it. The world is, no matter how we think it ought to be. You have to be with it. You have to let it be.

Returning to the concepts of Taoism, we have Orr representing a more passive stance while Haber is the more controlling one who’s attempts to play God have him destined to be ‘destroyed on the lathe of heaven’ (interestingly enough, Le Guin later admitted the title is based on a mistranslation). George Orr—named as both a nod to George Orwell and play on Kierkegaard’s Either/Or, with Heather referring to him as ‘Mister Either Orr’—appears rather passive, though this stems from his belief that ‘it’s wrong to force the pattern of things.’ Often compared to jellyfish, Orr can be best understood through the way Le Guin describes the sea creatures:
Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will.

Like the jellyfish using the strength of the ocean where it lacks personal defensiveness, George employs the world around him and his friends to help him out. While we first see him as soft, as the representation of yin, we discover that is only half the perception and Heather sees him as the ‘strongest person she had ever known, because he could not be moved away from the center.’ I mean, he reshapes reality, he just doesn’t want to. Haber’s depiction of him helps us see Orr more clearly as well:
you’re a median…Both, neither. Either, or. Where there’s an opposed pair, a polarity, you’re in the middle; where there’s a scale, you’re the balance point.

George Orr represents the tao as a whole, being both yin and yang, being the duality that is needed. To be just one is to be unbalanced, as we see with Dr. Haber.

Le Guin often uses taoist philosophy in her works, and her essay on writing europias, a highly recommended read you can access here, uses the language of yin and yang to elucidate her ideas. Even The Dispossessed uses a blend of taoism and anarchism as a central part of the novel's social and philosophical construction. There are other expressions in here as well, most notably Mt. Hood being symbolic of wu wei , or ‘effortless action’, being a constant presence that also serves as an indication of the current state of reality in the novel. Water also serves as a symbol of this as well, being a natural order of things and the absence of it shows the disruption of the natural balance of life.

Those who dream of feasting wake to lamentation.
Chuang Tzu

While George is compared to a jellyfish, Haber is frequently compared to a bear: a force of brute strength in nature. ‘He was gray, large, broad, curly bearded, deep-chested, frowning,’ we are told of his bearlike appearance, followed with ‘Your God is a jealous God,’ evoking the Christian depiction of God with Christianity often played as the foil to taoism in the novel. He seeks to rule the world and all reality as he sees fit, saying ‘this world will be like heaven, and men will be like gods!’ However, Orr replies ‘we are already,’ a further expression that the natural order of things is the best way. There are many consequences shown for playing God here, most notably the mass deaths and destructions that come as consequence of the changes, but also compiling reality on top of realities begins to create a sickening sense of unreality. Le Guin references a T.S. Eliot poem, Burnt Norton from the Four Quartets, in which a bird argues ‘mankind cannot bear very much reality.’ However, here we see it is unreality that the mind cannot bear and it has terrible consequences.

This has all been a rudimentary look at the philosophical undertones of the book, and I wouldn’t want to make it appear rather stuffy or heady as the book is, in fact, a really fun and engaging story with a fast-moving plot. With each change it is exciting to see how the world responds and Le Guin moves through a lot of rather cliched sci fi scenarios that manage to still feel fresh in the framing of the novel as a whole. There’s a lot of action too, such as an alien invasion scene. The alien species, which is rather turtle-like, is quite fun once they are no longer a threat to humans. I love the moment where we learn of their social anxieties, having to point at the face of their interlocutor in order for their translation equipment to work while also knowing pointing is considered rude so they just don’t talk much. I FELT THAT.

You don't speak of dreams as unreal. They exist. They leave a mark behind them.

Le Guin was an absolute master and Lathe of Heaven is yet another example of how she would courageously and creatively make literary gems within a science fiction framework. This book is packed with philosophical insight and a driving plot that will keep you turning pages to see what bizarre twist will befall them next. A fun story with a lot of heart, and something to keep in mind if you ever decide to play God.


A person who believes, as she did, that things fit: that there is a whole of which one is a part, and that in being a part one is whole: such a person has no desire whatever, at any time, to play God. Only those who have denied their being yearn to play at it.
Profile Image for Swrp.
665 reviews
February 18, 2021
Beautifully-written Sci-Fi that will touch your heart and soul, and make you think, feel and dream!

"The light shines through it, and the dark enters it."

(Edge of Dreams, Michael Lang)

Set in Portland, Oregon, in the year 2002, The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr. Orr`s dreams can effectively alter reality, and he is looking for a solution/cure for this mysterious problem.

As with any of the Sci-Fi stories, science and technology play a role in The Lathe of Heaven, however, the story is more about understanding the human character and the nature of the world. The book is philosophical and thought-provoking.


Wow, what a quote:

"Nothing endures, nothing is precise and certain (except the mind of a pendant), perfection is the mere repudiation of that ineluctable marginal inexactitude which is the mysterious inmost quality of Being.”
~ H. G. Wells, A Modern Utopia


wow, beautiful!

"...the whole mystery which we call Dreaming, and which is nothing other than the approach of an invisible reality. The dream is the aquarium of Night."
~ V. Hugo
(cited in The Lathe of Heaven.)

"I have had dreams that... that affected the... non-dream world. The real world."
"To go under the river: there`s a strange thing to do, a really weird idea. To cross a river, ford it, wade it, swim it, use boat, ferry, bridge, airplane, to go upriver, to go downriver in the ceaseless renewal and beginning of current: all that makes sense. But in going under a river, something is involved which is, in the central meaning of the word, perverse."
"George Orr, pale in the flickering fluorescent glare of the train car in the infrafluvial dark, swayed as he stood holding a swaying steel handle on a strap among a thousand other souls."
"Are there really people without resentment, without hate, she wondered. People who never go cross-grained to the universe? Who recognise evil, and resist evil, and yet are utterly unaffected by it?"
"All the time and energy humans have wasted on trying to find religious solutions to suffering, then you come along and make Buddha and Jesus and the rest of them look like the fakirs they were. They tried to run away from evil, but we, we`re uprooting it - getting rid of it, piece by piece!"
"Layer after layer might peel off the onion and yet nothing be revealed but more onion."
"Then this world will be like heaven, and men will be like gods!"
"But, it`s not right to play God."
"Love doesn`t just sit there, like a stone, it has to be made, like bread; re-made all the time, made new. When it was made, they lay in each other`s arms, holding love, asleep."
"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."

Profile Image for carol..
1,537 reviews7,877 followers
March 19, 2020
For those new to or unaware of the wonders of Le Guin, this is a short book about George Orr, a man who has been taking too many drugs in an attempt to stop dreaming. Some of his dreams become true–not in the prescient sense, but in the reality-is-reordered sense, and George is haunted by the changes. In his highly regulated society, his drug deviance results in a mandatory visit to a psychologist and his dreaming machine. Dr. Huber discovers George’s power is real and convinces him that intentional dreaming is the solution. As the political world, environment and history change around them, George and the psychologist struggle with reality, responsibility and consequences.

A number of thoughts after finishing this very powerful story.

One: we are roughly the same age.

Two: I can’t help but feel like LeGuin was scarily prescient."The Greenhouse Effect had been quite gradual, and Haber, born in 1962, could clearly remember the blue skies of his childhood. Nowadays the eternal snows were gone from all the world’s mountains, even Everest, even Erebus, fiery-throated on the waste Antarctic shore." Humanity, I’m disappointed in you: you mean that we’ve known about climate change for fifty years and it’s accelerating? That the snow is indeed receding from the world’s mountains? It is disorienting to realize we are living the dystopia.

Three: I think this is likely a book that needs to be read and re-read to understand it, particularly when young. I think the first time I read it was for the plot, which, while quite good, is only one facet of a sharp gem. I think it would also help if one had more than a passing background in Taoism. In my old age, I suspect it more of reinforcing the idea of inner peace over action.

Four: yet, it feels a little dated. Not in ideas, but in writing style. It was written for an age of few distractions, when a novella could also be a philosophical treatise. I found the pacing of it a challenge, but it could have been because I was reading it in between stations at my mammogram appointment. It was also written in an age where science fiction was instruction as much as entertainment.

Five: reading it this time, I was more than a little bothered by the psychological horror story aspects. Maybe I’ve become particularly sensitive to the concept of benevolent psychological coercion.

Sixth: I continue to love what Le Guin does with language:

“Even as he spoke he could hear the elevator whine up and stop, the doors gasp open; then footsteps, hesitation, the outer door opening… The real trick was to learn how not to hear them. The only solid partitions left were inside the head.”

Seven: and what she does with character: “That geniality was not faked, but it was exaggerated. There was a warmth to the man, an outgoingness, which was real; but it had got plasticoated with professional mannerisms, distorted by the doctor’s unspontaneous use of himself. Orr felt in him a wish to be liked and a desire to be helpful; the doctor was not, he thought, really sure that anyone else existed, and wanted to prove they did by helping them.”

Eight: and ideas: “Orr had a tendency to assume that people knew what they were doing, perhaps because he generally assumed that he did not.”

Interesting, glad I took time for a re-read, and yet a little uncomfortable. Deserves a place on the shelf so it gets a re-read.

Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,397 followers
June 17, 2018
"The dream is the aquarium of night"
—Victor Hugo

Oneirophobia: noun. A fear of dreams.

Nonentity pencil pusher, George Orr, increasingly worried that his dreams can alter past and present reality, has therefore become afraid to dream. Caught using another person’s pharm card to obtain drugs to keep him awake, he���s referred to narcissistic psychiatrist, Dr William Haber, for an innovative course of dream therapy.
The book started brightly and the first chapter promised much, a nice run of assonance feeding proceedings: jellyfish, abyss.
Then, to further reinforce Le Guin’s writing credentials, some beautiful imagery: …the moondriven sea.
A-ha! A sci-fi author fond of her literary devices. We bonded almost immediately!
Sadly, the second chapter became mired in some stodgy science stuff that had me glazing over for a while … s-states, d-states, v-c induction, blah, blah, blah. I’m not in the least bit techy (I still use an abacus and a sextant) and, man, I was beginning to get bored!

But, happily, things improved dramatically. Doctor Haber asks Orr to don a trancap which is wired to a dream machine that monitors his sleeping thoughts and right off the bat this seemingly unremarkable patient ruffles the psychiatrist's clinical countenance by effecting an outlandish happenstance.
But Haber is a man who wants full control over his human guinea pig/rhesus monkey/goose that might lay a golden egg, and seeks to confuse Orr's grasp of reality with the deployment of some devious misdirection.
Orr is the underdog we are all rooting for; his innate goodness is in sharp contrast to Haber’s artfulness and so the story becomes somewhat parabolic.
More than a few sessions continue and, after another bout of assonance (saddles, hobbles; slogging, plodding; Brownian, roundian), an astonishing event unfolded before my mind’s eye in glorious Technicolor. An event so monumental, so Orrsome that it had me bouncing up and down in my seat!
"Bravo, Ursula Le Guin!" I shouted in honour of her memory. "THAT was STUPENDOUS!"

In due course, Orr's God-like powers run amok and all manner of crazy things start to occur, notably the introduction of dreamt-to-life aliens whose tentacles 'retract like a carpenter's flexible rule'.
Now I've often been told that I don’t know my arse from my elbow, and that I often talk out of my arse...
WELL, the aliens in this story ALL talk out of their elbows, so if Earth is ever invaded for real, we'll get along famously!

I'm delighted to say that the book is really well written. I purred over much of Le Guin's prose and marvelled at the ingenuity of her fascinating story.
I loved the graceful, esoteric ending but, because Le Guin kept ploughing the same doctor/patient furrow throughout, and because of the tedious science bits, I’ve deducted one star.
But, overall, this was a marvellously entertaining read that lovers of old-skool sci-fi will revere! I loved it!

Big thanks to my supercool sci-fi pal, @Apatt, for recommending this cracking story, and also to @KimberSilver for agreeing to be my buddy reader.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
January 22, 2021
The Lathe of Heaven is a very good book with a very important message, though it lacks a certain human element to it which is largely uncharacteristic of Le Guin’s fiction.

Let me explain: this is a book of ideas and idealisms. It is deeply philosophical and intelligent, exploring themes that question the nature of human morality and progress. Its main concern is consequences, the consequences of actions that are driven by a desire change the world into a better place but are unrealistic in their dreams of perfectibility.

Indeed, idealism is extremely dangerous because it is also extremely unrealistic when applied to reality. And this is exactly what Le Guin demonstrates here; she suggests that even the purest of dreams can become corrupt, distorted, and problematic. The dreams here are exactly that, dreams, taken from the unconscious mind of George Orr who has the power to alter reality with his sleeping mind. He can change anything and everything, a fact his therapist becomes aware of and through George wields a power to reform and reshape the world as he sees fit.

As countless books and films have told us, whenever anyone plays their hand at being God things never end well. The story is clever, and it made me think, though it felt cold and the characters were not as developed as they could be. It lacked a certain emotional side to it, and I have found this is often the case with hard science fiction but Le Guin usually transcends this.

My inability to connect with any of the characters here impeded my overall enjoyment. Despite how clever this book is, I could never rate it higher than three stars.


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Profile Image for Susan Budd.
Author 7 books213 followers
May 5, 2020
Sometime in 1980 I caught a trippy sci-fi movie on television. It blew my mind with its psychedelic special effects and consciousness-altering ideas. But like so many psychedelic and consciousness-altering experiences, some of it impressed itself deeply on my memory while other details were quickly forgotten ~ like a dream upon awakening.

I remembered that a man’s dreams rewrote reality. I remembered that the black woman he loved had turned gray along with the rest of the world. And I remembered that the TV station was PBS, or channel Thirteen as it was called in New York City. But I didn’t remember the title.

In the years that followed, I often wished to see that movie again. When I thumbed through the TV Guide, I would read the descriptions of the PBS programs in the hope of recognizing something. But I never saw anything that I recognized. (I now know why. The cost of using the Beatles song, “With a Little Help from My Friends,” was prohibitive.)

Nevertheless the mystery was eventually solved. I don’t know what prompted me to read The Lathe of Heaven other than the fact that I frequented the science fiction sections of bookstores whenever possible and that something having to do with dreams was guaranteed to get my attention. I also don’t know exactly how far I read into The Lathe of Heaven before I recognized it as the source of the movie that blew my mind that evening in 1980. But there it was. My trippy dream movie in its original form.

I have read this book a few times since then and it is one of those books where I seem to get something different from it each time I read it. From my first and most superficial reading I got exactly what I wanted: a mind-bending sci-fi story about alternate realities. Reading it years later, after my graduate studies in philosophy, I got a Taoist parable about the dangers of Utilitarianism. Still later, assigning it to a few literature courses I was teaching, I got a richly symbolic and occasionally poetic work of literary brilliance.

This time I got all that and more. It is still the dreaming that interests me above all. The Taoism still enchants me and a few passages, especially what I will call the “jellyfish” passages, still delight me. But on this reading I was more sensitive to the metaphysics of the story.

Haber wants to be God, but isn’t. George doesn’t want to be God, but is. Of course, George is not actually God, but he might as well be. His dreams become reality. When the world ends, he dreams it back into existence. He might as well be Vishnu, the cosmic dreamer, the sleeping God who dreams the universe into existence.

I know that this is a Taoist story, that George is the uncarved block, the man who goes with the flow, yielding, desireless, soft as water. But I also see echoes of Hinduism in this story.

According to the Mandukya Upanishad, there are four states of consciousness: waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and transcendence.

In waking life, consciousness is directed without. In dreaming life, consciousness is directed within. In deep sleep, consciousness is silent and the self is at peace. These are the ordinary states of consciousness. But there is a fourth state of consciousness: transcendence. It is pure, eternal, undifferentiated. This is the true state of the self.

Is this the state of consciousness George experiences as he lays on the floor of his darkened living room?

He lay still, not asleep; somewhere else than sleep, father on, farther out, a place where there are no dreams. It was not the first time he had been there” (78).

George intuitively recognizes the oneness of all things. “Self is universe” (142) says one of the extraterrestrial creations of his dreaming mind. “Thou art that,” says the Chandogya Upanishad. Atman is Brahman. Self is God, consciousness, all that is.

Unlike George, Haber thinks of God as a benevolent ruler who controls and directs the world. This is precisely why he wants to be God. And it is precisely why he is so alienated from the world and from himself. When Haber dreams, chaos ensues. The world becomes unmade because he cannot bear the knowledge that it is all a dream.

And what if it is? What if life is a dream? What if everything in the universe, everything past, present, and future, everything from the Big Bang to the Apocalypse, is all just a dream in the mind of God?

When Vishnu’s dream ends, the universe ends. Everything ceases to exist until he dreams again. Do George’s dreams likewise sustain the universe? Does he sleep on the cosmic sea, a lotus arising from his navel, Heather Lelache, like Lakshmi, massaging his feet as he dreams a new reality into existence? And if he does, if this is what reality is, does it matter?

To a rational mind, a utilitarian mind, in short, a mind like Haber’s mind, this is an existential nightmare. But to a mind that can embrace paradox, a mind that seeks harmony rather than control, it does not matter at all.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews781 followers
January 26, 2018
This is by far my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel (well, neck and neck with her novella The Word for World is Forest). Her most popular science fiction books (thus excluding the classic Earthsea fantasy series) tend to be The Left hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed, both of these are excellent books but The Lathe of Heaven is the most mind blowing. It is as if she was channeling Philip K. Dick, and according to Wikipedia it is actually her tribute to the late great author.

The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr an insignificant little man who dreams big!. Whenever Orr has an “effective” dream, the dream becomes real (“effective” dream as opposed to normal dreams which he also has). Reality reshapes in accordance with his effective dreams and even changes retroactively to ensure consistency and avoid paradoxes. Orr gives a great example of this during a session with his dastardly psychiatrist William Haber: if he dreams “effectively” of a pink dog when he wakes up there will be a pink dog, but it would not surprise anybody as there will have always been pink dogs in the world, and one has wandered into the room. So it is not a case of a pink dog suddenly popping into existence.

Favorite cover

When I read that I had to pause and imagine the implication and it really is one of the most intriguing sci-fi concepts ever. Unfortunately for George Orr and the rest of the world he is manipulated by Haber who turns out to be an egomaniac. With the aid of an “Augmentor” machine of his own invention he is able to indulge his God complex and alter reality the way he sees fit. From that point reality start warping and changing like taffy. It would be a crime for me to elaborate on the numerous changes wrought by Orr’s effective dreams, I really recommend that you find out for yourself.

Le Guin has one advantage over PKD in that she does write better prose, dialog and characterization. Personally I do not have any problems with PKD’s writing style but in term of literary merit I think Le Guin is in a different league. (PKD is the champion in the brilliantly wacky plots department I think). Here is an example:

“And since then Haber had at least been candid with Orr about his manipulations. Though candid was not the right word; Haber was much too complex a person for candor. Layer after layer might peel off the onion and yet nothing be revealed but more onion. That peeling off of one layer was the only real change”

"Wobbly reality" cover

Add her prose prowess to her massive imagination and her legendary status within the SF/F genres is not at all surprising. During the last few chapters Le Guin’s imagination goes into overdrive and I felt totally immersed in her dream like shifting reality. Her characters are always believable and suitably lovable or despicable as the plot requires. Beside Orr and Haber there is another central character called Heather Lelache who is both tough and sympathetic. There are some poignant scenes involving her that I find to be quite moving.

I could go on and on about this book and I will probably read it again one day (this is already a reread). It is one of the all-time greats and if you love science fiction it is not to be missed.
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Update Jan 25, 18: Sadly Ms. Le Guin just passed away a couple of days ago. I am so grateful for all her great stories, beautiful writing, sense of humour and compassion. She was also a staunch defender of the sci-fi genre.

The 1980 movie adaptation is good! Ms. Le Guin approves.
Video interview with Ursula K. LeGuin about Lathe of Heaven.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,080 reviews2,655 followers
December 19, 2015
I've been struggling over this review for several weeks. Writing about a classic science fiction novel is daunting, especially one as beloved as The Lathe of Heaven.

The story is set set in Portland, Oregon, and George Orr is sent to psychiatrist Dr. Haber for his abuse of drugs. Orr had been taking drugs to try and prevent himself from dreaming, because his dreams have the power to alter reality. When he wakes, George remembers both worlds — the pre-dream version and the post-dream. He reluctantly explains his situation to Dr. Haber, who doesn't believe him at first.

The story quickly takes a dark turn when Dr. Haber witnesses George change the world with his dreams, and the doctor decides to try and take control and fix reality to his liking. This being science fiction, nothing goes smoothly. For example, when Dr. Haber tells George to dream about the problem of overpopulation, George imagines a horrible plague that wipes out millions of people. When Dr. Haber tells George to dream of "peace on earth," George conjures up aliens that are attacking mankind, and now there is a war in space. When Dr. Haber wants George to solve the problem of racism, George dreams that everyone is the same color — grey. (Sadly, that dream killed the biracial woman, Heather, that George had fallen in love with.)

George knows that Dr. Haber is manipulating him, but he feels powerless and doesn't know how to escape. Eventually there is a climactic scene in which Dr. Haber has figured out a way to make his own dreams alter reality, but it causes chaos, and George has to try and save the world. Again.

What I liked about this novel was Le Guin's creativity and cleverness. Not only did it show that there are no easy solutions to world problems like war and racism and overpopulation, but it demonstrated that even people with good intentions could never imagine all of the consequences to a radical change in society.

The book was also smart about the details of the different worlds — each dream could cause significant alterations, and George was forced to remembered them all. Both George and my reading self would sometimes get confused about what reality we were in. (A book-club friend remarked that the different layers of reality reminded her of Kate Atkinson's Life After Life, in which the main character is forced to live life over and over again, with frequent occurrences of déjà vu.)

My only complaint about this book is that the writing relied a bit much on jargon and nonsense words, which bogged down the text at times. Dr. Haber has a lot of dialogue that is meant to be explanatory (he uses terms such as d-state, s-state, EEG-plus-trancap, ESB, HEW, the Augmentor, etc.), but the long paragraphs of gibberish caused my eyes to glaze over.

In the end, I have to admit how much I have pondered this book. Before falling asleep at night, I'd be grateful that whatever silliness I was about to dream was not real. I would think about this book while watching news stories about global problems, and remember there are no simple solutions. This was a thought-provoking novel that I would recommend to other readers.

Favorite Quotes
"You know that you need sleep. Just as you need food, water, and air. But did you realize that sleep's not enough, that your body insists just as strongly upon having its allotment of dreaming sleep? If deprived systematically of dreams, your brain will do some very odd things to you. It will make you irritable, hungry, unable to concentrate ... liable to daydreams, uneven as to reaction times, forgetful, irresponsible, and prone to paranoid fantasies."

"He was terrified, anguished, exhausted, bewildered. 'I've got to do something, I've got to do something,' he kept telling himself frantically, but he did not know what to do. He had never known what to do. He had always done what seemed to want doing, the next thing to be done, without asking questions, without forcing himself, without worrying about it. But that sureness of foot had deserted him when he began taking drugs, and by now he was quite astray. He must act, he had to act. He must refuse to let Haber use him any longer as a tool. He must take his destiny into his own hands."

"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 a 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."

"There were by now so many different memories, so many skeins of life experience jostling in his head, that he scarcely tried to remember anything. He took it as it came. He was living almost like a young child, among actualities only. He was surprised by nothing, and by everything."
Profile Image for Kimber Silver.
Author 1 book231 followers
September 27, 2022
It took me a few chapters to warm up, but once the heat kicked in I was hooked!

George Orr has been caught using prescription medications borrowed from others, and he’s in hot water. But George isn’t your run-of-the-mill pill-popper; he has dreams that frighten him and his attempt to escape these nightmarish visions has driven him down a drug-fueled road to ruin.

Assigned to a voluntary therapy program with Dr William Haber, who specializes in sleep disorders, George spills his seemingly-preposterous secrets and hopes he’s found someone who can help him. The therapist/patient relationship is pushed to its boundaries as trustful George hands himself over to Dr Haber, and so the rollercoaster ride begins.

I loved the concept as it caused me to think about the choices we each make as people and as a society. There is an abundance of moral dilemmas here, interwoven with angst and love, and also some wonderfully-written sci-fi.

I truly enjoyed this work. I would recommend to those science fiction lovers out there in search of a great story. The Lathe of Heaven is the first book I've read by Ursula Le Guin, who recently passed away. I dare say it won’t be my last.

Thanks to Apatt Seriniyom for tuning me into this book, and to Kevin Ansbro for being my buddy reader on this one!
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
June 3, 2020
Well.  Dreams have always fascinated me, the random pieces of our lives and subconscious that insinuate themselves into our dreams.  Things we fear, things we wish for, and people who are dead in life but live on in our dreams.  In this novel, we have a mild-mannered, seemingly ineffectual man, but whose dreams mean business.  That is to say, when he dreams, a different reality is spawned and remains after waking.  The space/time/dream continuum has never been trickier.  Sanity is shaken.  Sci-fi is not my go-to genre by any means, but I'm happy to have made an exception here.
Profile Image for Mir.
4,862 reviews5,006 followers
May 23, 2011

That's what I was asking Le Guin (or, rather, myself) as I read the first half of this book. You have this guy, George, who is ordinary -- literally median, in fact -- except that when he dreams, reality changes to match his dreams. It does this by changing the past so that whatever new thing he dreams of has always been that way so as far as everyone else is concerned nothing has happened. I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and am willing to make some pretty damn suspensions to disbelief, but this is just over the limit impossible.

It's supposed to be. I'm sure Le Guin could have thought up some more marginally-plausible mechanism by which one individual could unintentionally and uncontrollably alter reality for the entire universe, but then the readers would have spent half the book thinking about how this worked and whether it was internally consistent, and she didn't want that. It's not possible, forget about that part. The point is to create an original arena for raising a number of huge ethical and philosophical questions.

What is evil? What makes us human? What is the relationship between memory and personality? Can one justify doing harm for the greater good? Is it possibly for a human being to really understand what the greater good is? Do we have free will? What are the moral and practical obligations of power? How do we balance conflicting moral dilemmas? Could we ever really communicate with aliens?

The aliens, by the way, seemed to me suspiciously like a joke about how this isn't really science fiction. This is a novel of ideas, and it doesn't matter how many alien invaders, space battles, time shifts, psychic powers, and futuristic machines you toss in.

All that was the part that was interesting to me. As an actual reading experience the book wasn't very enjoyable. The prose was skillful but not pleasurable, and the characters were boring. To a purpose, and I understand why, but still boring. The most interesting was Heather Lelache, and it bothered be how her character was so reduced in later incarnations. Again, I understand why and that Le Guin was raising issues of free will, gender norms, etc, but I think it was heavy-handed. Really a lot of the didactic purpose of the story seemed heavy-handed, and I wish the hard work involved had been me thinking instead of the struggle to persevere in reading it.
Profile Image for Jonathan O'Neill.
160 reviews324 followers
March 14, 2021
4.5 ⭐

”…. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment.
Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.”
- Chuang Tzu

I knew coming into this that it was influenced by Ursula’s decades long study of the Tao. The title itself is from an incorrectly translated passage of ‘The Book of Chuang Tzu’ by James Legge. Years after releasing the book, Le Guin received a letter from a scholar by the name of Joseph Needham who “wrote to tell [her] in the kindest, most unreproachful fashion” that Legge had missed the mark as the Lathe was not yet invented at the time that the Chuang Tzu was written. Still, the expression is cool and the passage is a great one.

Despite being aware of the inspiration for the novel, I was not aware that a focus on the juxtaposition between fundamental Taoist principles and man’s insatiable appetite for progress and power would be the prominent theme and driving force of the work. Coming pretty fresh off of reading Le Guin’s rendition of the ‘Tao Te Ching’, I was pleasantly surprised by this and it added a great deal to my enjoyment of the novel. I strongly recommend keeping them in close proximity on your tbr and using the ‘Tao Te Ching’ as a primer and a bit of context.


George Orr is the “Taoist” in this story. Maintaining centrality, doing not doing, keeping to “The Way”, he is the Jellyfish drifting in the tidal abyss, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature but also the one that endures. Soft, tender, without motive or ambition, he is like the baby. Possessing wholeness and integrity, untethered and without attachments, he is the uncarved block of wood. He is also the beneficiary?/sufferer? of reality-altering dreams which he has no control over. Fear of past alterations he has made leads George to take medication as a means of sleep deprivation and consequently get sent to “Voluntary Therapeutic Therapy” for purchasing more than his citizen’s allowance with the use of another individuals “pharm card”.

Enter, Dr. William Haber, George/Taoism’s antithesis and also his allocated psychiatrist. Haber is the antagonist of the tale but he is not an evil man as such. He is the every man. He’s ambitious, he hungers for control, is a catalyst for change (“progress”) and always seeking understanding even when the search is futile. Unaware of the power of contentment, he seeks to use George’s incredible power to make the world a “better” place. As Le Guin illustrates, however, this intense desire to know the unknowable, to change what requires no change; despite being one of mankind’s strengths, is also our greatest flaw and if left unchecked, could ultimately be our downfall. She remarks, “as there was no visible limit to the power Haber wielded through Orr’s dreams, so there was no end to his determination to improve the world”.

”The vaster the power gained, the vaster the appetite for more.”

Leguin’s novel often sent my mind off on interesting tangents, in a good way. A single sentence here or there, that might have been a throw away to her, to the curious reader, will have you pondering all sorts of well-trodden ideas. I found myself thinking about good and evil and how they are, to a degree, really only in the eye of the beholder. Everybody, unless insane, thinks their actions have just cause when they perform them. But to what extent does the end justify the means?

Haber, for example, wishes to eliminate racial injustice but, in doing so, eliminates race and individuality entirely.

”Her colour, her colour of brown, was an essential part of her, not an accident. Her anger, timidity, brashness, gentleness, all were elements of her mixed being, her mixed nature, dark and clear right through, like Baltic amber.”

With the precept of “the greatest good for the greatest number”, Haber sets his sights on “eliminat[ing] the risk of species deterioration and the fostering of deleterious gene stocks”. What is simply an obvious and justified cog in Haber’s utopian machine sings mass murder and genocide of the sick and vulnerable to me. Tomato, tom[ar]to.
Just so you know, writing these points (over a few too many glasses of wine) is the precise point where my rating went from a 4 to a 4.5. Such a fantastic and thought-provoking work from Ursula.

I struggle most to comment on an author’s writing as I’m not a writer myself but, suffice to say, we are simply blessed to bear witness to the writing of Ursula K. Le Guin. I was already quite taken by Le Guin’s prose, or more accurately, poetry in her rendition of the ‘Tao Te Ching’ but I suppressed my excitement given the fact that the Tao Te Ching really lends itself to beautiful and elusive passages of text, Le Guin was merely required to embellish on an already exquisite script. Well, it was a needless suppression. Ursula’s writing is exquisite. Her descriptions of people, environments or atmospheres produce a feeling of nostalgia. You’ve met that person with the “accusing Dylan whine”, you’ve been to the forest where the stillness of the forest has coincided with the roaring of a nearby stream. Le Guin could harp on about a doorbell and I’d be enthralled…. Oh wait, she did!

”Heather… rang the bell: One of six infinitely thumbed bell pushes in a grubby little row on the peeling frame of the cut-glass-paneled door of a house that had been somebody’s pride and joy in 1905 or 1892, and that had come on hard times since but was proceeding toward ruin with composure and a certain degree of magnificence.”

I feel like I’ve picked the perfect place to start my journey through Ursula’s Fictional works. I have the ‘Hainish Cycle’ box set and am very much looking forward to making a start on that. I’d recommend this for anyone who likes their Sci-Fi with a strong philosophical (at times, spiritual) leaning. This is definitely not Pop Culture Sci-Fi.

“If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it.” - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Profile Image for Dave.
3,014 reviews333 followers
October 2, 2021
Le Guin’s “The Lathe of Heaven” first came to my attention through a low budget PBS film 🎞 of the same title, released on tv in 1980. A science fiction story with aliens, but so hauntingly unique that it literally gave me nightmares. And, that’s appropriate because the tool that Le Guin used to explore her different themes here was dreams, specifically dreams that alter reality.

Because when George Orr dreams, reality is transformed both in the past and the present and its as if the previous reality never existed. But it’s scary for George and he doesn’t want to fall asleep 💤 so he takes unauthorized drugs to dull his senses and keep him awake.

George is a simple man, a decent man. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone or blink anyone out of existence. And perhaps he’s too simple because he is forced to go to a psychiatrist instead of pleading guilty to the unauthorized drugs and Dr.Haber is no simpleton. He sees power and is determined to wield it for the betterment of the human race. Like Galadriel 🧝‍♀️ and the One Ring (see LOTR), George and Dr. Haber have to pass the test. Can they give up absolute power or let it consume them?

So, it’s an allegory about do-gooders who want to make the world a better place through systems of control and power, like Communism. Be careful what you wish for because it may not end up how you expect. Your utopia may be a nightmare. If you wish to stop overpopulation in the teeming cities, you could end up with a plague and billions who were never born. Think back to the genie and the three wishes. How does that always turn out.

And, is it fair for one or more enlightened people to dictate how the world will work for everyone else.

The other interesting thing Le Guin does is she takes issues such as have been explored with time travel 🧳 and does them one better by positing an everchanging reality that Dr. Haber controls through suggestions to George’s effective dreams. What is real and what isn’t?

An evocative, beautiful story that explores so many 💡 ideas.
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,963 reviews294k followers
September 24, 2015
This is a fantastic science-fiction story about playing God.

On the one hand, and like all good science-fiction, it presents a world of exciting and terrifying possibility: what if you could dream a new world into existence? If all your dreams came true, and you could control those dreams, imagine the power you would have.

The limitless possibility in the novel makes for an exciting and compelling read. Le Guin is clearly an excellent writer, but it is her creative imagination that really opens up a world of wonder. I could see it all so vividly.

What would it mean to make a perfect world?
Profile Image for Jen - The Tolkien Gal.
458 reviews4,421 followers
September 18, 2021
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 a 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.

There's not much I can say since I haven't read this book in over 3 years, but I remember it having such a profound impact on me, that I simply couldn't grasp at the words to slap onto a review.

Soon I'll reread this gorgeous book of dreams and death; of life and love; a book of anything and everything.

Le Guin will always be my favourite author, tied with Tolkien, of course. She changed science fiction in a way no-one else ever could, or will.

My second read: four years later

A perfect book is one you can read a second time and view from a completely different angle and still find profound meaning.

Most startlingly, the sections written from the perspective of the psychiatrist instill chills in me. One line says "he treats people because he does not believe they exist otherwise", and I think that's an accurate description of the kinds of medical professionals who really do believe that they're some god. I see this more and more everyday, working with surgeons who think they don't need to speak to a client to give a diagnosis, or speech therapists who believe they are the sole reason for a child's improvement in reading. This attitude, this hubris, is becoming more and more prevalent in the medical world and I'm scared of what it will turn into.

Rereading this book has instilled a type of terror within me that I cannot explain - one that is not cosmic, but rooted in our very planet. As someone who befriended sociologists and almost everyone interesting, Le Guin wrote the perfect dystopian novel which has aged so well, it's terrifying.

1) The world is deeply impacted by global warming; the polar ice caps have disintegrated and no snow can be found on the planet.
2) People rely on medication and therapy more than you would have expected. In Le Guin's story, people see psychiatrists without being labelled a "nut case". For 1971, this sure is a huge and accurate leap.
3) Loneliness despite being amongst so many people
4) Black female characters without fetishisation of their body.
5) The normalcy of interracial couples.

I could go on...I could go on to describe this masterpiece. But I want you to read it, dear reader - I want you to dream it like no other. I want you to see how George Orr develops, how reality itself is bent by one mind who has no control of the result of that bending. That, my friends, is existential terror.

A Peculiar State of Poise”: Ursula K. Le Guin's 'The Lathe of Heaven' (Noah Berlatsky): GamerGhazi
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,690 followers
December 11, 2015
“The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven


“Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven." —Chuang Tse: XXIII

“We're in the world, not against it. It doesn't work to try to stand outside things and run them, that way. It just doesn't work, it goes against life. There is a way but you have to follow it. The world is, no matter how we think it ought to be. You have to be with it. You have to let it be.” - Ursula K. Le Guin

Le Guin seems to have mixed Taoism with PKD and produced a funky SF novella on determinism, dreams, psychology, control, love, wholeness, and power. It wasn't a perfect SF novel. I think the last bit kinda rolled away from her, but like any good PKD or Vonnegut novel, the imperfections of this novel are small enough to let it float and be read far into the future.
Profile Image for N.N. Heaven.
Author 6 books1,828 followers
January 25, 2018
This was the first book I read by her back in high school and I was blown away by it. Le Guin is one of the best science fiction authors of all time. Gripping plot, engaging characters, this is a must read!

My Rating: 5+ stars
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
November 20, 2010
Would you like to play God?

Would you like to shape the world to your liking? Maybe to rid it of war, overpopulation, hunger, racial prejudice, decease? To make it into your own idea of Heaven?

Well, the two main characters of The Lathe of Heaven have different opinions on this subject. George Orr, who possesses a unique ability to change the world by dreaming about, seemingly, the most mundane things, wants this power to be gone, he is sure the events should take their natural course, no matter how dire the consequences are to the humanity. His doctor, William Haber, thinks it is his responsibility to make this world a better place. He is adamant he will achieve his goal of a perfect society! And he will use Orr's ability as a means to his megalomaniac ends. Does it matter that people in his utopia are all of a battleship gray color? That sick people are euthanized? Not to Haber, as long as it is for the common good.

The Lathe of Heaven was the first Le Guin's book that tickled my visualization "powers," which are very modest, to put it lightly. My imagination went in overdrive picturing our planet changing - billions of people disappearing, landscapes transforming, climate adjusting - all retroactive results of Orr's unconscious dreaming. This story would make a visually stunning movie a la Inception

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only a million times better, because Le Guin explores much cooler ideas of fatalism, equanimity, and God complex.

4 stars because it took so long to come up with the idea how to fix Orr's dream problem. I had the solution the moment I knew what his complaint was and I don't understand why Orr himself never thought of it. A bit of a weak plotting there.

Besides this minor issue, the novel is just immensely exciting and imaginative.
Profile Image for Stuart.
718 reviews267 followers
March 5, 2017
The Lathe of Heaven: An early 1970s classic of reality-altering dreams with Taoist undercurrents
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I love Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels from the late 1960s and early 70s. She just couldn’t go wrong during this period. Although The Lathe of Heaven may not be the first book that comes to mind as one of her masterpieces (that honor would likely go to The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, or the EARTHSEA TRILOGY), it was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Awards and won the Locus Award in 1972. It’s what I consider one of her smaller books, but still one of her best.

What makes The Lathe of Heaven great is that it can tackle some of the biggest issues of the time — overpopulation, environmental destruction, war, racism, the lost soul of the modern world, exploration of the dreaming mind, alternate realities, and the urge to shape society for the better — all in under 200 pages. I really feel that is a lost art in this day of massive doorstoppers, multi-book mega-series, and self-indulgent info-dumps.

The story is also simple in concept, with a very small cast of characters, so it could easily be a stage play and has been made into a film twice, once as a PBS production in 1980 and later as an A&E Network film in 2002. It centers on George Orr, an unremarkable man who happens to have “effective” dreams which alter reality. Horrified by this, he tries to suppress his dreams with drugs, but runs afoul of the law and is given the choice between therapy or a mental asylum. He chooses therapy, and is assigned Dr. William Haber.

The early parts of the story detail the therapy sessions of George and Dr. Haber. George is a very passive, almost timid man. He doesn’t want to be in this situation, and certainly doesn’t want to be altering reality with his unconscious dreams. Dr. Haber is the polar opposite, a confident, brash, and aggressive man who quickly recognizes the potential to harness George’s dreams to shape reality in the ways he wants.

Although he makes repeated and valid arguments as to why he should utilize this unique ability to do good and improve society and the world, each time he inserts suggestions to George such as “let’s imagine a world without overpopulation, war, pollution, racism, etc.,” the outcomes invariably are not what he expected and include some serious unforeseen side-effects. Notably, with each new iteration, Dr. Haber’s status and career seem to also improve.

The middle portion of The Lathe of Heaven then explores a serious of alternate realities dreamed up by George’s unconscious with prompting from Dr. Haber. The ways in which things go wrong are quite ingenious, and it’s clear that Le Guin does not subscribe to the power fantasy that someone with the means has the right to shape society and reality to their liking without consultation, even with the best of intentions. As the worlds get stranger and more distorted, Dr. Haber hatches an idea that if he can replicate the process on himself, he can cut the reluctant George out of the equation and dream the world himself exactly to his specifications. This forms the climactic final events of the story.

What adds interest to The Lathe of Heaven and places it firmly in the late 60s & early 70s is not just the political issues of the time, but also the underlying elements of Eastern philosophy, specifically the Taoist quotes at the beginnings of chapters from Chuang Tzu, as well as Tao Te Ching, The Book of the Way and Its Virtue by Lao Tzu, along with western philosophers such as H.G. Wells, Victor Hugo, and even Lafcadio Hearn. You can see how well-read Le Guin is and how much Eastern philosophy was gaining prominence and popularity in the West as an alternative to traditional Western philosophy, especially on college campuses and in intellectual circles. This is similar to the profound influence of the I Ching, The Book of Changes, in Philip K. Dick’s dystopian masterpiece of alternate reality, The Man in the High Castle.

Taoist thinking can be found in the character of George. From many perspectives, this protagonist is very frustrating due to his passivity, reluctance to take any action to change the world around him, and instinctual distrust of authoritarian behavior. Whereas some people might seek to harness their powers to shape reality through dreams, George is repelled by this. Taoism is one of those slippery, non-dogmatic philosophies that espouses the pursuit of The Way though natural, uncontrived living. Disciples seek to discard the ills of civilization and material desires and pursue the simple, unadorned joys of a basic agrarian existence. One key concept is called Wu Wei, which is defined as “effortless action,” “non-action,” much as the planets orbit the sun without any effort, just following the natural rhythms of the universe.

So while from a Western perspective George is a spineless man, afraid and reluctant to do anything with his powers of dreaming, from a Taoist perspective he might be a very dedicated individual trying to avoid doing harm to the natural order of the world around him. Of course this becomes an interesting point of debate in the story — if Taoists look to the ancient past of a simple existence as the ideal, does this principle still apply in the dystopian future society of George and Dr. Haber, living in massive towers packed with millions of people living on minimal rations due to overpopulation, a deteriorating environment, wars throughout Europe and the Middle East, and a general spiritual malaise? Faced with such conditions, is it wrong for Dr. Haber to want to change that? And is it right for George to resist any such manipulations? As always, it is the questions that Le Guin raises that are more important than the answers. The Lathe of Heaven is a concise, though-provoking journey into multiple realities and the dreaming unconscious, but is in no way an escape from reality.
Profile Image for David.
161 reviews1,453 followers
November 20, 2012
Coincidentally I had just previously read (part of) Ubik by Philip K. Dick which is also a novel about a person 'gifted' with the power to change the past retroactively, so my opinion of The Lathe of Heaven was probably (unfairly) affected by this glut—do two books qualify as a glut?—of past-altering fiction in my reading schedule. I want to alter the past and start with a different Ursula K. Le Guin novel instead.

As a disclaimer of sorts, I have to admit that these kind of wackadoo premises are a tough sell for me. It's not that I'm an intensely rational reader who expects rigorous scientific realism from all of my literary entertainments; it's just that there are certain things I'm willing to suspend my disbelief for—ghosts, aliens, talking dogs—and other things that seem too metaphysically muddled to accept—like the subjective manipulation of the past and Adam Sandler's film career—just to name a few.

I thought Le Guin would overcome the raising of my eyebrow. She's certainly no slouch in the writing department and leaves many of her genre colleagues in the dust, but the plot gets old after awhile. This milquetoast guy named George Orr discovers that his dreams have the power to change reality (so that nobody else in the world notices the difference), so he starts abusing drugs to stave off sleep. A psychiatrist named Dr. Haber is at first skeptical about George's talents but later discovers he can manipulate them and turn himself into a makeshift god. What follows are too many episodes of Haber trying to 'save' the world (often with negative results) by directing George's dreams—while George frets about the rightness or wrongness of the arrangement with little consequence.

You can almost hear the simple construction of the tale buckling and snapping under the weight of the ponderous allegory. For the first two-thirds, The Lathe of Heaven was a diverting little narrative, but at the end it got to be too much and too little at the same time.
Profile Image for BJ.
104 reviews37 followers
December 20, 2021
Daring, unexpected, perfectly-paced, not a sentence out of place. Not afraid of the void. Lyrical, mystical in the best way, allegorical on a human scale, politically sophisticated, and plenty of fun to boot. Half the speculative fiction writers working today are aiming for this place—from time to time, a few of them come close.
Profile Image for Mrs.Martos .
92 reviews8 followers
November 19, 2022
Imagina que aquello sobre lo que no ejerces ningun control tiene el poder más grande del universo conocido. Mejor aún, piensa cuanta voluntad se necesita para renunciar a lo que es al mismo tiempo es un sueño y una pesadilla, el paraíso de unos y el infierno de otros. La utopía de un credo, de una clase social o de una visión particular que se convierte, tarde o temprano, en la distopia de los demás ciudadanos, fieles, creyentes.
Imagina renunciar a tu poder para que ganemos todos. 

"Vivo una pesadilla de la que de vez en cuando despierto en sueños."
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,184 followers
April 19, 2023
I prefer hard science fiction but Lathe of Heaven is proof that sci-fi lite can be good too. It merely requires good writing, good ideas, and the ability to stimulate thought.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,236 followers
January 28, 2012
I have long been a fan of dreams: talking about dreams, working out the interweavings between dreaming life and reality. I almost scare-quoted reality there, but then I realized that this review is probably going to be douchey enough as it is without adding a scare-quoted reality to it. Anyway, Ursula LeGuin’s worlds are typically not my worlds; when I’m reading her books, I tend to bump into walls and trip over furniture, where other readers intuitively know the lay of the interior decorating. And, that is just the way reading goes, I think. Neither bad nor good. Sometimes an author puts the couch were we would like to sit, and other times not. This book, though. This is the LeGuin for me. This book is lovely in a way I can understand.

I grew up in a sometimes-fundamentalist home, so for those who didn’t, this comparison might sound like an insult. Please know that I don’t mean it that way. It strikes me that in some pretty superficial ways, The Lathe of Heaven is to Daoism what Narnia is to Christianity. In making that comparison, I am really comparing two things I love, even though they are both representing two very different value systems. I think that both present an emotionally symbolic world in which the roots of a belief system can grow in a simple and understandable way. I think both do a really good job of not sacrificing story to allegory, but still forming a perceptible spiritual message.

The other preliminary thought I have is a spoiler about Heather, so I’ll hide it.

But, that is really only about the structure of Lathe, and what I really want to talk about is dreams. In Lathe, George Orr has “effective” dreams that change his reality. That is the basic premise that you find out at the opening of the story, and I will try not to spoil the plot beyond that. Joel was making the point that the story is a reflection on writing, which I think is an interesting, but narrow, reading of the story, and honestly was not how the story resonated with me at all. I think it is a good point, though, and worth noting. A writer re-creates the world, and in that way probably also shapes other people’s perceptions of the world. I think in many ways, though, we all do that, writing or no writing.

I guess the way the story resonated with me was more literal than Joel’s reading. I do think that any of us can have a dream in the Martin Luther King, Jr., sense, and that dream can guide culture, but I also think that literal dreams can do that, and maybe that is more where the book fascinated me. In college, I once went to sleep with no interest in a boy in my class and I woke up with a crush on him that it took me months to get over. And all that happened was that, in a dream I had that night, he looked at me a certain way. Dreams seem mysterious and mysteriously powerful to me. I had a dream like that this week, and the content of it is not very important, but there was a snake in it, and the snake was also human, and the dream changed something to me, so I thought of this book. I’m not sure what it changed, but it was just different than other dreams.

Once, in college, my best friend from high school had a dream in which we were both preparing for her wedding. About a year later, I had the same dream but from my point of view, which I didn’t realized until later that night I started describing the dream to her and she knew all of its details before I told her, but from her own point of view.

In my part of the dream, after she got married, I went to help an ex-boyfriend move his things into a new house and there was a soundtrack in that part, which is something I don't think I've had in another dream. After I woke up, I was walking to work and I put the Velvet Underground Loaded CD into my discman (I had bought it the day before). “Who Loves the Sun” came on, I realized it was the song in my dream, and I looked up and saw my ex-boyfriend sitting in front of the house he had moved into in my dream. The whole day was off, with the people I cared about in my dreaming and waking life crossing over.

I don’t have a moral or a lesson to that story, but it was an experience I had that made me wonder whether my dreams were creeping in to my reality, like they do with poor George Orr. And I do think many dreams can shape the world in a way I don’t understand, in a way that makes me small and brittle. I think LeGuin captures that literal power of dreams very gracefully, without creating a heavy-handed allegory, leaving room for many applications of the tone and texture of the story. I also love what she does with George and his therapist, and the yin and yang of their personalities, though I can't think of more to say about that than just stating it. I’m glad I found a LeGuin that is for me; I’m glad somebody wrote a story about dreams.
Profile Image for tim.
66 reviews62 followers
August 3, 2009
I've always assumed chronic readers share the experience of finding connecting patterns from one book to the next. No matter how seemingly disparate books read consecutively may be, I've always come across overlapping concepts or some sort of shared meaning that is more difficult to pin down and describe. Whatever these synchronicities may be, I am always genuinely amazed and interpret them as signs that I'm witnessing something important--or at the very least, that I am reading the right book at the right time.

In the last several books I've read have been an uncanny amount of synchronicities bouncing off each other as I made my way through them. I won't bore with details, but the momentum of these emerging, overlapping patterns seemed to coalesce and bleed over into "real" life yesterday after just finishing The Lathe of Heaven. It's not the first time this has happened, nor the most remarkable occurrence, but worth sharing nonetheless.

Ursula K. Le Guin has existed in the periphery of my awareness for some time, but until now I hadn't read her. Upon finishing the book I read before this one, I had no idea what I would read next. My preference upon finishing a book is not to premeditate what I should read next, but instead let the "choice" come to me. So it was that when I finished Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy The Universe Next Door The Trick Top Hat The Homing Pigeons that The Lathe of Heaven popped into my head. I checked the library, a copy happened to be available right then, and so it was. Finally I should read one of the so-called required reads for all Portlanders.

I'm not normally taken to do what is suggested of me, but in this case it worked out. Not only did I really enjoy the journey, but I could only laugh when I discovered its influence did not end on the last page.

So yesterday, upon reading the last page, my family and I decided to catch a bus to Cathedral Park under the St. Johns Bridge--featured in the The Lathe of Heaven--and take in some free music. Okay, no, that is not the profound connection. It couldn't be, as that "choice" was determined by us. What wasn't determined by us was that on our way home we accidentally hopped on the wrong bus. It was hot and humid, we weren't thinking right, and the air conditioned bus looked only too inviting. Besides, the bus would eventually loop around and head back downtown. Anyway, as this bus took us farther and farther away from downtown and out into the boondocks, the bus driver pulled over to take a 40-minute break in the "town" of Linnton. So here we were, with no intention of our own, temporarily stuck in the roadside dilapidation of an old settlement 15 miles northwest of Portland. Pinned between industrial sprawl, railroads, the Willamette River, and the gorgeous green hills of Forest Park, it is a surreal landscape to say the least. More to the point, Linnton is where the second to last imagined scene takes place in The Lathe of Heaven.

I've lived in Portland nearly 15 years and had never before stepped foot in Linnton. Why would I? Yet, mere hours after encountering Linnton in the finishing pages of a novel, here I was, unplanned for, but really there. Maybe that's not so strange after all, but when the literature I read begins to flow over into and influence the life I lead outside of books, I take notice.

That's it. That's my story. I'm sorry if I built this up into a major let down. But it felt major to me at the time.

Oh, and regarding the book itself: I initially thought the character development lacked dimension until I realized this novel is not so much about character development as it is about the seriousness of possible ecological catastrophe and the unknown healing power and potential of dreaming. Read it. It may influence your "real" life too.
Profile Image for Holly.
1,430 reviews986 followers
December 20, 2018
This book was a bit strange and has given me strange dreams for several nights in a row. It's making me a little paranoid haha! I'm not sure I cared so much for how the story was told, as the conversations between the character of George Orr and Dr. Haber were a mixture of confusing/boring to me. However, I did enjoy how much the book made me think about things - how changing the past for everyone could make things better/worse, how some things on a global scale cannot be overcome (peace, racial differences, sickness), and how too much power in any one person can be catastrophic no matter how good their intentions may be. I'm sad that the author passed away this year but I will definitely pick up other books from her, as this was sadly my first.

As a side note, this book was published in 1971 and though it was set in the future with a bunch of advanced technology, I found it kind of amusing when the character at one point looks up an office in a phone book, a thing solidly of the past now. It makes me wonder what things I regularly use now that will soon be extinct.
Profile Image for Yakup Öner.
158 reviews95 followers
October 14, 2015
*Tanrı'ya açılan kapı var olmayıştır.
*Ölümün dışında hiçbir şey insanı rüya görmekten alıkoyamaz.
*Bilinçaltından korkma sakın! Kabuslarla kaynaşan karanlık bir lağım çukuru değil o.
*Güç istencinin özü tam da budur zaten, büyümedir. Başarı onun iptalidir. Güç istenci varlığını sürdürebilmek için her ergiyle daha da artmalı, o ergi daha yüksekteki bir sonraki hedefe uzanan bir basamaktan ibaret kılmalıdır. Elde edilen güç ne kadar büyük olursa, daha fazla güce sahip olma iştahı da o denli artar.
Daha önce birkaç politik makalesini okuduğum değerli yazar Ursula K. Le Guin ilk okuduğum kitabı Rüyanın Öte Yakası ile direkt giriş bölümünde yaptığı doğadaki deniz anasının savruluşu okuyucuyu etkileyerek, yazar sanatının icrası ile büyülemektedir. Yazarın hayal gücü, yaratıcılık olgularını işleme teknikleri öyle üstünkörü incelenecek cinsten değildir. Ayrıca yaratıcılığı tamamen parlak bir zekanın ürünüdür.
Konu kendi bütünlüğünde eğlenceli aynı zamanda ürkütücü. Dikkatli okuma yapmak gerekiyor, çünkü gerçeklik dünyası hangisi, rüya dünyası hangisidir diye kafa karışıklığı durumu olabilir.
Hikayede fantastik bir öykü ile birlikte felsefik konuların işlendiğini görmek mümkün. Ayrıca hikayenin ilerleyişi ile birlikte, şuan ki insanlığın savaş, doğadaki ekolojik sistemin kötüye doğru sürüklenmesi ve demokrasinin günbegün kan kaybetmesi gibi konularda duyarsız oluşunun, yine insanlık için ne gibi sonuçlar doğuracağını distopya tarzında bize iletmiş bulunuyor.
Son bölümde nihilizmi işlemesi de ayrıca beğendiğim bir diğer konu oldu.
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