In a future already past, LeGuin recreates a world with the same problems as our own and one significant difference—a possible solution. Set in Portland, OR in 2002, The Lathe of Heaven recounts the adventures of George Orr in and out of sleep as his ability to retroactively change reality through "effective dreaming" comes to the attention and eventually the control of Dr. William Haber. Ranging between dystopian philosophy and black humor, this is unquestionably one of the finest science fiction novels ever written.
Haber sees Orr's ability as a way to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, the resulting multiple pasts have left the true nature of existence in question, and Haber's improvements have had deeper effects than the obvious and immediate ones. Some of the changes are funny (to eradicate racism Orr dreams everyone has grey skin), while others are more horrific than the problems they try to solve (in order to unite Earth in peace Orr dreams an alien invasion). Ultimately Orr believes Haber's goals to be immoral, and comes to see it as his duty to resist the psychiatrist's machinations.
This isn't some trippy Matrix-y dreamworld fantasy. While those elements are present(and certainly inspired the rash of dystopian dream-based movies that have scourged Hollywood in recent years), the value of LeGuin's novel lies in her examination of human motivation, the desirability of manipulating individual or collective destiny, and the possibility of improving the world and eradicating evil. Orr's moral struggle both within himself and with Haber is as well-constructed and universally important as any in literature.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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