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The Lathe of Heaven ()

Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Novels (61)

In the year 2002, Earth is plagued by war, famine, pollution, overpopulation, etc.  George Orr is afraid to go to sleep, because when he wakes, whatever he dreamt the night before has become reality.  He is put in a Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment program when he is caught using drugs to avoid sleep.  There he meets Dr. Haber, who sees in George a solution to the world's problems and so he starts manipulating George's dreams to create a "better" reality.  Haber's delusion's of godhood inevitably lead to unintended consequences & it's up to George, the freak of nature, to stop him.

Ursula K. LeGuin is one of the towering figures in Science Fiction, indeed in all of literature, and this is her finest novel; a brilliant cautionary tale to rival Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

POSTSCRIPT:  I don't know how I missed this angle, unless I'm losing something off of what little fastball I once had, but I just watched the long lost PBS version of this story and the most important aspect of this story became abundantly clear.  After they showed the movie, Bill Moyers interviewed the author and it occurred to me that this may well be one of the most conservative novels ever written.

Though she spoke of the story in Taoist terms--George Orr gets along by going along--it is also easy to read the plot in political terms.  Dr. Haber can be seen as any intellectual who conceives a better way for society and then seeks to impose it, completely failing to understand the unintended consequences which this action will inevitably have.  George Orr, meanwhile, understands that the power to shape reality is too dangerous to entrust to any one man or group of men. It is better to let the future evolve naturally and preserve Man's free will, even if this means not stepping in to "fix" some situations that seem amenable to his personal solutions.  This is sort of the novelization of Friedrich Hayek's Road to Serfdom and it is very, very good.


Grade: (A)


Book-related and General Links:
    -REVIEW : of The Last Report on the Miracles as Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich (Ursula K. LeGuin, Washington Post)
    -PROFILE : Portland Trailblazer: Ursula K. Le Guin (Ellen Emry Heltzel, Book Magazine)
    -PROFILE : Brilliant Careers: Ursula K. Le Guin The award-winning creator of mythic worlds writes about people, animals and trees -- "nothing that is alien" (Faith L. Justice, Salon)