Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
Publisher: Avon Books (1973)
Michael (of Lazy Thoughts From a Boomer fame) recently brought it to my attention that a movie of The Lathe of Heaven existed. I hadn't a clue this classic sci-fi novel had been adapted for film and was pretty excited to give it a looky. Since I'd read the book just a few months ago (or a year now? hmmm) it seemed like another great addition to our movie/film posts. As usual, Michael will be presenting the movie review and I'll take the book.
You can get to Michael's film review by clicking here.
As I said, it's been a little while since I read this book so I dug out my copy (ok, it was actually lent out and my neighbor kindly gave it back for a couple days:) to help refresh my memory for the review. I like to read the backcopy to help me with my summary and was pretty taken aback. Apparently it's "a truly prescient and startling view of humanity" which is weird because "prescient" is probably the last word I would have used to describe this story. Well, giantflamingturd is probably the LAST word but you get what I mean. One of Le Guin's strengths has always been her views of humanity so that I will certainly agree with. Anywho, over-eager backcopy and generic blurbs aside, I really liked this comment listed on her website:
"When I read The Lathe of Heaven as a young man, my mind was boggled. When I read it, more than 25 years later, it breaks my heart. Only a great work of literature can bridge — so thrillingly — that impossible span."— Michael Chabon
At this point you must be thinking, get to the book already! So here we go...
George Orr would like to stop dreaming. To that end, he's been finagling ways to get past the limits set on the autodrug dispensary. Getting caught eventually lands him in Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment. He is assigned to Dr. William Haber. George explains that he would like to stop dreaming because his dreams affect reality. Naturally, Haber doesn't believe him but he agrees to treat him. Haber eventually realizes George is telling the truth and begins to imagine how one might go about creating a more perfect world. George, a reluctant participant at best, tries to get around the machinations of his doctor with the help of a lawyer named Heather Lelache.
The real triumph of this novel is its parallel scales. Haber is a passive-aggressive egomaniac trying to Change the World and George is a regular guy trying to get a problem under control. Readers experience the enormity of what Haber is doing but, right alongside, readers are also very much a part of George's everyday life as he tries to deal with this. Le Guin is a master of world-building and it is certainly on display here. And not only does she perfectly present the world as George experiences it, but we are also taken right along when any changes are affected by George's dreams. In a bittersweet sort of way, these changes can be really funny.
There's an aspect of this story that is like getting three wishes from a genie: once you get what you wished for, you realize you should have been more specific. At the same time that Le Guin is able to make a reader truly ache with the challenges faced by George, she's also able to give you an unexpected laugh when you see just how his dreams attempt to meet the requirements of Haber's World View.
The characters here are great. It's really just the three (George, Haber, and Heather) but they are excellently done. This is an aspect that was very much lost in the movie. But more on that when I comment at Michael's blog... Heather is especially well done in that she's given the "outsider" position, mostly having to react to situations rather than have any true agency but, despite this, she's not filler at all. It's another testament to Le Guin's excellence as a writer.
So while I really enjoyed this book there was something about it that didn't allow me to become fully immersed. I can't put my finger on what it was but I was never "lost in the story" or anything like that. I have a feeling it's one of those books that takes a couple reads to really appreciate all the aspects of the story. And, points to Le Guin, it's not a tome so a re-read is easy enough. (I've always liked how Le Guin can tell an excellent story without 2-3 times more words than necessary.)
One part that really annoyed me - and definitely took me out of the story - was this bizarre throwaway line of Heather's when she and George are first discussing the case. She mentions another case that might be similar and gives a bit of info on the other plaintiff. In what seems very odd coming out of a Le Guin book, you've got the over-used, completely unfair, disgustingly prejudice linking of homosexuality with pedophilia. I'm not saying that pedophilia is something that is strictly limited to heterosexuals but this literary device (that seems much too mild a term for such a transgression) really must fucking die! And, again, it's really weird coming from a Le Guin novel, at least in my experience.
My final verdict: Sci-fi fans for sure ought not to miss this one but even those who are a little hesitant to attempt the genre will get a lot out of this title.
And in case you haven't already been, here's the link again for the movie review!
rating: 4 of 5 stars
Coming up after the holidays:
(and its movie adaptation by a slightly altered name - Angel Heart)
Links to previous joint posts:
The Princess Bride
A Scanner Darkly
The Children of Men
The Minority Report