The Lathe of Heaven

By Ursula K. Le Guin

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I first attempted to read The Lathe of Heaven back around 2013 but I only made it 36 pages in. I think it was less the book and more life and my brain space at the time. This time around, I had no problem finishing it. It did start a little slow, but very soon I was engrossed in the story and wanting to know what happens next.

This is a story of a man, George Orr, who has “effective dreams”. That is, his dreams can change reality, and history to make that reality. He is terrified of these, and what he can do, as he has no control of when he will dream an effective dream. The story opens with him taking drugs to try to not dream. He has been taking too many of the drugs and this results in him being sent for “voluntary” therapy. He goes with the knowledge that the therapist won’t believe him, but also wanting to be cured. The psychiatrist, Dr William Haber, does soon come to believe George but instead of helping him, he uses his dreams to make changes to the world. First, very self-serving, and soon for the “greater good”.

This book is a great depiction of how power corrupts – the seductiveness of being able to change things for the “better”, and not knowing when enough is enough. I also felt that it was in part a commentary on Hitler and his master race.

While I very much enjoyed this story, I didn’t quite understand the ending. I’m going to add this into the spoiler section below. Despite this, I still found this a very interesting read and easily 4 stars.

Spoiler section

Here are the questions I had about the ending. If you’ve read this book, I’d love to hear your interpretation of it.

Are the aliens real, and have been pulled in from their own world? They seem to recognise who/what George is, suggesting they know about effective dreams, and at least some of them have the ability to control them.

Was the word that the aliens give George a way for him to be able to stop himself from having an effective dream, or is it something that he clung to and it turned into a form of self-hypnosis to protect himself from having one? Does it stop the dream, or does it bring the aliens to help him control or fight against the dream (“with a little help from my friends”)?

George is agitated about what Dr Herber will do once he takes the ability to have effective dreams. But then suddenly he isn’t concerned. He knows on leaving Herber’s office after his blocked effective dream (making Herber only think he did what he was told) that Herber will try it out. He tells him to say the word, maybe thinking it will make it not work like it did for him, but does he really think that Herber will do that? This is what I really don’t understand – why he seemed so blasé on leaving the doctor’s office. Of course he soon changes his tune when he starts to see the effects of Herber’s attempted dream.

I’d love to hear your thoughts/interpretations on this, but please remember to put a spoiler alert warning at the beginning of your comment so people can avoid them if needed.

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