The lathe of heaven

175 pages

English language

Published Nov. 8, 2003 by Perennial Classics.


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4 stars (8 reviews)

“The Lathe of Heaven” ; 1971 ( Ursula Le Guin received the 1973 Locus Award for this story) George Orr has a gift – he is an effective dreamer: his dreams become reality when he wakes up. He is aware of his past and present, two or more sets of memories, although the people around him are only aware of the current reality. This science fiction story is set in Portland, Oregon, in/around the late 1990s - early 2000s. Orr begins to take drugs to suppress dreams but eventually he is sent to a psychotherapist, Dr. William Haber, who has developed an electronic machine, the Augmentor, which records the brain patterns of a person as they dream. When Haber realizes that he can use Orr's unique ability to change their world, the consequences are both beneficial and frightening, both locally and globally. Orr seeks out the help of a civil …

18 editions

Think of it as an iterated monkey's paw wish.

5 stars

The Lathe of Heaven takes us through multiple possible versions of Portland as George Orr, a man whose dreams can change reality, is directed by his therapist to solve the world's problems.

It doesn't go very well.

  • George has no control over how his dreams accomplish the specific change.
  • Everything is connected. Pull one strand and another comes along with it.
  • It's all tied to Dr. Haber's idea of which problems to tackle, what solutions are acceptable...and which people are expendable.

But while the stakes are global, the story stays laser-focused on three people: George Orr himself, increasingly desperate to take control of his life and his dreams. Dr. Haber, who keeps pushing for more control over the world. And Heather Lelache, a biracial lawyer who becomes aware of some of the changes to reality, but faces more drastic changes than either of the two men at the center of …

Dreaming of a better world has consequences

3 stars

Overall, this was an interesting short novel. While deceptively simple, the premise makes you think about a lot its concepts, including dreams, reality, and the power to change it. The characters lead the conflict- there is an abusive relationship at its core as one takes advantage of the other. That was disturbing but the main character is a little too passive in working to get out of it.

For a full review, check out my blog:

reviewed The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

A development of medical and societal ethics through the lens of a sci fi thriller

5 stars

A slow-burn psychological thriller that ramps up to a fever pitch while hitting quite a few strong notes along the way.

The Lathe of Heaven is uniquely gripping because its themes seem to morph so fluidly throughout the novel, giving just enough breath to each to offer social commentary while still leaving plenty of air for the reader to ponder the implications. Just to name a few, the book hits on self medication, spiraling into incarceration, medical/psychological research and its ethical implications, weighing ethical responsibilities to individuals against humanity at large, our duty to monitor our unconscious biases and an amnesic fading grasp on reality. Explored in a surrealist fictional present, these topics are provided with enough distance from our real-world understanding to mull them over with fresh eyes.

Of these, I was particularly interested in the ethics of research science as these considerations still ripple through the field of …

Weirdest thing I've read by Le Guin

4 stars

It's funny how of all the books I've read by Le Guin, the one that's set on a baseline plausible Earth-in-my-lifetime would turn out to be the weirdest. Also funny how in what starts as a pretty reasonable extrapolation from 1971 to ~2000 has one repeated glaring error: multiple references to the perfect cone of Mount St. Helen's.

Against that background, we get a story of a man running away from his dreams because they give him a power he doesn't understand and can't control. And another man who wants to channel that power, setting up a modern Daoist fable about the hubris of trying to control too much.

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4 stars
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5 stars


  • Dreams -- Fiction