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The Lathe of Heaven
Ursula K. Le Guin
Gollancz, 184 pages

The Lathe of Heaven
Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin was born in 1929, the daughter of a writer and an anthropologist. She published her first novel, Rocannon's World, in 1966. Her fourth novel, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, a feat she repeated with The Dispossessed (1974). The Earthsea trilogy established her as a master of fantasy as well as science fiction. She has also published poetry and short story collections, and she received the Pilgrim Award in 1989 for her critical writings.

Ursula K. Le Guin Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Tales from Earthsea
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Interview: Ursula K. Le Guin
SF Site Review: The Other Wind
SF Site Review: The Telling
SF Site Review: The Dispossessed

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sam Ashurst

When George Orr is arrested for misuse of prescription drugs, the authorities decide to send him to a behavioural psychologist to try and cure his unusual addiction. George believes that his dreams can alter reality, and has been using sleep repressants to try and control them.

His therapist, Dr William Haber, is initially sceptical. But when Haber discovers that George is telling the truth, he decides to use Orr's powers to try and change the world for the better...

There's a great tradition in SF for the 'what if...' story, in movies, TV and fiction. The most famous is probably The Man in the High Castle, but in my opinion The Lathe of Heaven is up there with Philip K. Dick's classic. Whereas most 'what if' books are happy to focus on one alternative reality, Ursula K. Le Guin manages to create several richly painted other-worlds, and explores fully the consequences of each. This leads to many nice touches, such as the fact that George retains a memory of each of these worlds, whereas everyone else on the planet simply has their memories replaced by the latest change.

The Lathe of Heaven has only three main characters -- but what characters. George Orr is possibly the most sympathetic hero I've ever read. Despite being almost otherworldly at times, it's always easy to identify with him, and like him. As for Dr William Haber, the bad guy of the story, in another book he might well be the hero. In fact, if the story was told from his perspective, he probably would be. And that's just one of the things that makes this book truly great. Haber is no cackling villain, he genuinely wants to do the right thing (even if the right thing is a little selfish sometimes) -- yet you never once side with him. You are with Orr from the beginning to the bitter end, and if you reach the book's climax without truly hating Haber, then you're a stronger person than I am. The last character at first feels like a bit player (albeit a well painted one), but it soon becomes clear that Heather Lalache has a pivotal role to play.

The Lathe of Heaven is a psychological thriller in every sense of the term. The story can be enjoyed as a struggle between a man and his therapist to 'make a breakthrough,' as a SF parable about the dangers of becoming a God, or simply as a page turner, full of twists and shocks.

Whichever way you approach it, this book is wonderful. Sensitive, moving and shocking -- and containing in George Orr one of SF's greatest characters, The Lathe of Heaven will stay in your mind long after you've put it down. Sweet dreams.

Copyright © 2004 Sam Ashurst

Sam Ashurst is a reviewer for Comics International, and a SF addict. His favorite SF Masterworks include I am Legend and The Stars My Destination, and his biggest SF regret is that George Lucas didn't know when to stop.

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