Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K LeGuin: Review

George Orr is afraid to dream. He has discovered that he has what he calls effective dreams. His dreams can change things. That pesky Aunt Julia who came to stay when he was seventeen? Suddenly she was gone and had never stayed with them at all. Not just vanished from their home--but dead in a car crash. That wasn't precisely what he wanted when he decided in his waking hours that he wanted her out of the house, but his subconscious seemed to think it an adequate solution and so he dreamed it. And it happened. And he was the only person who knew that it had ever been any different.

When George's fears reach the point that he is abusing his pharmacy privileges to try and prevent a dreaming state, he is referred to a psychiatrist for standard treatment. Dr. Haber begins by thinking he simply has to cure George of this irrational fear of dreaming. It isn't long before he realizes that George is right...his dreams can change the waking world. Haber decides to use George's unique power to make changes. He claims that it is for the greater good: to stop war, to prevent overpopulation, to wipe out hunger. But George becomes more and more uneasy with every change. Who has the power to decide what is best for all mankind? Who
should have that power?

This should have been a very powerful book. The ideas behind it--just what is reality and who, if anyone, should have the power to shape it--represent very powerful and intriguing questions. However, I found the ideas getting lost in the psycho- and techno-babble that Dr. Haber spouts whenever he and George have a session. Talk of dream and sleep states and all the wondrous gadgetry of his Augementor (the machine that records and enhances George's dreaming powers), just weighed the story down. LeGuin can be an awesome writer (I love her
Left Hand of Darkness and Always Coming Home), but I think she is at her best when she sticks with people--with the speculative stories of the human condition. Too much tech talk is definitely not her style. I would have appreciated more focus on George's struggle. And more straightforward discussion of the dream-power. And then to bring in the aliens and their alien terms for the power (which never get fully explained) didn't help matters at all. More explanation of how the aliens know about the dreaming power and how they helped George would have gone a long way. Two and a half stars.

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