Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula Le Guin

I found Ursula Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven fascinating. The story is set in the future for Le Guin at the time of writing (which is now our past/present) - although I twice checked the publication date of the book because in places it seemed spookily accurate (especially with regard to environmental pollution and the potential for an epidemic of some virulent disease !) The premise of the book is straight forward enough: George Orr is Mr Average in everything except for his dreams, and in that aspect of his life he's Mr Extraordinary. George has the facility for "effective dreams", which means that sometimes his dreams reshape reality. The first time that he becomes aware of his "talent" is when his aunt, who had been living with his family, suddenly isn't there any longer and never has been. He panics and tries to drug himself up so that he can no longer dream effectively. As a consequence of his drug abuse he's sent to see Dr Haber, a sleep specialist. Haber has an Augmentor, a specially designed machine with which he can monitor and record brainwaves during sleep. Once Haber discovers the potential power of George's dreams, he starts to use hypnotic suggestion to try to control what George dreams (although the dreams never turn out exactly as Haber intends), so that he can start changing the world. At first Haber just uses George's dreams to change life for himself (giving himself a nicer office - with a window, making himself head of a specialist institute, etc.), but then he gets carried away and starts using George's dreams to change the entire world. However, since Haber cannot precisely control George's dreams, some of his hypnotic suggestions have very drastic consequences, and George becomes increasingly worried with the way in which Haber is manipulating both reality and George himself. The book has a rather open-ended conclusion, although Haber does get his comeuppance ! This is definitely one of the most intriguing and thought-provoking books by Le Guin that I've ever read (Changing Planes was the other one).

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Does anyone have access to the journal, The Velvet Light Trap ? I cannot get access to it, even via the Bodleian Library, and I'm after an article from the Fall 2003 issue (pages 45 - 63). It's called "Fantasy, Franchise and Frodo Baggins: The Lord of the Rings and Modern Hollywood", written by Kristin Thompson. I'm keen to read it as background to my latest writing project (the paper on wizards in the books of Juliet E McKenna and Lynn Flewelling), so if anyone can access the article and send me either an electronic or a paper copy, I'd be very grateful. (I'd be happy to pay for the cost of copying and mailing a paper copy if an electronic copy isn't possible.) Thanks in hope !


Martin LaBar said...

You covered the book very well.

Good job.

Michele said...

Thanks ! I always tread a fine line between giving away too much (as someone who positively hates spoilers, I'm careful about spoiling books) and giving away enough to make a book sound interesting to someone who's not read it !