Review: The Lathe of Heaven

Ursula Le Guin captures my interest with powerful, original, and unobtrusive figurative language.  She makes allusions to sci-fi dystopian novels Brave New World and 1984, and even names her main character George Orr. Similes and metaphors are poetically precise, such as when she compares Orr to a ‘red, blind, and wet…newborn baby’ after he dunks his head in the sink. Her book begins with a page of imagery-flowered analogy, comparing human dreaming and waking to the life of a jellyfish pushed by the sea and scorched by the land.

Going forward with average novel dialogue, Le Guin assigns great significance to the act of dreaming. Scientific lingo scratches the complex and often misunderstood psychology of REM sleep with just enough depth to pull me in, but limited so as to allow for seamless integration. The author continually supports my vested curiosity with honest and lightweight, yet completely distinguishing character descriptions, using measured cynicism, humor, and human error to craft a believable narrative that will hold fast through alien invasions and reality-altering dreams.

Lingering just beneath this expert science fiction craftsmanship, Ursula Le Guin places an abundance of moral and philosophical speculation, the substance that I crave from this book. Pages 82 and 83 are prime examples of the author’s own commentary. In her main theme, she defies the philosophy that states, “The end justifies the means.” With Orr’s mouth, Ursula Le Guin clearly stands where ‘it’s wrong to force the pattern of things.’ Her bold stance morally discounts scientific advances involving manipulation, or playing God. Later she elaborates, ‘only those who have denied their being yearn to play at it.’ Her argument is convincing. People cannot see the whole scheme, so any forcing of action is biased, uninformed, and even foolish selfishness, which leads to ruin. This allegory is a warning not to be taken lightly.

2 responses

  1. Caleb, your review hits on a lot of things I really like about SciFi. It seems to consistently ask us to re-examine those mantras in our own lives and societies and consider why we continue to live according to them. Brave New World does this really well. Maybe bump it closer to the top of your list if you haven’t already read it?

    • Brave New World was really thought provoking and I am considering picking up Island, his utopian counterpart.

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