Tuesday, 23 February 2016

The Lathe of Heaven

Ursula LeGuin The Lathe of Heaven (1971)
I've now read most books published by most of the authors I really, really like. I have therefore reached that point of realisation that if it's considered a science-fiction classic and there it is right in front of me on the shelf in the second hand place, then I may as well bag me a copy providing it isn't Heinlein. Whilst Ursula played a blinder with The Left Hand of Darkness, it somehow didn't quite inspire me to run out and grab everything else carrying her name. I'm not even sure why not, but anyway, here I am four or five years later, submerging that toe to greater depth.

The Lathe of Heaven is characteristically beautifully written in so much as that it reads like a proper book - you know, even Margaret Attwood might enjoy it; and I suppose it belongs to the satirical tradition of science-fiction in the broadest sense. At least it has enough in common with later Philip K. Dick as to account for why a LeGuin quote should in particular have graced the covers of so many of his novels when Granada reprinted them back in the eighties.

Our man in The Lathe of Heaven has dreams which change the world, leaving only himself with the memory of how things were before his own subconscious somehow influenced reality. He seeks psychiatric help, but the psychiatrist only primes his patient with suggestions leading to dreams which depopulate the Earth and bring on an alien invasion. There's no explanation for how the dreams of one person can have such a devastating effect, but that's hardly the point of the novel, and the point of the novel is, I suppose, that one should be careful what one wishes for. It's neither inordinately original nor particularly profound, but nevertheless makes for just the kind of well-rounded, satisfying read you probably expect from Ursula LeGuin. I suppose my only criticism, if we really need one, is that it felt like an overly extended short story rather than a novel in the sense of The Left Hand of Darkness and so doesn't seem to quite attain escape velocity equivalent to that of the aforementioned, although of course they're both very different books.

Still - very readable and better than a kick up the arse.

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