Saturday, April 28, 2012

Book Review: The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven takes place in what was, at the time of publication in 1971, the near future, but when read now is just about current day, give or take a few years.  Anyway, the story follows George Orr, a pretty regular guy with a totally unique ability; His dreams can alter the shape of reality.  In order to avoid these reality altering dreams George borrows prescription cards from friends and neighbors in order to stock up on sleep depriving drugs.  He's eventually busted and sent to a psychiatrist, Dr. William Haber, who specializes in dream psychology.

Once the two meet up and Dr. Haber learns about George's strange gift, he quickly learns to harness George's ability through hypnosis and a dream augmentation machine.  Before too long, Dr. Haber is manipulating George's dreams for his own purposes.  George must find a way to stop Dr. Haber before the world as they know it is completely altered beyond redemption.

After reading and loving Jo Walton's Among Others I knew I wanted to explore some of the old school science fiction and fantasy works that get mentioned in that novel.  It didn't take me long to realize that The Lathe of Heaven would be something I would enjoy, so I quickly set out to track down a copy and give it a read.

The Lathe of Heaven is one of those unique stories that is a wonderful blend of a little bit of science fiction and a little bit of fantasy. It seems like nowadays we have such clear distinctions between the two genres, but that couldn't be less true here. Le Guin managed to meld the two genres together like an expert metallurgist and create a truly wonderful novel that felt completely unique to me.

Aside from being a story with a plot that completely sucked me in and had me devouring page after page, I was most impressed with the fact that Le Guin was able to pack so much story into a mere 184 pages.  Way more goes on here than in many of the door-stopper sized novels we see on the shelves today, and the characters are a hell of a lot more well developed and interesting as well.  Le Guin's prose was equally impressive, as I got a distinct feel for her voice from the opening lines on page one.

As I mentioned above, the characters in The Lathe of Heaven are impressively written.  George Orr was a fun character to read, as I felt like I could understand him, and I found myself really hoping for things to turn out well for the guy.  Dr. Haber on the other hand is very much the antagonist of the story, but he too was someone I felt a connection with as well.  I felt like I could understand and relate to his motivations even though they weren't always the most ethical.  With primary characters like these two, and secondary characters that stand out as well, this is one of the better character driven stories I've read in recent memory.

The Lathe of Heaven was pretty much the perfect novel to being my excursions into the history of the science fiction/fantasy genres, as this was a great example of a classic that has an incredibly fresh and new feel to it, all while managing to still have the distinct feel of being from another era.  This is an absolutely fantastic book that I loved from beginning to end.  I highly recommend this, as I think it holds appeal to any fan of genre literature, and could be enjoyed by non-genre fanatics as well.  I can only hope all my other "old school" reads are as good as this.

Grade: A

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