Friday, June 1, 2012

Review: The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin (spoilers)

In my Reading Now post, I went into some detail about my relationship with Le Guin - at the end of the day I like the way she develops characters and writes.  She pulled me in from the get-go on this book and I tore through it in two days of lunch and train reading.

Spoilers ahead.

The premise is that our main character George Orr has the ability to alter reality with his dreams, has come under the supervision of a psychiatrist Dr Haber who learns of said ability and starts trying to "fix" things.  It's an interesting idea, having your antagonist basically being someone with decent motivations - he wants to eliminate hunger, war, racism.  But he keeps plugging away on fiddling with reality despite disastrous consequences like killing off 6 billion of Earth's inhabitants when trying to solve overpopulation.

It took me some time to get a grasp on George's character, it's hard to conceive someone that is so middle of the road.  Haber says he's average across the board, but it doesn't seem like an average personality.  He has a definite moral compass, but seems unwilling to fight Haber knowing he's being manipulated and used for his often devastating ability.  Haber's point of view describes George as weak constantly, and George himself also seems himself unable to be put into action.  It's not until we meet the lawyer, Heather Lelache, do we get an idea of how ultimately strong George is.  The way she is introduced is very visual, comparing her to this clicking snapping black widow spider, she's willing to take George's case to find some sort of infringement that can at least transfer him to another doctor.  We slowly see that Heather becomes pulled to George, sees his inner strength and solidity even though he comes off as a weak possibly disturbed victim.  It helped reinforce my sympathy and like George all the more.

I don't know about anyone else, but I sighed in relief when Heather also witnessed George's dream changing reality - I still wasn't completely convinced we could believe George completely.  He and I had some validation, and horrification (who knew that was a word) that Haber had caused the wholesale slaughter of the majority of the population.

The plot twists along with more and more convoluted tweaks of reality to fix racism (the gray skin made me smile.. and think of aliens from The X-Files), war, elimination of the Aliens, etc.  After all of the examples of a counterweight needed to balance the change, it started to feel a little obvious and like I was being hammered the point into - but since the story is so short it didn't get cumbersome.  The point was made clearly but I didn't feel completely lectured.

The Alien interactions were kind of mystical and hazy, my scifi-loving side wished the novel was longer and fleshed them out some more, oh well.

Because I finished at lunch, I reread the last 15 pages on my way home from work.  I read the end rather frantically and felt I might have missed something.  The way reality was dissolving into Haber's nightmare once he rigs the Augmentor to work on himself was confusing and handled quickly.  I don't think it's a very understandable scenario, and maybe this was the best way to do it.  I'm not sure why Haber's nightmare was felt and seen by everyone, why when it was terminated some things reverted (Mount Hood) and settled (I imagine the buildings didn't remain half melted), and why Haber's interaction with the machine went awry immediately.  I suppose because he wasn't a balanced personality, he couldn't handle constructing a reasonable reality like George - but interfering timelines and melting buildings, I dunno.. it was the only time the suspension of disbelief wavered for me.

The novel wrapped up pleasantly with George and Heather reuniting, with hopes (from me) that she would remember at least her bonding to George (at the cabin, the world before the Plague timeline) and their relationship would continue.  Haber was still around, but unresponsive and apparently still emitting some sort of weirdo psycho nightmare vibes that no one could tolerate even as he sat there doing nothing.

If nothing else, it's a good sign I think that I have so much to say considering how short the book was.  Let me know what your thoughts are in the comments!

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