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The Lathe of Heaven

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  44,401 ratings  ·  3,111 reviews
George Orr is in most respects a mild and unremarkable man, but he has an ability with which he can transform the world around him, for George's dreams alter reality. His psychiatrist, William Haber, at first sceptical, cannot resist using George's powers once he sees their effects - initially just to advance his own career, but then, gaining confidence, to try to change t ...more
Paperback, 184 pages
Published August 9th 2001 by Gollancz (first published November 1971)
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Meika I took a peek at some of the books listed on your profile, and I think you might like it. The main plot-driver is dreams, which lets you suspend…moreI took a peek at some of the books listed on your profile, and I think you might like it. The main plot-driver is dreams, which lets you suspend reality in a way that's compatible with a rational world-view. It's also very psychological, obviously, since one of the main characters is a psychiatrist who studies dreams.
There's no magic in this story. The science isn't foolproof, but it bends along the existing unknowns. If that's too much, you can easily take the story as an elaborate zen koen (there is one about a farmer who finds a horse, and his neighbors say he's lucky, and he says "maybe," and then his son tries to ride the horse and is thrown and injured, and the neighbors say he's unlucky, and he says "maybe," then the army comes to town.... and so on.). (less)
Sween McDervish This is a reference to Sigmund Freud's "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy" more often referred to as the Case of Little Hans. A horse…moreThis is a reference to Sigmund Freud's "Analysis of a Phobia in a Five-Year-Old Boy" more often referred to as the Case of Little Hans. A horse figures prominently as a symbol of repressed sexual urges.(less)

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4.11  · 
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When I first came across this book as a teenager, I think I only really noticed the surface story. George Orr is a man whose dreams, literally, come true; he dreams something, and when he wakes up the world has changed. There's an unscrupulous psychiatrist who wants to exploit George's gift, a love story, some interesting aliens, and a good ending. I really liked it.

I've read it three or four times since then, and each time I've appreciated it more. One could imagine a book with a similar plot
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“To sleep, perchance to Dream; Aye, there's the rub,For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come, When we have shuffled off this mortal coil, Must give us pause.”

Ursula K. LeGuin delivers a riveting but simple tale of a man whose dreams can affect and alter reality. Told with an Arthur C. Clarke like elegance and minimalism, but with her signature mastery of the language, LeGuin goes beyond an interesting concept and explores the ins, and outs, and what-have-yous of someone with God-like, bu
Mar 15, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of good sci-fi and philosophy
Recommended to Nataliya by: Catie
The Lathe of Heaven asks the reader - is it ever okay to play God?

( Of course, when it comes to Morgan Freeman there is NO question.)
You have to help another person. But it's not right to play God with masses of people. To be God you have to know what you're doing. And to do any good at all, just believing you're right and your motives are good isn't enough.
Who would you normally root for? A guy with the power to change the ugly dystopian world² but is unwilling to do so? Or a guy who activ
Kevin Ansbro
Feb 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kevin by: Apatt
"The dream is the aquarium of night"
—Victor Hugo

Oneirophobia: noun. A fear of dreams.

Nonentity pencil pusher, George Orr, increasingly worried that his dreams can alter past and present reality, has therefore become afraid to dream. Caught using another person’s pharm card to obtain drugs to keep him awake, he’s referred to narcissistic psychiatrist, Dr William Haber, for an innovative course of dream therapy.
The book started brightly and the first chapter promised much, a nice run of assonanc
Jan 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been struggling over this review for several weeks. Writing about a classic science fiction novel is daunting, especially one as beloved as The Lathe of Heaven.

The story is set set in Portland, Oregon, and George Orr is sent to psychiatrist Dr. Haber for his abuse of drugs. Orr had been taking drugs to try and prevent himself from dreaming, because his dreams have the power to alter reality. When he wakes, George remembers both worlds — the pre-dream version and the post-dream. He reluctant
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is by far my favourite Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel (well, neck and neck with her novella The Word for World is Forest). Her most popular science fiction books (thus excluding the classic Earthsea fantasy series) tend to be The Left hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed, both of these are excellent books but The Lathe of Heaven is the most mind blowing. It is as if she was channeling Philip K. Dick, and according to Wikipedia it is actually her tribute to the late great author.

The Lathe of Heav
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of classic sci-fi
For those new to or unaware of the wonders of Le Guin, this is a short book about George Orr, a man who has been taking too many drugs in an attempt to stop dreaming. Some of his dreams become true–not in the prescient sense, but in the reality-is-reordered sense, and George is haunted by the changes. In his highly regulated society, his drug deviance results in a mandatory visit to a psychologist and his dreaming machine. Dr. Huber discovers George’s power is real and convinces him that intenti ...more

That's what I was asking Le Guin (or, rather, myself) as I read the first half of this book. You have this guy, George, who is ordinary -- literally median, in fact -- except that when he dreams, reality changes to match his dreams. It does this by changing the past so that whatever new thing he dreams of has always been that way so as far as everyone else is concerned nothing has happened. I read a lot of fantasy and science fiction and am willing to make some pretty damn suspensions t
Susan Budd
Sometime in 1980 I caught a trippy sci-fi movie on television. It blew my mind with its psychedelic special effects and consciousness-altering ideas. But like so many psychedelic and consciousness-altering experiences, some of it impressed itself deeply on my memory while other details were quickly forgotten ~ like a dream upon awakening.

I remembered that a man’s dreams rewrote reality. I remembered that the black woman he loved had turned gray along with the rest of the world. And I remembered
Feb 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tatiana by: Ariel
Shelves: 2010, locus, sci-fi, hugo, nebula
Would you like to play God?

Would you like to shape the world to your liking? Maybe to rid it of war, overpopulation, hunger, racial prejudice, decease? To make it into your own idea of Heaven?

Well, the two main characters of The Lathe of Heaven have different opinions on this subject. George Orr, who possesses a unique ability to change the world by dreaming about, seemingly, the most mundane things, wants this power to be gone, he is sure the events should take their natural course, no matter h
Emily May
Oct 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sci-fi, 2015
This is a fantastic science-fiction story about playing God.

On the one hand, and like all good science-fiction, it presents a world of exciting and terrifying possibility: what if you could dream a new world into existence? If all your dreams came true, and you could control those dreams, imagine the power you would have.

The limitless possibility in the novel makes for an exciting and compelling read. Le Guin is clearly an excellent writer, but it is her creative imagination that really opens u
May 25, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2014
“The end justifies the means. But what if there never is an end? All we have is means.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven


“Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven." —Chuang Tse: XXIII

“We're in the world, not against it. It doesn't wo
The Lathe of Heaven: An early 1970s classic of reality-altering dreams with Taoist undercurrents
Originally posted at Fantasy Literature
I love Ursula K. Le Guin’s novels from the late 1960s and early 70s. She just couldn’t go wrong during this period. Although The Lathe of Heaven may not be the first book that comes to mind as one of her masterpieces (that honor would likely go to The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, or the EARTHSEA TRILOGY), it was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula Award
May 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've always assumed chronic readers share the experience of finding connecting patterns from one book to the next. No matter how seemingly disparate books read consecutively may be, I've always come across overlapping concepts or some sort of shared meaning that is more difficult to pin down and describe. Whatever these synchronicities may be, I am always genuinely amazed and interpret them as signs that I'm witnessing something important--or at the very least, that I am reading the right book a ...more
Meredith Holley
Apr 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: C.S. Lewis fans
Recommended to Meredith by: Ceridwen
I have long been a fan of dreams: talking about dreams, working out the interweavings between dreaming life and reality. I almost scare-quoted reality there, but then I realized that this review is probably going to be douchey enough as it is without adding a scare-quoted reality to it. Anyway, Ursula LeGuin’s worlds are typically not my worlds; when I’m reading her books, I tend to bump into walls and trip over furniture, where other readers intuitively know the lay of the interior decorating. ...more
This book was a bit strange and has given me strange dreams for several nights in a row. It's making me a little paranoid haha! I'm not sure I cared so much for how the story was told, as the conversations between the character of George Orr and Dr. Haber were a mixture of confusing/boring to me. However, I did enjoy how much the book made me think about things - how changing the past for everyone could make things better/worse, how some things on a global scale cannot be overcome (peace, racial ...more
Nov 19, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Coincidentally I had just previously read (part of) Ubik by Philip K. Dick which is also a novel about a person 'gifted' with the power to change the past retroactively, so my opinion of The Lathe of Heaven was probably (unfairly) affected by this glut—do two books qualify as a glut?—of past-altering fiction in my reading schedule. I want to alter the past and start with a different Ursula K. Le Guin novel instead.

As a disclaimer of sorts, I have to admit that these kind of wackadoo premises ar
N.N. Light
This was the first book I read by her back in high school and I was blown away by it. Le Guin is one of the best science fiction authors of all time. Gripping plot, engaging characters, this is a must read!

My Rating: 5+ stars
Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Catie by: Tatiana
I think that the contents of these deceptively meager one hundred and seventy five pages could keep my neurons firing for months. This is a tiny little volume, which I thought I would have read within a few hours. But I drastically underestimated the amount of time that I would need to sit and process certain pages, or to have inner debates about certain scenes, and I really didn’t anticipate the sheer number of dog-eared pages I would end up with at the close of this volume. This book is a mind ...more
Sep 08, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, sf
I always say my favourite film is Raiders of the Lost Ark and my favourite book is the original Earthsea trilogy, or if pushed A Wizard of Earthsea. Picking one favourite is always a bit arbitrary but both of these are childhood favourites that have survived repeat viewings/readings and have developed accretions of personal associations that add to their significance to me. I think I can now go a step further and say that LeGuin is becoming my favourite author because she just has so many comple ...more
Sep 20, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: science fiction fans, philosophers, psychologists, international volunteers
Shelves: fiction, sff
The Lathe Of Heaven is a taoist parable masquerading as a novella. Through the metaphor of George Orr, a man whose dreams become reality, it examines the consequences of interference and the hubris of believing that we can "improve" the world.

I read this book during a flight to Central America, where I was going to spend the summer before my second year of medical school doing HIV/AIDS education. The contrast could not have been more striking: the purpose of my summer and my career was to interf
Kimber Silver
Feb 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic, favorites, scifi
It took me a few chapters to warm up, but once the heat kicked in I was hooked!

George Orr has been caught using prescription medications borrowed from others, and he’s in hot water. But George isn’t your run-of-the-mill pill-popper; he has dreams that frighten him and his attempt to escape these nightmarish visions has driven him down a drug-fueled road to ruin.

Assigned to a voluntary therapy program with Dr William Haber, who specializes in sleep disorders, George spills his seemingly-preposte
Nate D
Oct 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: solipsistic and uncertain conciousnesses
Recommended to Nate D by: mandated psychotherapy
Thoughtful and terrifying and compulsively entertaining. This is what the science fiction genre was made for.

Taking one of the most drastic hypotheticals, the most direly destabilizing of test cases, LeGuin sets about addressing the ambiguous and subjective nature of reality (in many ways, she out-PKDs her contemporary Phillip K. Dick, here) in direct but subtly calibrated ways, spinning off deep and troubling tangents worthy of their own stories as barest afterthought. Then she uses her sanely-
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well, that was fun. A trippy little book exploring the ability to change our reality.
George Orr has dreams that are "effective", meaning they change reality. He wants them to stop but Dr. Haber wants to learn to control them, to make the world a better place.
This little book explores many current issues: global warming, racial tensions, overpopulation and more. Dr. Haber tries to use George's dreams to stop all of these things. Sounds good, right? ......well, dreams are not that easily control
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Well, darn, forgot to review this one within the month I read it so I will put some trickery below to allow me to list it with April for my blog.

I read this quickly because it was something by Le Guin I hadn't read. Not my favorite, agree with it feeling like Philip K. Dick, but loved the setting of a future Portland area, with a landscape continually altered by dreams. Kind of post-apocalyptic but not for long.

I discuss it more at length on Episode 083 of the Reading Envy Podcast.
My edition is by Blackstone, but was downloaded from the local library. The reader was excellent, but I really would have liked it if they could have put the actual Beatles' tune in.

This review contains overall spoilers, I've only hidden specific ones. It's a 40+ year old book & has had 2 movies based on it, so unless you've been living under a rock [as far as the SF genre goes], you'll probably know most of it.

This is a tough review to write because there are just so many threads running th
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
"I don't know. Things don't have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What's the function of a galaxy? I know know if our life has a purpose and I don't see that it matters. What does matter is that we're a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass."

There was a slight pause, and when Haber answered his tone was no longer genial, reassuring or encouraging. It was quite
Jul 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sciencefiction
This book is one of my all time favorites. First of all, UKL is an amazing writer. The book plays with the nature of reality and idea of creative dreaming. I believe UKL studied Australian aboriginal cultures' understanding of the dreamtime and how it interacts with the worldtime, and that study informs this book, as well as her book "The Word for World is Forest". The book is wildly creative and touches on elements of the human psyche that are far beneath the surface. The ideas she explores jus ...more
Jessica Mae Stover author of Astral Fall
What surprises me about Tao-themed Lathe of Heaven is that it all at once takes a subversive look at hegemonic masculinity while undermining itself with bits of sexism, racism etc. -- the deep biases that the author (Le Guin, scifi feminist who did so much for us) must have absorbed.

Those biases in the text serve as a warning for modern authors. In following Le Guin's experience here, in turn I'm lead to wonder what I might have absorbed that I still can't recognize despite sociological training
Sara J. (kefuwa)
I never know how to review one of Ursula K. Le Guin's works - I never feel as if I'm adequate to the task. I was saddened by her passing as I truly enjoyed the works of hers that I have read - I suppose I should count myself lucky that I still have works of hers that I haven't read - like this Hugo & Nebula nominated tale of George Orr.

"When things don’t change any longer, that’s the end result of entropy, the heat-death of the universe. The more things go on moving, interrelating, conflict
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Ursula K. Le Guin published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. She lived in Portland, Orego ...more
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