Short & Sweet Treats discussion

The Lathe of Heaven
This topic is about The Lathe of Heaven
Some Leftovers! (Previous Reads) > The Lathe of Heaven

Comments Showing 1-19 of 19 (19 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

LaLaLa Laura  (laurabhoffman) | 4443 comments Mod
"George Orr is a man who discovers he has the peculiar ability to dream things into being -- for better or for worse. In desperation, he consults a psychotherapist who promises to help him -- but who, it soon becomes clear, has his own plans for George and his dreams.

The Lathe of Heaven is a dark vision and a warning -- a fable of power uncontrolled and uncontrollable. It is a truly prescient and startling view of humanity, and the consequences of playing God."

message 2: by Julia (last edited May 01, 2014 05:02AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julia (juliastrimer) I had read this a long time ago, and this time I agree completely with the blurb by Michael Chabon:

"When I read The Lathe of Heaven as a young man, my mind was boggled. Now when I read it, more than twenty-five years later, it breaks my heart. Only a great work of literature can bridge--so thrillingly--that impossible span."

The image of the jellyfish on the first two pages sets the tone for the rest of the book: "Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of the ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss." And Le Guin knows that, in spite of all human efforts to be "in control", we too are drifting in the abyss of time, our short lives just jellyfish in the vast currents of millennia.

Le Guin herself is a student of Lao Tsu, the author of the Tao Te Ching. The quotation that starts chapter 1 is from Chuang Tse, (Zhuangzi) one of the main proponents of Taoism. Some interesting information on him is here at the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Melanti I finished this one a couple of days ago.

Le Guin is one of those authors that I really WISH I liked more than I do. In general, she's all about ideas and worlds and not so much about the people who live in them. It's sad - she has really interesting ideas and philosophies - but I like having great characters along with my ideas and she falls short of that. It seems to me that her characters are only fleshed out just enough to carry the idea but no more than that.

I really like her ideas and the prose which is why I keep trying to read her work but overall she's just a bit too abstract for me.

message 4: by Julia (last edited May 01, 2014 12:47PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julia (juliastrimer) Good point, Melanti--since I appreciate the Taoist philosophy, this book can still capture me as it did Michael Chabon, and George Orr will stay with me, much as Guy Montag does from Fahrenheit 451. While both serve mainly as foils for the authors' themes, there's something so very human about them.

However, I couldn't finish Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness, which became too abstract for me as well. I know that novel won both the Hugo and Nebula awards, but I also tend to respond mainly to works where the characters are richly developed.

One thing I'm noticing about The Lathe of Heaven this time through is how completely she predicted all the environmental issues we are facing today. The book came out in 1971, right between the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act--so her prescience in terms of the awful environmental degradation really stuck me. She even mentions a population of seven billion, which we hit in 2011.

Melanti She was really on top of things, wasn't she? Back in the early '70s there still wasn't a consensus on whether all the pollution was going to lead to global warming or global cooling, yet she managed to get it right.

Julia (juliastrimer) I came to really care for George and Heather--and the mystery of the book is lingering with me. What a powerful warning against our human urge to have to control everything! My review is here:

Kimberly (samuelzmommy) I am about 20% through this book and I came across a profound statement that I would like to share, "...I am living in a nightmare, from which from time to time I wake in sleep."
I realize that out of context it does not a profound statement make, but after reading up to this point, it's kind of mind blowing. Wow! This book is very intriguing and exciting! I hope it goes in the direction I think it's going.

message 8: by Julia (last edited May 05, 2014 04:20AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Julia (juliastrimer) Le Guin has done her own translation of the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way. The Amazon blurb says:

"Le Guin, best known for thought-provoking science fiction novels that have helped to transform the genre, has studied the Tao Te Ching for more than forty years. She has consulted the literal translations and worked with Chinese scholars to develop a version that lets the ancient text speak in a fresh way to modern people, while remaining faithful to the poetic beauty of the work. Avoiding scholarly interpretations and esoteric Taoist insights, she has revealed the Tao Te Ching 's immediate relevance and power, its depth and refreshing humor, in a way that shows better than ever before why it has been so much loved for more than 2,500 years. Included are Le Guin's own personal commentary and notes on the text. This new version is sure to be welcomed by the many readers of the Tao Te Ching as well as those coming to the text for the first time."

The Lathe of Heaven, like much of her work, has Taoism as its basic philosophy--the idea that humans must learn to accept and follow the "Way" of the natural world.

Bill Moyers interviewed Le Guin about the making of the PBS version of The Lathe of Heaven. She points out the Taoist background of the book, and even admits that she later learned there WERE no "lathes" in China at the time :-)

message 9: by Diane S ☔ (new)

Diane S ☔ Just picked this up. Not usually into sci-fi but will give it a try. Hope to get to it early next week.

message 10: by Heather (new) - added it

Heather Fineisen Not my usual fare, but interested.

Kimberly (samuelzmommy) Just finished reading The Lathe of Heaven. It was a pretty good book. It had very powerful parts and somewhat boring parts. Overall, I gave it 3 stars. I wish the characters had been more developed but *SPOILER ALERT* when George awoke from his last effective dream and Heather was his wife, I almost cried from the joy I felt for him. That was about as emotional as I became during the whole book. For as profound as the book was, I wish the ending had been more powerful.

Julia (juliastrimer) I do hope people will listen to Bill Moyers' interview with Le Guin, which I mentioned above.

This book becomes pretty thin unless you "get" her connection to Taoism. I'm going back and just reading the epigraphs to the chapters, which have a powerful connection to what she is saying.

Since I care deeply about the Taoist philosophy, perhaps that is why this book has resonated with me more than others. It's not really a typical "plot/character" book, but centers on the theme--which (as she says in the interview) is linked to the opening jellyfish pages.

LaLaLa Laura  (laurabhoffman) | 4443 comments Mod
I would like to learn more about Taoism. I did read Wisdom of the Tao by Wayne Dyer.

Julia (juliastrimer) One of the most "fun" ways to learn the basics are The Tao of Pooh and The Te Of Piglet by Benjamin Hoff :-) I think they've both been added to our bookshelf.

Melanti I'll second the recommendation of The Tao of Pooh but I didn't like The Te Of Piglet nearly as much. I think he brought his political view points into it too much

♦Ashley♦ I just finished The Lathe of Heaven. I am so glad I joined this group. I would never have picked this book for myself, but I really enjoyed it. I became quite fond of George and despised Dr. Haber. The more the book continued, the more Dr. Haber's ugliness and greed showed through.
My favorite excerpt was not a profound one, but did make me laugh. The scene takes place when George and Heather are drinking brandy in his cabin. "she sipped her coffee and brandy, which would have grown hair on a Chihuahua".

The dangers of ultimate control present in this story. It reminds me of the reoccurring warning seen throughout literature: Be careful what you wish for, it just may come true. What would you do if you could change the world by dreaming?

message 17: by Greg (last edited May 31, 2014 08:01AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg Warning: Many Spoilers Below:

It began almost like A Single Man in reverse. Where that book ended with a lovely extended metaphor of sea life drawn back into the ocean of the unconscious, The Lathe of Heaven instead began with a jellyfish expelled from the ocean of the unconscious and hurled upon the burning sand. This grabbed me right away, and it was an apt, satisfying introduction to the story's central conflict. This conflict was the battle of wills between two very different men: George Orr, a gifted dreamer who could somehow make dreams real, and Dr William Haber, the psychologist who wanted to use George's gift to remake the world.

George wanted to be just a part of a larger whole "like a thread in a cloth", working with things as they were meant to be, as a jellyfish riding inside the larger ocean currents. Meanwhile, Dr. Haber wanted to "stand outside things and run them," guiding and controlling all situations from without. Le Guin was careful to belabor Dr. Haber's benevolence, and I don't think that was just George being naïve. I think Dr. Haber was indeed benevolent. The problem wasn't his intentions. It was that in his pride he insisted on working "cross-grained to the universe," and doubly worse, he was utterly unable to perceive his error because "no one else ... has an existence of its own for him." He was not "in touch." He couldn't really perceive anyone else. He didn't want to be bound to or bound by anyone else, to be a part of anyone else, and because of that moral blindness, he was bound to go astray.

Throughout the book, the intellectual quality of ideas was engaging, from the consequences of ending racial differences (with a universal "gray" people) to the shared collective unconscious of dreams. It was so engaging on that level that I didn't even miss anything at first. But as the story progressed, I started realizing that although I cared for the characters, I didn't care for them deeply enough. George, Heather, and Dr. Haber started feeling just barely round enough to escape being props for ideas. I was engaged with them but not enough to be pulled through the story ... or at least I thought so.

Then came the final third of the book, and for me, that changed everything. The characters catapulted forward, moving, developing, and changing, both in themselves and in their relationship to each other. As George and Heather grew closer, I started to understand them as human beings. By the time George had dreamed his newly "dear wife" Heather with the aid of a Beatles record gifted by aliens, I could feel the story pull, not only at my mind but also on my heart. I cared deeply. About then, the story started to change and twist. I started to wonder: what was that mysterious word the aliens called George, and what was it about? What did the gift of the record mean? I was excited to see what miracle a "Little Help from My Friends" was going to accomplish.

From that point onwards, the story kept on pulling. Dr. Haber's final actions had the inevitability of tragedy. I loved it all, from George's and Heather's fight through the void to their final possibility of a second chance. And the ending description of George's dreams was downright beautiful: "They danced the dance among all the other waves in the sea of being. Through his sleep, the great green sea turtles dived, swimming with heavy, inexhaustible grace through the depths of their element."

It wasn't my favorite of Le Guin's books, but by the end, I really liked it

Melanti This year's round of Mythopoeic Award finalists just came out, and I saw this book on the list and thought of Julia.

Dancing the Tao: Le Guin and Moral Development

There's a better summary on Amazon:
Dancing the Tao: Le Guin and Moral Development takes an original approach to Ursula K. Le Guin's work - speculative fiction, poetry and children's literature by considering her Taoist upbringing and then looking through the lens of moral development theorists such as Carol Gilligan and Mary Field Belenky and psychologists such as Lenore Terr and Jennifer J. Freyd. It is the most comprehensive approach to Le Guin's moral thinking to date. A particular emphasis is put on Le Guin's depiction of physical and sexual child abuse and its long term aftereffects such as post traumatic stress disorder. The focus throughout the book is on how morality develops through self-awareness and voice, how moral decisions are made and how Le Guin challenges readers to reconsider their own moral thinking This book covers all of Le Guin's major works such as The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, The Earthsea Series, Always Coming Home, The Telling and Lavinia, and it also looks in depth at work that is rarely discussed such as Le Guin's early work, her poetry, and her picture books.

I'm not seeing any reviews on Goodreads or on Amazon, but the panel who picks the Mythopoeic finalists is generally pretty good... They've picked a few duds but those were generally selections from back in the '80s that didn't age well.

Here's the full list:

Julia (juliastrimer) Thanks so much, Melanti--the Tao is such a powerful path, and it's great to see LeGuin recognized for that aspect of her work.

back to top