My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I read this book 35 years ago, and could not remember much of it, so when I saw a GoodReads friend was rereading it, I decided to reread it too, and compare our reviews when done.
George Orr, a draughtsman in Portland, Oregon, has disturbing dreams which he believes change reality. In an effort to stop dreaming he takes drugs, which get him into trouble with the police. Have psychiatric treatment or go to jail is the choice he is offered. The psychiatrist, Dr Brian Haber, after ascertaining that George Orr is not deluded, and his dreams really do change reality, tries to use them to change the world and improve it by suggesting to George Orr what he should dream about.
Instead of being freed from his dreams, George Orr finds that he is being manipulated by Dr Haber, and with each dream, and each change of the world and its history that comes about, Dr Haber becomes more powerful and influential, until Portland becomes the capital of the world, with Brian Haber controlling much of it from his office. With each change of the world, Haber claims the credit for any improvements, but blames Orr for any defects, saying that Orr had failed to carry out his instructions in hypnotic suggestions before dreaming.
In each changed state, some people who were alive in one of the former states end up dead, or it is as if they had never been born. Only Orr. Haber, and a lawyer Orr consults (and falls in love with) realise what is happening. But their relationship is not smooth. A lunch appointment made in one world is broken in the next, as the restaurant is no longer there.
Though it is a short book, only 156 pages in the edition I read, I found it rather slow-paced in places, and thought that perhaps it would have been better as a short story. I would have given it three stars, and probably would have taken a lot longer reading it, a chapter a day at bedtime, but for some strange incidents that made me feel as though I were in a similar story, and that it wasn't just happening in a book.
The first time I read it was in rather weird circumstances too. I bought it to read on a flight from Singapore to Johannesburg, but the journey entailed waiting nearly 24 hours for a connecting flight in Colombo, Sri Lanka. I was jetlagged and bombed out and had the weird feeling of being in three time zones at once. I wrote in my diary at the time:
I took a taxi and arrived at the Orient Pearl Hotel at Katunayake at 3:00 am. It would have been 6:30 in Singapore. I went to bed, though it was a strange time to do so, and woke up at 6:30 am. It was hard to think that it was 9:00 am in Singapore and 3:00 am at home, and I seemed to be in three times at once. I read one of the books I had bought, The lathe of heaven by Ursula le Guin, which added to the weirdness. It is a kind of Buddhist book, about a guy whose dreams come true, and so every time he dreams, he changes the world, and only he can remember what the world was like before. And reading a Buddhist book in a Buddhist country in a room with drawn curtains while it is daylight outside is somewhat strange, to say the least, like the limbo of the wood between the worlds in The magician's nephew. One doesn't know which one is real.
On my second reading, the circumstances were even weirder. As I mentioned in the post before this one, on The Origin and Meaning of Heritage Day, someone on Facebook said that they thought it was previously known as "Shaka's Day", and I said no, as I remember it, it was previously known as Settler's Day.
I wanted to cite something to show that it was so, but when I did a web search the references said it was Shaka Day. So either my memory was faulty, or, as in The lathe of heaven, the world had changed, and I was the only one who remembered what it was like before the change.
But in the book. originally written in 1971, though the story is set in the period 1998-2002, the protagonist comes to terms with what is happening to himself and the world by means of the Beatles song, I get by with a little help from my friends. So I appealed for a little help from my friends. Could they remember a public holiday called Settlers Day? Very few responded, but those who did seemed to have memories as vague as mine.
So perhaps someone really is dreaming this world. and a few of us have vague memories of the previous dream. Or perhaps it is related to a similar phenomenon called the Mandela Effect, in which many people recall reading newspaper reports that President Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s.
One other observation -- in science-fiction books published a long time ago, and envisaging the world of the future, it is interesting to see what the authors foresee in the way of developments of science and technology, and society, culture and politics. In this book, first published 50 years ago, several different possible future worlds are presented, according to the different dreams of George Orr. In each one, for example, Portland has a different public transport system, different nations are at war or at peace, and space aliens have or have not visited earth. But one thing is constant -- Mount St Helen's did not erupt.
But it did erupt in 1980, didn't it? Surely I'm not the only one who remembers reading about that?
Great post, Steve. This is my first time reading Le Guin's Lathe of Heaven. I have to process it--and will get to, as I teach it next week. But I found it an astonishing book, one of the best I've read. I loved the lulling-nature of the whole thing, the weirdness, the ridiculous past-forward realities, and the multi-universal implications of other timelines. I'm sure I won't feel quite so absurdly positive about the book in a few days, but I love it today.
I suppose my problem is that I don't generally like full-length sf stories, but prefer the short story format.
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