Revisiting LATHE OF HEAVEN
Anyone who’s followed this blog for the past year or two knows that I’ve been on a re-reading frenzy for awhile, revisiting books from my past. The latest is Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 sci-fi novel The Lathe of Heaven, and what a revelation it is! When I first read the book in high school, I enjoyed it. For a teenager, it offered a compelling, apocalyptic story. But what a difference 35 years of experience can make in your understanding! Now I fully appreciate the philosophical underpinnings of Le Guin’s tale. Lathe is a chilling examination of do-gooderism run wild, of the “social planner” mentality, what the great Isabel Patterson called “the humanitarian with a guillotine.”
Briefly, The Lathe of Heaven is the story of George Orr, a man whose dreams alter reality. Forced by the government to undergo “voluntary” psychiatric treatment for abusing sleep-deprivation drugs, Orr becomes the tool of Dr. William Haber, a sleep researcher who uses George’s dreams to create alternate “utopian” realities in his often selfish desire for a better world. Most of these efforts, of course, go wrong. Haber hypnotically suggests Orr dream about “peace on Earth,” and the result is a wartime alliance of all Earth’s nations against an alien invasion of the Moon. Orr is directed to dream about an end to racism; the skin color of everyone on the planet turns uniformly gray.
Haber is the messiah-complex run amok. He is kin to neocon Republicans who conspire to “make the world safe for democracy” (i.e.,
While The Lathe of Heaven is essentially an end of the world story, it’s a remarkably “quiet” book. It doesn’t shout. There are only three characters that drive the novel forward. And for that reason, oddly enough, it’s tremendously powerful.
This is a sci-fi gem that I never hear mentioned in libertarian circles. Lathe should be on every freedom-lover’s reading list.