Saturday, October 13, 2007

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., U.S. hegemony) and “liberal” Democrats who shackle us to unworkable domestic welfare-workfare programs. When Orr objects to citizens being euthanized involuntarily, the result of just one Haber-directed dream, the doctor replies, “You haven’t yet fully accepted the use of controlled violence for the good of the community; you may never be able to. … We need health. We simply have no room for the incurables, the gene-damaged who degrade the species; we have no time for wasted, useless suffering.”

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.

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5 Comments:

At 7:02 PM, Anonymous thesilentcritic said...

Hey Wally, did you ever try Jack Vance yet? I recommend Blue World and Emphyrio.

Your Ron-Paul-voting near-anarchist friend.

 
At 1:47 AM, Anonymous Tom Ender said...

Lathe has been one of my faves for a very long time. I like The Dispossessd even more, but it's a close call for me.

 
At 9:41 PM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

silent critic --

I have been reading some Jack Vance. His "Demon Princes" series. Have enjoyed them.

Wally

 
At 10:20 PM, Anonymous thesilentcritic said...

Those are among my favorites (The Face is the best of the 5 in my opinion)! But for anyone looking for beautiful anti-state overtones, try my two recommendations above.

 
At 7:31 AM, Blogger Wally Conger said...

Hey, silent, I have a copy of Emphyrio that I found in a used book store a few months ago. I haven't read it yet, and it's temporarily "lost" in one of 30-plus boxes of books I have in storage during our house remodel. But I will be reading it eventually!

 

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