It took me months to finish Ricardo Reis and only a day to finish The Lathe of Heaven. I try to take turns with my books, reading one ‘serious’ book and then one ‘fun’ book (ie, something from the genre called ‘literature’ and then something from any other genre out there). I’m on a bit of a sci-fi tear lately, so Lathe was my book of choice.
The Lathe of Heaven is kind of a series of ‘future histories’ by Ursula LeGuin. It is (initially) set in a version of the 1970’s where global warming has run amok, and overpopulation haunts the world. But the best part has to be that it is all set in Portland! Portland is now a sprawling metropolis of a few million, with the really ‘big’ cities in now-wet Eastern Oregon. The central character is George Orr, a man haunted by the ability to change the world with his dreams. When he dreams certain dreams, the whole world shifts to become like that, and no one but him has a clue otherwise. Unfortunately, he winds up in the clutches of a nefarious psychologist who learns to direct these dreams. Of course, they never quite turn out the way they’re supposed to. We’re subjected to a series of alternate-histories for the rest of the book, seeing many what-might-have-beens.
The story is a joy to read. Well-written and very interesting, I literally could not put the book down. I’ll say right here that it was a great book and fun read. But let’s get to what I found wrong with it, shall we? Really only a few minor things. LeGuin had a penchant of telling about the world, rather than showing it. That’s understandable once we start switching histories, but it wasn’t really needed for the original one. Also, the ‘villain’ had a little too much exposition and seemed a bit of a caricature. Most disturbingly, there were aliens in this book. Why? I don’t know. There was no need for them, especially ones that knew about how this whole dream-controlling thing worked. They just popped up, and the book would have been stronger without them. Alas, that’s the curse of scifi.
It was a relief to read a book I enjoyed so much, I was starting to worry that I’d become a TV-zombie. Then I read this book, and saw all these reviews of some of my favorite authors in the New York Times, and I just had a grand weekend. Especially thinking about all these other-Portlands.
Oh, and read the book review about the Wittgensteins. With a title like “suicide squad”, you know it’s going to be good.