The Lathe of Heaven – by Ursula K. Le Guin

Cover of first edition

Unbothered and unshaken by any resistance, however, Haber persists in his plan – in a way that may end up threatening the very existence of a coherent reality.

Style – The story is told in third person from the alternate points of view of its three main characters; while the narrator occasionally soars above the scenery to describe the world at large, the perspective is generally close to that of each character, enhancing both their different values and the limits of their personal understanding.

In doing so, Le Guin manages to convey complex concepts and pieces of worldbuilding without resorting to heavy-handed infodumps, instead having us discover the world through the characters’ though patterns, often sharing their own astonishment.

The prose itself is thoughtful and poetic, dotted with symbolic images that are not just suggestively written, but even more meaningful as the story moves on – such as the initial sequence, where a jellyfish is described in its fluid drifting, which represents the concept of balance and acceptance that is a running theme of the entire novel.

Plot Structure – The storytelling is nominally linear – to the extent that it follows Orr’s vicissitudes from the beginning up to their final outcome; however, given the very premise of the novel, the story includes a multitude of interweaving alternate timelines.

While there’s no lack of surprising events, the pacing is unhurried and reflective; the book surely appeals to our curiosity, making us wonder what’s going to happen next, however it even more strongly invites us to ponder over its deeper meanings and messages.

This is not to say that Haber is portrayed as a simplistic villain; sure, he takes questionable actions, and the way his utilitarianism isn’t tempered by any compassion for those he sacrifices makes him hardly a sympathetic character. His motives, however, are very understandable, and even though the author clearly does not approve of his philosophy, it’s hard to dismiss his points in their entirety

The third PoV character, Heather Lelache, is at once more complex and less subjectively developed than the other two: on the one hand, the contrast between her fierce demeanour and her compassionate nature, as well the implications of her mixed heritage, make for a quick but intriguing character study; on the other hand, she is given the smallest number of chapters from her own perspective, and more often than not she ends up being either a victim or an inspiration of the Orr’s dreams – which is not necessarily wrong in itself, but I would have enjoyed to learn a bit more about her lived experience.


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