I came to this with high expectations, since I loved The Left Hand of Darkness, and I loved all the interviews and talks with Le Guin I’ve read or seen. This short book seems almost universally loved by the reviewing community too, and many people report that there is lots of food for deep thought in it.
For sure Le Guin has a vivid imagination, spelled out in beautiful prose. There are great lines to be found throughout the 182 pages.
Do you feel you relate satisfactorily to other people, that you have a niche in the emotional ecology of your environment?
Darkness lay softly on the bare pine floor, unpolished, unswept. George Orr lay down in that mild darkness, full length, face down, the smell of the dusty wooden floor in his nostrils, the hardness of it upholding his body.
But I’m sad to say The Lathe Of Heaven left me frustrated by its sloppy content. The entire book reads like a rant against utilitarianism, Malthusianism and the likes. The story is set in a more or less dystopian 2002, wherein the protagonist George Orr discovers that his dreams can literally transform reality. His psychiatrist, William Haber, cannot resist using George’s powers to change the overcrowded world into a better place. Of course, predictably, things don’t turn out for the better – classic King Midas, like W.W. Jacobs’ The Monkey’s Paw.
The entire book seems to be written to advocate non-intervention, in favor a more Eastern way of thinking, with quotes by Chuang Tse, a tao master, sprinkled throughout the book.
Those whom heaven helps we call the sons of heaven. They do not learn this by learning. They do not work it by working. They do not reason it by using reason. To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven.
There is a lot to be said for Acceptance as a way of being, and my beef is not with Taoism. My beef is with a few false dichotomies Le Guin introduces, and a caricatural treatment of utilitarian, pragmatic politics. Continue reading