Heaven: June Book Group - The Lathe of Heaven

TurquoiseTasticTurquoiseTastic Shipmate
edited January 16 in Limbo
Hallo all and welcome to our June book discussion. This month we have "The Lathe of Heaven" by one of my favourite (and, sadly, recently departed) authors, Ursula Le Guin.

I'm a couple of chapters in and things are looking interesting. I won't tell you what to expect except that Le Guin, unlike <I>some</I> SF authors, never wrote the same book twice.

Looking forward to chatting about it - who's with me?

Comments

  • TrudyTrudy Heaven Host
    I'll give it a try if I can make time...I think I might have read it years ago but it might have been another of hers that I read; i can't really remember.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Hallo all and welcome to our June book discussion. This month we have "The Lathe of Heaven" by one of my favourite (and, sadly, recently departed) authors, Ursula Le Guin.

    I'm a couple of chapters in and things are looking interesting. I won't tell you what to expect except that Le Guin, unlike <I>some</I> SF authors, never wrote the same book twice.

    Looking forward to chatting about it - who's with me?

    Well, I'm in!

    I've read many of her books, but not this one as it happens. But she truly was a most brilliant writer.
  • jedijudyjedijudy Heaven Host
    I think I'll join you! She was one of my favorite authors in my youth, long, long ago.
  • In order not to have my usual problem of getting the book too late and not finishing until the next month, I borrowed Lathe of Heaven a few weeks ago and have read it in anticipation. So yes, I'm in!
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    Yes I'm in too. I've only read LeGuin's Wizard of earth sea, so interested to read more of her work.
  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    I've never read any LeGuin, and rarely read science fiction - so I'm in. In fact the only sci-fi I've read in the last few years is because of this book group. Broadening my horizons is good for me, I'm sure!
  • bassobasso Shipmate
    I haven't read this one in years, but I grabbed a copy from the library today. I'll try to finish it and join the discussion.
  • Found a copy, so I'm in.
  • Curiosity killedCuriosity killed Shipmate, 8th Day Host
    I've bought it on my Kindle so will try to join in.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    When do we start the discussion?
  • Well I finished the book last night and am happy to start the discussion off. A few questions to ponder...

    * Does Orr become stronger as the book goes on? Or was he always strong?
    * What is wrong with Haber, and what happens during the final dream?
    * What would have happened if Orr had never met Haber?
    * What's the significance of the Aliens?
    * Is Heather a satisfactory character?
    * I was strongly reminded of another author, and another book by that author in particular... do you agree?
    * Any favourite quotes or passages? Mine is the one about love being like bread - you keep having to make it afresh...
  • Great posers, TT. I'll do some thinking and respond later.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    Well I finished the book last night and am happy to start the discussion off. A few questions to ponder...

    * Does Orr become stronger as the book goes on? Or was he always strong?
    * What is wrong with Haber, and what happens during the final dream?
    * What would have happened if Orr had never met Haber?
    * What's the significance of the Aliens?
    * Is Heather a satisfactory character?
    * I was strongly reminded of another author, and another book by that author in particular... do you agree?
    * Any favourite quotes or passages? Mine is the one about love being like bread - you keep having to make it afresh...

    A few initial thoughts:

    * We only ever see Orr through the eyes of other characters (unlike, for instance, the 'Black Widow' Heather) so constantly have to rely on their assessments of him. Those assessments do change, but we're left to work out for ourselves whether these reflect changes in George or in those he interacts with.

    * I would happily do without the Aliens; I think they're the weakest part of the book. They add nothing to George's essential dilemma, surely?

    * Is Heather a satisfactory character? She grows on me; I'd quite like to meet her.

    LeGuin has been called a writer's writer, which I take to mean, among other things, that she fully understands her craft. What George Orr (≈ George Orwell, another writer of fiction??) does is what every novelist does, and indeed I've done earlier this morning: change the existing reality of the characters in the book he or she is writing.

    So this very morning I came up with a detailed plan to cut from my current Work-In-Progress world one fairly important character, and thus make her - in the eventual final draft - never to have existed at all. The only person who even knows that she was once there is the person who 'dreamed' her up in the first place.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, Dead Horses Host
    Along with 'The Left Hand of Darkness" and "The Dispossessed", "The Lathe of Heaven" mark out the late, lamented Ursula as amongst the very very best SF writers ever. Thanks for making this Book of the Month.

    Some answers to questions. Orr is a survivor. Haber is a classic control freak and opportunist. I like the Aliens and I like Heather. Favourite quote is love is like bread. But second favourite is the comment about Heather when people become gray. "She could not have been born gray". Nor was she.

  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I think Orr is one of those people that others take as weak, as Heather does when she first meets him, because he is self-contained. Haber, I think, is the reverse, appears strong but isn't. His attempts, through George to change the world remind me a bit of what Trump is doing at the moment. He doesn't see the consequences of what he think are sensible ideas.
    The Aliens are a bit too Yoda like for me, but I like the image of them being like turtles, though I can't get mutant teenage ninga turtles out of my head while thinking of them. They are a projection of Orr's personality I guess.
    I felt a bit sorry for the way Heather's character progressed. At first I though great a strong spikey female but she seemed to get worn down by each re-incarnation.
    I really enjoyed the book and want to re-read it soon to pick up on th ebtis I missed.
  • jedijudyjedijudy Heaven Host
    One of the things that struck me as I read this book, was how much it reminded me of today's state of the US. The copyright is 1971, and if the book is commenting on how things were back then, then I guess we really haven't learned anything from history!

    I really enjoyed reading The Lathe of Heaven, and was surprised I'd never read it before. George seemed to become more sure of himself as the book progressed, and I found myself cheering him on. Haber reminded me of some folks I know, who assume that people unlike them are not as intelligent as they are and that they always know what's best.

    As frustrating as the end of the book was, it was also encouraging to understand that regular people will continue to strive to make the best of a situation, no matter how bad it might be.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    jedijudy wrote: »
    One of the things that struck me as I read this book, was how much it reminded me of today's state of the US. The copyright is 1971, and if the book is commenting on how things were back then, then I guess we really haven't learned anything from history!

    (snipped)

    That's the thing about novels which deal with the dilemmas of a particular time and place: they tend to resonate in many other times and places. So Gulliver's Travels, with its scathing attacks on corruption and venality and the brute-like behaviour of supposedly civilised humans, is as relevant now as it was in the first decades of the eighteenth century.

    Mind you, Lathe of Heaven does show its age a little - probably inevitable in something discussing what was then the author's near future. No mobile phones, for instance....

  • MaramaMarama Shipmate
    * Does Orr become stronger as the book goes on? Or was he always strong?
    I think what happens is that he was always strong, but he gradually recognises his own strength, which in turn leads others to see it.

    * What is wrong with Haber?
    He’s a control freak, but he’s also a utilitarian. He wants to improve things for humanity, but he hasn’t the imagination to foresee the repercussions and his authoritarian temperament means he won’t consider, and can’t cope with, dissent. Turning everyone grey is typical of this; it eliminates fighting caused by difference, but it also does away with the wonders of difference, and individuality.

    * What would have happened if Orr had never met Haber?
    I suppose he would have either got into trouble with the authorities for his drug use and ended up in compulsory treatment, or he would have dreamed a better world. Or perhaps he would have committed suicide.

    * What's the significance of the Aliens?
    Not sure. While I quite like the flippers, I’m not sure they add a great deal. Perhaps they show that sanity, concern, helpfulness come from outside the human world!

    * Is Heather a satisfactory character?
    Yes in her original manifestation, much less so when she’s grey. As Sarasa says, she gets worn down by each reincarnation.

    * I was strongly reminded of another author, and another book by that author in particular... do you agree?
    Eh?? I don’t read enough science fiction to answer this.
  • AndrasAndras Shipmate
    When I first heard of the book many years ago I assumed that the title referred to spinning galaxies and solar systems.

    The actual quotation from which the title is drawn then came as a minor disappointment. Does anybody else feel that?
  • The title didn't resonate for me and as far as I can gather was based on a mistranslation of the original text although the sense is clear. I'm always amazed at Ursula le Guin's prescient societies as well as the scope of her range across philosophies, science, psychology, workplaces etc.
  • It's a few weeks ago now and I don't remember every impression but here goes.

    Does Orr become stronger as the book goes on? Or was he always strong?
    I think the stronger effects are the cumulative result of tiny changes, not the stronger ability of Orr.
    What is wrong with Haber, and what happens during the final dream?
    Marama has it right: Utilitarianism and a lack of imagination (or humility). A hunger for recognition. He can't see why he may not be the best qualified person to make decisions for Orr.
    What would have happened if Orr had never met Haber? He may have gone mad from either the dreams themselves or from made himself sick from the lack of proper sleep if he'd managed to stay medicated. Maybe he would have just lived a normal but unsatisfactory life. He didn't seem to want to try and find a way of taking control of the power by himself.
    What's the significance of the Aliens?
    The next logical step when you've changed everything in this world, is to create a bigger one? That's what I thought until the end chapter, but now I'm not sure if the implication is that the aliens have always existed and Orr shares the same innate talents or if they were dreamt into creation to fit that role.
    Is Heather a satisfactory character?
    As others have said, yes to start off with. It's interesting that she can sort-of sense something wrong after a number of changes. Is this because she was present at a hypnosis session or does everyone feel off-kilter and we only know about Heather because she has POV description.
    I was strongly reminded of another author, and another book by that author in particular... do you agree?
    The style and themes reminded me strongly of Philip K Dick. Especially the false or changing realities. Something like Ubik. It's particularly strong because the style is unlike any other Le Guin book I've read.

    I'll have a root around for interesting quotes.
  • ArachnidinElmet wins the cuddly toy! Yes, the SF author I was strongly reminded of is Philip K. Dick; the book I especially thought of was "The Man in the High Castle", though indeed many of his novels centre on alternative realities and "what is real?". In particular, the cryptic phrases of the Aliens reminded me of Mr. Tagomi in "High Castle" and the quotes from e.g. Gilbert and Sullivan he reads so much meaning into.

    The likeness of the style must surely be deliberate, because Le Guin was at the height of her powers and had her own distinctive voice: "Lathe of Heaven" doesn't read at all like "The Left Hand of Darkness" or "The Dispossessed" despite being written at around the same time. But I think it hangs together much better and is rather more satisfying than a typical Dick novel; my feeling was: "this is the novel he was always trying to write but never quite managed". His short stories are much better IMHO.

    Towards the end the contest between Orr and Haber rang a very different bell - there was just a hint of the battle between Ransom and Weston in Lewis's "Perelandra" - like Weston, Haber is a technocrat who somehow looks at the universe all wrong, and is similarly consumed by his mistaken ambition.
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    Thank you for suggesting this book TurquoiseTastic, there was lots in it to enjoy and to ponder. I wondered if you were thinking of Philip K. Dick, but I've never read any of his books, having tried and failed to get into Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep several times. Interesting your comparison between Orr and Haber and Ransom and Weston. Like Ransom, Orr doesn't seem to be someone with any of the skills that are needed to 'save' a world, just a trust in there being a 'right' way. I'm still annoyed that by the end Heather was a solictior's clerk not a lawyer though.
    As for the title, it didn't resonate with me at all. I see some translations have it as 'The whip of Heaven' which might be slightly better, but still doesn't really convey what the book is about.
  • I quite liked the title - a lathe is a tool for reshaping material according to the artist's will, and it operates by rotating the whole piece around a central, stationary axis. So George himself is the "lathe of heaven", if you like - he's the still, balanced point around whom the universe is recreated.

    I hadn't thought of him as being an "author", though, as Andras suggests - he's at pains not to impose his own vision on the world, after all. Is it something else, something external, that's at work thorough him?

    Names: George Orr is of course very like George Orwell but I also wondered if it was meant to be like an "oar", which changes the course of a boat. Of course Heather at one point thinks of him as Mr. "Either-Or", which makes sense as well.

    William Haber: "will" and "have" are clearly key aspects of his personality, but I also thought of the German chemist Fritz Haber who pushed forward the WWI gas warfare programme - he justified it as humanitarian, arguing that it would force a breakthrough and thus save many lives from a utilitarian perspective.

    By the way I don't remember suggesting this book - I think it was someone else's idea, though I'm very grateful for the chance to read and discuss it!
  • SarasaSarasa Shipmate
    I quite liked the title - a lathe is a tool for reshaping material according to the artist's will, and it operates by rotating the whole piece around a central, stationary axis. So George himself is the "lathe of heaven", if you like - he's the still, balanced point around whom the universe is recreated. [ ]
    By the way I don't remember suggesting this book - I think it was someone else's idea, though I'm very grateful for the chance to read and discuss it!

    I was getting my woodworking tools mixed up. I think I was thinking of moulding planes, and smoothing things away. I should know what a lathe is. I have a friend who uses one in his business and I've enjoyed sitting in his garage watching him working on various occasions.

    You are right @TurquoiseTastic , it was @Andras who suggested this book. So thank you Andras.

  • Back to favourite bits:

    The description about commuting at the beginning seems heartfelt:

    -Orr being held up by the force of the crowd and standing "eye to I for six stops" followed by the old lady in green who stands on his foot for a further 3 stops.

    -"...and so now she'd have heartburn. On top of pique, umbrage, and ennui. Oh, the French diseases of the soul."

    - the paragraph about how Heather's colour, brown, not grey, is an essential part of her: "Her anger, timidity, brashness, gentleness, all were elements of her mixed being, her mixed nature..." which I plan to use as a personal motto.

    - and last, but not least, "A passing Alien jostled Orr slightly in the crowd on Morrison Mall, and apologized tonelessly from its raised left elbow."

    It's a surprisingly quotable book.
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