A Bookish Chat & Review: The Lathe of Heaven, by Ursula K. Le Guin

February 20, 2015

This past week, the incomparable Julianne of Outlandish Lit introduced me to the joys of buddy-reading. Neither of us had ever had a successful buddy-read before, with both of our previous partners failing to finish the book. With low expectations set, we surprised each other by making it happen with Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven.

Clocking in at just under 200 pages, TLoH introduces us to George Orr, an exceedingly average man with an unusual talent for making his dreams a reality, quite literally. George is assigned to see a psychiatrist after the government discovers him abusing drugs to keep himself awake, but Dr. Haber turns out to be more interested in twisting George's dreams for his benefit than in helping him solve his problem. George teams up with no-nonsense lawyer Heather Lelache to try and stop Haber before George's dreams become a nightmare for all (woohoo, clichés!).

In all seriousness, this book was engrossing and atmospheric, and Julianne and I had plenty to flail about say over email and gchat. Head on over to Julianne's buddy-read post to see the first half of our chat, if you're in the mood for some swearing and more semi-coherent bookish rambling. Spoiler-y sections are denoted with an asterisk (*).

Julianne: these were honestly some of the most vivid characters for me
despite them really not being that "unique" or anything
Shaina:  Haber seemed to have trouble getting to the meat of the thing, whether that was George's dreaming, or how to "fix" the world
right, sure. I don't think we were ever told anything "special" about any of them
Ursula seemed to go to pains to make George seem super average, in fact
being in the middle of all his tests and stuff
Julianne:  yeah, he was very drastically average
Is it bad that I imagine Martin Freeman playing George Orr?

Julianne: I love finding out what went down in the overnight dream session throughout these chapters rather than all at once. Le Guin's really doing an excellent job of keeping us surprised and unsure of anything like the characters would be.
Shaina: The phrase "sneaky, sly, shy, squamous personality" is fantastic and I will now use it to describe myself.

Shaina:  whoooa, there's a Lathe of Heaven movie!
Julianne:  there is a movie! the first time I was gifted this book it was from my grandpa and it had the movie cover
I'm scared to watch it
Shaina:  yeah, it seems like it would be SO stressful
Julianne:  what if they take the turtles out...
grey face paint 
~completely raceless~

Shaina:  ah, another thing I found so interesting! that raceless people are... grey
what does it mean??
Julianne: I kind of liked it
I mean it was obviously troubling for many reasons
and not a solution to anything
by any means
but it was interesting to imagine that world
Shaina:  yeah
I can't say I'd be any better at remedying the world's ills than Haber
but at least I know that, whereas he clearly did not
Julianne:  yeah, he just tackled every issue

Shaina:  I'm also curious as to why all these dystopic elements still exist (Pharm card, etc) even though so much of the population has been eliminated. Wouldn't that affect the way the gov't runs things now?
Julianne:  You have a good point about the Pharm cards. Food rationing was eliminated, but he still fears jail because of the pharm card situation. Like wouldn't one of these changes made him never go to therapy in the first place? I guess that would be kind of complicated.

Julianne: here's something that made me panic and tear up: ""I'm not Miss Lelache, that's my maiden name. I'm Mrs. Andrews." She eyed him with curiosity. He stood and endured reality."
Shaina:  ugh, yeah
I wonder why she kept [her dead husband's] name, when in other realities she didn't?
Julianne:  that's a good question
maybe the war/whatever was happening in that timeline made their bond stronger
I was rooting for this love story so hard when normally I'm like "can we not"
Shaina:  haha, yeah
like, at first when their attraction was introduced I definitely rolled my eyes a little, but in retrospect it was way more natural than a lot of other romances are

Shaina:  alrighty. old lady syndrome is setting in [this means it was time to go to sleep at 11pm]! any parting words about George or the lathe or turtles?
Julianne:  I mean, this is a crazy good book. I can definitely see how it influenced future science fiction and I'm always glad to have read another lady genre writer. I give this book 5 stars, because I know I'm not going to forget it and I'm going to mention it to a million people. I normally always hold out on the 5 stars for "perfect books," but there's no such thing. Then I go back and change 4 star books to 5 stars when I can't get them out of my head.
so I'm just skipping a step and giving it 5
your final thoughts?
Shaina:  Le Guin came highly recommended and definitely did not disappoint... the story gets major points for the fact that I really can't think of another story to compare it to, and for managing to blend the mundane with the unreal so well. I give it a solid 4, and time will tell if it gets bumped up to a 4.5

Shaina: also, would totally buddy-read with you again! I had a lot of fun
(you're allowed to tell me if I was a bad buddy-reading partner and you never want to again)
Julianne:  no no, this was the shit!
next experiment: we delete our goodreads accounts and create a shared account
and we buddy read for the rest of our lives
sounds great, right?
Shaina:  omg
living the dream
i'm glad it went well too! considering we had never had a reading partner who actually finished a book, I hoped the only way we could move was up, but I was really impressed!
let's pick another soon
Julianne:  yes, let's

Thanks again to Julianne for coping with my snail-like reading pace and being an all-around awesome book buddy. <3 u bb

Have any of you done a successful buddy-read? What did you like/dislike about it? Does anyone else have feels about The Lathe of Heaven?

You Might Also Like


  1. I REALLY need to read something by her! Grey people?? My entire life, it has seemed normal for people in my mind to have grey skin. What a coincidence. :D