Kevin Bucknall Biography & Facts
The Lathe of Heaven is a 1971 science fiction novel by American writer Ursula K. Le Guin. The plot concerns a character whose dreams alter past and present reality. The story was serialized in the American science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. The novel received nominations for the 1972 Hugo and the 1971 Nebula Award, and won the Locus Award for Best Novel in 1972. Two television film adaptations were released: the PBS production, The Lathe of Heaven (1980), and Lathe of Heaven (2002), a remake produced by the A&E Network.
The title is from the writings of Chuang Tzu (Zhuang Zhou) — specifically a passage from Book XXIII, paragraph 7, quoted as an epigraph to Chapter 3 of the novel:
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. (知止乎其所不能知，至矣。若有不即是者，天鈞敗之。)
Other epigraphs from Chuang Tzu appear throughout the novel. Le Guin chose the title because she loved the quotation. However, it seems that quote is a mis-translation of Chuang Tzu's Chinese text. In an interview with Bill Moyers for the 2000 DVD release of the 1980 adaptation, Le Guin clarified the issue:
...it's a terrible mis-translation apparently, I didn't know that at the time. There were no lathes in China at the time that was said. Joseph Needham wrote me and said "It's a lovely translation, but it's wrong".
She published her rendition of the Tao Te Ching, The Book of the Way and Its Virtue by Lao Tzu, the traditional founder of Taoism (Daoism). In the notes at the end of this book, she explains this choice:
The language of some [versions of the Tao Te Ching] was so obscure as to make me feel the book must be beyond Western comprehension. (James Legge's version was one of these, although I found the title for a book of mine, The Lathe of Heaven, in it. Years later, Joseph Needham, the great scholar of Chinese science and technology, wrote to tell me in the kindest, most unreproachful fashion Legge was off on that one; when the book [Tao Te Ching] was written, the lathe hadn't been invented.)
Translated editions titled the novel differently. The German and first Portuguese edition titles, Die Geißel des Himmels and O flagelo dos céus, mean literally "the scourge [or whip] of heaven". The French, Swedish and second Portuguese edition titles, L'autre côté du rêve, På andra sidan drömmen and Do outro lado do sonho, translate as "the other side of the dream".
The book is set in Portland, Oregon, in the year 2002. Portland has three million inhabitants and continuous rain. It is deprived enough for the poorer inhabitants to have kwashiorkor, a protein deprivation from malnutrition. Although impoverished, the culture is similar to the 1970s in the United States. There is also a massive war in the Middle East. Climate change reduces quality of life.
George Orr, a draftsman and addict, abuses drugs to prevent "effective" dreams that change reality. After one of these dreams, the new reality is the only reality for everyone else, but George retains memory of the previous reality. Under threat of incarceration, Orr undergoes treatment for his addiction.
George attends therapy sessions with ambitious psychiatrist and sleep researcher William Haber. Orr claims he has the power to dream "effectively". Haber, gradually believing the evidence, seeks to use George's power to change the planet. His experiments with a biofeedback/EEG machine, nicknamed the Augmentor, enhance Orr's abilities while producing a series of increasingly intolerable alternative worlds based on an assortment of utopian (and dystopian) premises:
After Haber directs George to dream a world without racism, the skin of everyone on the planet becomes a uniform light gray.
Eliminating over-population is disastrous after George dreams a devastating plague eliminates most humans.
George dreams "peace on Earth", resulting in an alien invasion of the Moon and uniting everybody against the potential threat.Each effective dream gives Haber more wealth and status until he is effectively ruler of the planet. Orr's finances also improve, but he is unhappy with Haber's meddling and just wants to let things be. Increasingly frightened by Haber's lust for power and delusions of divinity, Orr contacts lawyer Heather Lelache to represent him against Haber. He falls in love with Heather but is unsuccessful in getting released from therapy.
George tells Heather the "real world" was destroyed during nuclear war in April 1998. George dreamed it back into existence as he lay dying in the ruins. He doubts the reality of what now exists, hence his concern for Haber's efforts to improve it.
Heather is present for one of the sessions, allowing her to remember two realities: one where her husband died early in the Middle East War and another where he died just before the truce because of the aliens. She tries to help George but also tries to improve the planet; when she suggests to a dreaming George that the aliens should no longer be on the Moon, they invade the Earth instead. In the resultant fighting, Mount Hood is bombed and the 'dormant' volcano produces a spectacular eruption.
After that disaster, George dreams about peaceful aliens. For a time, everybody experiences stability, but Haber continues meddling. His suggestion George dream away racism results in everyone becoming gray; Heather's parents are different races, so she never existed in that alternative reality. George dreams a gray version of her with a milder personality, the two marry. Mount Hood continues to erupt, and he is concerned the planet is losing coherence.
After speaking with one of the aliens, Orr suddenly understands his situation and confronts Haber. In their final session, Haber "cures" George of his ability to dream effectively by suggesting George dream that his dreams no longer affect reality. Haber has become frustrated with Orr's resistance and used his research from studying George's brain during his sessions to give himself the same power. Haber's first effective dream represents a significant break with the various realities created by Orr, and threatens to destroy reality. Orr shuts off the Augmentor as coherent existence is dissolving into undifferentiated chaos. The world is saved, but exists now as a mix of random elements from several realities. In this version, George works at a kitchen store operated by one of the aliens. Haber survives, his mind shattered by his knowledge of unreality, and only exists because George's dreams restored him. Heather is also restored, though she is left with only a slight memory of George. George is resigned to the loss of the Heather he loved, but resolves to romance the one that exists now. The story ends as the two have coffee, while his inscrutable alien employer observes.
Theodore Sturgeon, reviewing Lathe for The New York Times, f.... Discover the Kevin Bucknall popular books. Find the top 100 most popular Kevin Bucknall books.