CW: sexism, mass violence, mass shootings, and graphic descriptions
CW: pregnancy, childbirth, child death, kidnapping, forced impregnation, adoption, and infidelity
First Lines Fridays is a weekly feature for book lovers hosted by Wandering Words. What if instead of judging a book by its cover, its author or its prestige, we judged it by its opening lines?
Caidyn will be in blue. Rating: 4/5
Chantel will be in purple. Rating: 4.5/5
“Of course it happened. An effective dream is a reality, Dr. Haber.”
This book took awhile for me to get into. Le Guin was a fantastic writer, but her books take a little bit. It’s like any other older sci-fi or dystopian novel. It takes a couple of chapters to get there with the book. And since this book is only eleven chapters, you have to work fast. I thought the book was masterfully woven, taking place in a dystopian Portland with George Orr as the main character, in trouble for using drugs to suppress his dreams.
So, he’s assigned a psychiatrist, Dr. Haber, to get to the bottom of why he doesn’t want to dream and to force him to dream. It turns out, when he dreams intensely, he changes the world around him completely.
And from there the story goes into many directions. Musings on the reality of dreams, of corruption, and of humanity. I found it fascinating to read because, as I said, Le Guin is a fantastic writer. She is so odd and interesting with her works. I think my favorite thing she tried nailing down was about power and corruption, linked in with how a “utopian” world walks a fine line between that and a dystopia. Because, you might think you’re creating a perfect world through your power, but corruption occurs and creates a dystopia.
The one thing I didn’t like was the ending. It felt like it wrapped up too cleanly and didn’t give me a real, solid ending that I could hold onto.
The first book Caidyn and I read for our book club was The Left Hand of Darkness which we both loved. Le Guin’s writing is very slow paced and deliberate. It reads as if she picked out every word very carefully. I know that’s not for everyone, but I would recommend her writing because of how influential she was. I am constantly amazed that she wrote a book about a genderless/genderfluid society in 1969.
Three years later, she released The Lathe of Heaven which is completely different from The Left Hand of Darkness, but I found myself pleasantly surprised when Dr. Haber is said to have been with men and women. It was literally one sentence, but it hit me really hard. A bisexual male in a 70’s dystopian novel. We can’t even get bisexual males represented in 2018. In addition, there is a character who is explicitly mixed race and gets involved with a white man.
A huge topic of conversation in media revolves around representation. As someone who is queer and mixed race (among other things), I long to see myself represented in movies, tv, and books. It’s something I constantly sought out as a teenager. I just wanted to see a queer woman represented positively on the page and on the screen and I found a lot of representation that helped me but might be considered problematic. The representation in The Lathe of Heaven is not something I find problematic despite Le Guin not being a bisexual male nor was she mixed race. I do believe own voices representation is absolutely important, but sometimes all it takes is one sentence or a description of dark skin as opposed to light to make someone feel seen.
The book itself revolves around a dystopian version of Portland and a man named George Orr who can change reality with what the book calls an “effective dream”. He recounts to Dr. Haber that he dreamt of his aunt dying in a car crash and yet that became reality after he dreamed it. George remembers a reality where she did not die and instead came to visit and he remembers the new reality where she never came because she died in a car crash. Throughout the book, which is less than 200 pages, Dr. Haber hypnotizes George and tells him what to dream under the guise of curing him. As this continues happening session after session, the world keeps changing into what Dr. Haber thinks is a Utopian world. However, a world is never as perfect as it seems no matter the good intentions.
My only criticism of the book was the last two chapters. This book is really short and I think it definitely takes it’s time getting to a point where things need to be wrapped up and then I felt it was wrapped up too quickly. Not neatly, but very quickly. The rush to a resolution was off-putting after the overall pace being quite slow. I would’ve liked to see the resolution spread out to keep a consistent pace throughout the novel.
I completely agree with you on the last couple of chapters. They went too fast and summed it up neatly when I don’t think that a thing like this would have been summed up neatly. Perhaps it was an attempt to make it different. What did you think about Dr. Haber’s attempt to make a perfect world? I loved the way Le Guin showed that a utopia can easily turn into a dystopia.
Considering that the majority of the novel was the decline of a society based on one person’s version of a utopia, the fact that it was wrapped up neatly was disappointing. What I did like was that some things remained the same. The aliens still existed and now their intentions were known. So, it ended up not being a perfect world, but things were a little too neat for me.
I’ve read quite a few dystopian novels, I was actually obsessed with dystopias for awhile. What I thought was the most interesting about Dr. Haber’s utopian world was that he had good intentions for the world. For example, he tries to eliminate racism in the world but things like racism aren’t just going to disappear because someone wills it. It completely ignores the fact that there is a problem at all and instead of solving it, the problem is eliminated. We shouldn’t want to live in a world where we all look the same, as that would strip so many people of their identities.
I think I would have liked the ending better if it hadn’t summed up neatly, which is how reality is. Life isn’t neat or perfect. It doesn’t all just work out like we want it to. So, making it a little less perfect would have been nice. I also think that I would have liked it if the story moved at a quicker pace. It took me a bit to get into it. Even though I really liked it, it still took a bit. Also, the aliens were just… odd. It felt like an addition that didn’t really work and could have been weaved in better.
Most people who create modern dystopians (I’m thinking of Stalin or Hitler or someone) did it to create their own utopian society, yet they erase people’s identities in the process. I thought it was interesting how Le Guin handled it, to show that just because we want racism to go away, we don’t want to ignore cultural differences because that takes the life out of, well, life. It reminded me of that episode of The Fairly Odd Parents.
For a book that was very short, the pacing was a bit off. It started out really slow and then went far too quickly at the end. However, I didn’t mind it that much as I was pretty invested in the story throughout. I will agree that the aliens were a bit out of place, but again it didn’t bother me as much. They were described as giant turtles which I thought was unusual, but it almost reminded me a bit of Arrival. Just in that these alien beings are coming to Earth but aren’t malicious, and yet they are continually attacked by humans because they believe they are a threat.
Well, there is one particular scene that stood out to me actually which is when a man is arrested by another citizen for not reporting that he has cancer. As a result the man is euthanized in public at that moment. George brings Eugenics up to Dr. Haber, which is the idea of trying to purify the human race by sterilizing any quality that could “taint” the human population, such as low IQ, mental illness, or even race. Unfortunately, Dr. Haber doesn’t seem to care about this part of his world as he believes it’s what’s best for the world. Which is always a troubling thought as Hitler had the same views when it came to Jews.
To make a long story short so I don’t constantly rehash what you said: I agree. I have those critiques, but it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book. I liked it. The criticisms I have were just minor and they can easily be ignored and not take away from the story.
Yeah, that scene stood out to me, too. All he had was cancer, which, technically, isn’t that bad. Cancer can be highly genetic, but not necessarily. It was striking that he got taken away and we never found out what really happened to him. Eugenics is a topic that I’m familiar with because it’s a dark day in psychology since the psych tests used determined things. Such as, lower IQ meant you’d get sterilized. And what Hitler did was eugenics in practice.
However, Dr. Haber was also rather likable. At least, I liked him. Even when he was doing some of these things that make you frown, I still found him an interesting character. Maybe that’s because I like darker characters, though.
It’s definitely notable that Le Guin is criticising Eugenics in the novel, and I really appreciated it. I think most people would agree that Eugenics is an awful thing, maybe not so much in the past but now I think that’s definitely true. However, for me I found the elimination of race by a white male to be a big point in the book. One of the main characters Heather is described as black and when race is eliminated and everyone has uniformed grey skin, George notices that Heather’s race was a big part of her personality. I feel like that’s a subject of conversation now. By saying we live in a color-blind world, we are eliminating people’s identities by disregarding their race. It was something I found interesting which showed up in a novel written in the 70’s, once again like The Handmaid’s Tale, something that was written in the past can be just as topical now.
I actually really liked Dr. Haber, too. Even when he was playing God, he was doing what he believed was best for the world. He was wrong, and one person shouldn’t have the power he did, but he definitely let the power get to him. I started to worry if he could be stopped at one point.
Eugenics were the fashion of the time. They were fashionable and interesting. Also, many people supported Hitler until things started getting out about what he was really doing. So, there’s that. But I agree. With people on the very far left wanting to have a society that’s colorless, it does erase someone’s identity. I wouldn’t want to have someone feel like their race is ignored. It’s what makes society, society. I think that it works so well because of the difference is we’re going through a lot of the same issues we did in the 70s.
Dr. Haber was a character you could understand. You might not agree with him, but you understand why he wanted to do something. Because, at heart, we all want the world to be a better place. We just might think the world would be better in a different way. Yeah, I worried if he would stop and that he would stop using George as well.
Speaking of George, how did you feel about him? He was kind of meh for me. I definitely understood him and how he was, but I still didn’t find him all that compelling when it comes down to it. I pitied him and wanted him to see better days, but I didn’t love him.
It’s so easy to look back now and cringe at what people believed, especially what Hitler did, but at the time it was supported. I’m sure in the future we’ll look back on the present day and cringe about some of the things that were believed now. It is one thing to choose not to label yourself based on gender, sexuality, or race, but it’s not something you can take away from another person. Maybe instead of trying to eliminate the concept of race, we could learn to live together without inequalities. I mean, that would be nice.
If we had the opportunity to change the world for the better, wouldn’t you? However, what is better? Just because you have good intentions doesn’t mean the results are going to be good. The solution to overpopulation isn’t to get rid of a giant portion of the population through a plague, the solution to racism isn’t to get rid of race completely. These aren’t things that have easy answers and it likely won’t take just one solution. He was an interesting antagonist, but I wouldn’t even say he was an outright villain. Not only was he creating his own utopia, but he was creating a world where he was very powerful which ultimately was his downfall.
I really liked George. I mean, he’s constantly described as plain, milquetoast, even boring. I think he was a nice perspective to look at the world through because I felt it was easy to put myself in his shoes. He was a blank canvas almost, and didn’t have much of a personality. Out of all the characters, Dr. Haber was the most complex. George was meh, but I still liked him.
I’m completely sure that we will look back on today and realize how wrong we were about the world, but yes. It’s a fine line between a utopian society where all the races are honored and their cultures are important and a world where everyone’s the same.
Yes, I’d want the world better. It’s like the race thing. We want it to be better, but we don’t want to erase it. And, overpopulation is something that’s a whole mess, really. But, no, a plague to kill off most of the population isn’t really a good way to solve it. Dr. Haber, for all the bad he did, was someone you could understand since he touched on the hope that most of us have.
And, I think that George should have been a blank canvas because he constantly has people trying to create a world that he might not agree with. He’s creation at its finest, really. And to give him more of a personality would have meant creation already took place.
I think the main issue with George’s character was that he continued to let Dr. Haber control his dreams and as a result control the world. Yes, there were circumstances which made him feel like he had to continue therapy, but he rarely stood up to Dr. Haber and when he did things didn’t change. Too easily, he let Dr. Haber continue to take control of his dreams until he no longer had any use for George. I feel like that was frustrating for me.
And I agree. It was frustrating to read that over and over again when all George had to do was say no.
For as short as this book was, I think it packed quite a punch and for me this is the second book by Ursula K. Le Guin that I really enjoyed. There is no doubt she had a huge influence on the science-fiction genre.