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The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin

book cover of The Lathe of Heaven

I’ve shelved this as science fiction, but what struck me as I was reading it is that it really comes across as a psychological horror. The protagonist, George Orr, has an ability that he considers a horrible curse: when he dreams, sometimes, he wakes up to find the dream has come true. Having got in legal trouble for misappropriating/misusing dream suppressants, he is sent to a psychiatrist, Dr Haber, who sees this ability as an enormous boon. He uses hypnotherapy to put George under and instruct him to dream all manner of things – which, then, become reality.

The novel examines all kind of dystopian and apocalyptic scenarios: war against extraterrestrials, a pandemic that kills most of the world’s population, volcanic eruptions, and above all a recurring theme of heavy-handed state control over people’s lives (and life and death itself). And it does all this with a tone reminiscent of that kind of nightmare where you’re dreaming horrible stuff, and you think you wake up, but then realise you’re still trapped in the nightmare. Dr Haber represents a brilliant villain, outwardly effusively charming but coercively keeping George under his control. And, of course, like many a classic villain he has grandiose, noble ambitions – world peace! an end to overpopulation! full health for all! – but no real qualms about the sinister ways he would achieve them.

Overall, a really good, dark little book, especially for those who enjoy the theme of creepy nightmares.

★★★★

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.