Best of Science Fiction #81: Ursula LeGuin, “The Lathe of Heaven”

Year of Publication: 1971
Subgenre: superpowers

The premise: A man can dream in such a way that alters reality. This bothers him, so he goes to a doctor to see about getting them stopped. The doctor has other plans.

My experience: I can’t decide if I liked this one or not. It was slow and lumpy, spending way too much time bogged down in explaining sleep and dreams (maybe this was new research in 1971?) before it eventually settles down and cool weird stuff starts happening. Things get really crazy once the book gets moving; I’m pretty sure the climax was written on acid. Everything feels very Buddhist, but I can’t remember if religion ever actually comes up. And the interplay between doctor and patient is fantastic. For a story built around a cool idea, it manages to be driven by its characters, whereas in most SF books where the characters are just along for the ride.

But. Hypnosis plays a huge role in the story, and that’s one of my top genre pet peeves. I see it show up occasionally in the older SF books, and in those books everyone seems cool with treating it as a valid and reputable science (I’m looking at you, Heinlein), and it always is just so hokey. Again, maybe back then we thought it was actually legit? I dunno. What I know is that I wish I would stop reading about it.

Apparently this story was made into a tv movie back around 1980… I watched it, and the best part was noticing that one scene was filmed in Dallas’ Reunion Tower (ooh, so futuristic!). Seriously, what a low-budget clunkfest. Wow.
You would like this book if: You are a slacker seeking justification for your lifestyle… and you’re okay with hypnosis

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