June 2, 2010

Lathe of Heaven by Ursla K. LeGuin

My mother, from when she was a homemaker, has a huge collection of sci-fi books she read while raising me and my brother.  I've been meaning to dig into them more, and other than a couple Asmiov stories didn't read a lot of them.  Due to me being on the train a lot, I decided to pick up one on a whim, so I chose Lathe of Heaven.

First of all, I had yet to read a female sci-fi author, and it was really refreshing.  A lot of the old sci-fi is masculine in their story-telling devices and you can tell.  That doesn't mean that male writers are better or worse than female writers, there's just a notable difference.  To be honest, when I write fiction it's a bit more masculine because I've been inspired by a lot of male writers (Tennesse Williams is my favorite playwright, I consider Oscar Wilde a god amongst men) and I'm sure it shows.  But LeGuin is feminine in the way that show shows the characters to the reader.  She's not just fantastic at showing their emotional state in a way that doesn't get repetitive, but showing who they are by how they show themselves to the world, it's beautiful.  Her metaphors and adjectives are in a really good balance, something you don't really appreciate without looking back at it.  Also, trying to be an effective writer make you really appreciate the talent involved in maintaining that balance.

By now you all should know that I am a huge character motivation person, and the focus of three characters had a great flow, and each chapter had a great focus on them.  George was perceived by everyone, including himself, as a simple dumb man.  If you read the book, you realize he's ridiculously wise beyond his years, even beyond being human in some respects.  When he tries to get help with his condition--dreaming things into reality with horrific consequences--his doctor Haber uses the opportunity to change the world for "the better".  George hires lawyer Heather to help and the both stay ridiculously connected to each other, and as Heather sees how George changes the world she becomes invested in helping him for his sake.  The changing of perspective between the characters shows their evolution through the book in a compelling way.  Seeing who stays the same throughout the universe that is constantly changing in history, and who changes, is extremely important to understand the moral problem of playing God.

LeGuin in many ways was ahead of her time.  In 1971 she wrote about interracial relationships with honesty, she wrote about peoples emotions in a way that many wanna-be authors wish to imitate today, and her take on George's unintended "solutions" were honest about humanity's flaws.  Sure she wasn't changing the literary world, but she was helping it progress.  I wish I could see the world through her eyes, because it must be truly inspiring.

The world she builds shows how sci-fi can be like a fantasy world without going all "elf-dwarf-orc" on you.  George's changes bring about some extremely bizarre things, that are fantastic to visualize in your head.  It was one of those books I did want to see a movie version, but I'm scared that the producers would not get the point of half of the decisions LeGuin made and why they are important.  Well, apparently two movies already exist, but I think I'm going to avoid them.  I'm always afraid of how directors and producers manipulate the text.

If you like sci-fi books with heavy questions and fantastic situations, I suggest picking up Lathe of Heaven.  And I will have to pick up another LeGuin book off my mother's bookshelf.

1 comment:

  1. From my understanding both movie versions ruined the book. I've never wanted to watch them because of terrible reviews I've read... what I've heard mostly is that they discarded the science fiction and philosophy in favor of major character angst. FWIW.

    [Captcha word: "prepomo." How apt.]