The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven

by Ursula K. Le Guin


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A classic science fiction novel by Ursula K. Le Guin, one of the greatest writers of the genre, set in a future world where one man’s dreams control the fate of humanity.

In a future world racked by violence and environmental catastrophes, George Orr wakes up one day to discover that his dreams have the ability to alter reality. He seeks help from Dr. William Haber, a psychiatrist who immediately grasps the power George wields. Soon George must preserve reality itself as Dr. Haber becomes adept at manipulating George’s dreams for his own purposes.

The Lathe of Heaven is an eerily prescient novel from award-winning author Ursula K. Le Guin that masterfully addresses the dangers of power and humanity’s self-destructiveness, questioning the nature of reality itself. It is a classic of the science fiction genre.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416556961
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 04/15/2008
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 58,424
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.43(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) has published twenty-one novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry, and four of translation, and has received the Hugo, Nebula, Endeavor, Locus, Tiptree, Sturgeon, PEN-Malamud, and National Book Award and the Pushcart and Janet Heidinger Kafka prizes, among others. In recent years she has received lifetime achievement awards from World Fantasy Awards, Los Angeles Times, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, and Willamette Writers, as well as the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Grand Master Award and the Library of Congress Living Legends award. Le Guin was the recipient of the Association for Library Service to Children’s May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Award and the Margaret Edwards Award. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, Words Are My Matter, an essay collection, and Finding My Elegy, New and Selected Poems. Her website is


Portland, Oregon

Date of Birth:

October 21, 1929

Place of Birth:

Berkeley, California


B.A., Radcliffe College; M.A., Columbia University, 1952

Read an Excerpt

The Lathe of Heaven

A Novel
By Ursula K. Leguin

Harper Collins Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Ursula K. Leguin All right reserved. ISBN: 0060512741

Chapter One

Confucius and you are both dreams, and I who say you are dreams am a dream myself. This is a paradox. Tomorrow a wise man may explain it; that tomorrow will not be for ten thousand generations.

-Chuang Tse: II

Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean, the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it, and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish bangs and sways; pulses move slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the moondriven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and.power of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going, and its will.

But here rise the stubborn continents. The shelves of gravel and the cliffs of rock break from water baldly into air, that dry, terrible outerspace of radiance and instabi'li'ty, where there is no support for life. And now, now the currents mislead and the waves betray, breaking their endless circle, to leap up in loud foam against rock and air, breaking . . . .

What will thecreature made all of seadrift do on the dry sand of daylight; what will the mind do, each morning, waking?

His eyelids had been burned away, so that he could not close his eyes, and the light entered into his brain, searing.He could not turn his head, for blocks of fallen concrete pinned him down and the steel rods projecting from their cores held his head in a vise. When these were gone he could move again; he sat up. He was on the cement steps; a dandelion flowered by his hand, growing from a little cracked place in the steps. After a while he stood up, but as soon as he was on his feet he felt deathly sick, and knew it was the radiation sickness. The door was only two feet from him, for the balloonbed when inflated half filled his room. He got to the door and opened it and went through it. There stretched the endless linoleum corridor, heaving slightly up and down for miles, and far down it, very far, the men's room. He started out toward it, trying to hold on to the wall, but there was nothing to hold on to, and the wall turned into the floor.

"Easy now. Easy there."

The elevator guard's face was hanging above him like a paper lantern, pallid, fringed with graying hair.

"It's the radiation," he said, but Mannie didn't seem to understand, saying only, "Take it easy."

He was back on his bed in his room.

"You drunk?"


"High on something?"


"What you been taking?"

"Couldn't find the fit," he said, meaning that he had been trying to lock the door through which the dreams came, but none of the keys had fit the lock.

"Medic's coming up from the fifteenth floor," Mannie said faintly through the roar of breaking seas.

He was floundering and trying to breathe. A stranger was sitting on his bed holding a hypodermic and looking at him.

'That did it," the stranger said. "He's coming round. Feel like hell? Take it easy. You ought to feel like hell. Take all this at once?" He displayed seven of the little plastifoil envelopes from the autodrug dispensary. "Lousy mixture, barbiturates and Dexedrine. What were you trying to do to yourself?"

It was hard to breathe, but the sickness was gone, leaving only an awful weakness."They're all dated this week," the medic went on, a young man with a brown ponytail and bad teeth. "Which means they're not all off your own Pharmacy Card, so I've got to report you for borrowing. I don't like to, but I got called in and I haven't any choice, see. But don't worry, with these drugs it's not a felony, you'll just get a notice to report to the police station and they'll send you up to the Med School or the Area Clinic for examination, and you'll be referred to an M.D. or a shrink for VTT-Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment. I filled out the form on you already, used your ID; all I need to know is how long you been using these drugs in more than your personal allotment?"

"Couple months."

The medic scribbled on a paper on his knee.

"And who'd you borrow Pharm Cards from?"


"Got to have the names."

After a while the medic said, "One name, anyhow. Just a formality. It won't get 'em in trouble. See, they'll just get a reprimand from the police, and HEW Control will keep a check on their Pharm Cards for a year. Just a formality. One name."

"I can't. They were trying to help me"

"Look, if you won't give the names, you're resisting, and you'll either go to jail or get stuck into Obligatory Therapy, in an institution. Anyway they can trace the cards through the autodrug records if they want to, this just saves 'em time. Come on, just give me one of the names."

He covered his face with his arms to keep out the unendurable light and said, "I can't. I can't do it. I need help."

"He borrowed my card," the elevator guard said. "Yeah. Mannie Ahrens, 247-602-6023." The medic's pen went scribble scribble.

"I never used your card."

"So confuse 'em a little. They won't check. People use people's Pharm Cards all the time, they can't check. I loan mine, use another cat's, all the time. Got a whole collection of those reprimand things. They don't know. I taken things HEW never even heard of. You ain't been on the hook before. Take it easy, George."

"I can't," he said, meaning that he could not let Mannie lie for him, could not stop him from lying for him, could not take it easy, could not go on.


Excerpted from The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Leguin
Copyright © 2003 by Ursula K. Leguin
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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The Lathe of Heaven 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 50 reviews.
Beverly_D More than 1 year ago
One of the most thought-provoking works I've ever read. What if when you had a certain kind of super-intense dream, what you dreamed came true? Only with that weird, twisted way dreams have of shifting reality, like dreaming that someone who annoyed you was killed in an accident. Then you woke up, and she was dead, had been dead, for years, and no one remembered the alternate reality. What if the person you went to for help decided to use that ability to reshape the world for the better? It's a short book, but rich, like a literary truffle. Something I reread on a regular basis, and think about more often than that.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This novella is truly one of the original greats of the SciFi genre. The story is about human averice and power and the need for and lack of control thereof. It is also about doctor patient relationships though in a lesser way. It is also about one individual's struggle to control his life and in this case his dreams as they are what have the most profound impact on his daily existence.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is one to read and let marinate in your brain. It raises interesting questions about intentions and possibilities. I really enjoyed reading it.
crchristensen More than 1 year ago
This book is an old friend I'm picking up in e format.  I read it for the first time as a teenager & was priveleged to see the adaptation Ms. Le Guin did for PBS in the 1970s.  George Orr lives in a horrible world.  Overpopulation, war & damage to the Earth's ecosystem by an uncaring society has left  a society that is regimented to the extreme aas the only means of survival.  But George has a different problem; a terrible secret.  His dreams can change reality.lwhen he is caught using illegal drugs tto control his sleep, George, a quiet, modest Every an, is remaned to the care of Psychologist Dr. William Haber.  Haber initially sees George as delusional but cchanges his mind when he forces George to dream a chaned reality.  George is careful with his gift, but the egotistical & power-hungry Haber is a different story.  He attempts to control Geoge's dreams, leading to a power struggle between the two men for nothing less than control of reality itself.  But George knows something Haber doesn't.  There is a reason the dreams need to be used cautiously, & if Haber isn't careful, he will find  the too terrible reality behind George's dreams. Ursula LeGuin gives us a true Sci Fi/Horror story with characters you can relate to & for whom you feel sympathy.  Even Haber is no a villan, but just a man given a great power he can't handle.  The story is full of twists & turns, a tale mostly revolving around the characters of the two men, but with enough happening to satisfy devotees of more action oriented fiction.  Her prose style is clean & relatable, as always, & her universe, as seen through George's eyes, is realistic & sensible.  This is a unique novel written by an author who frequently thinks "outside the box", & I'm grateful to have a copy for my Nook.  Now, if they'd only publish "The Left Hand of Darkness" for e-reader ...
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lathe of Heaven starts fine, but goes downhill quickly with the introduction of aliens. This edition is full of typos and ridiculous editing errors: 'eye to I' ; 'geeting' for 'getting' ; 'double' for doubt' and on and on.
Marty0 21 days ago
Good 'un
Anonymous 3 months ago
reality is unreal and the unreal is reality. all merely a matter of perception and perspective with memory as the binding agent.add this to your bucket list of reads.
Anonymous 11 months ago
Wonderful creative story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story was super interesting. The concept is relatively simple: George Orr is a man capable of changing reality through his dreams. The caveat is that a) he cannot control what he dreams, and b) he is the only one who realizes reality has changed… the rest of the world had no idea that things used to be different. Poor George is then caught in the crossfire of wanting to be cured of this mysterious ability and the insane whims of a power-hungry psychiatrist, Dr. Haber. When Haber learns of George’s ability to alter reality, he builds a machine to use George’s dreams under the guise of wanting to create a world at peace. This book is quite thought-provoking and philosophical as it questioned whether the ends can justify any number of questionable means, and whether anybody has the right to try to play God. It also probes the ramifications caused by one small change, and how that can quickly snowball out of control. Overall, this story held my attention the entire time, though there were times when it seemed to rush by too quickly and left me wanting to know a little bit more. While I know it wasn’t the point of the book, it would have been nice to get an idea of how or why George Orr possesses the ability to alter reality with his dreams. And I would have liked to have gotten into the character’s heads rather than always be in the 3rd person omniscient–the character development felt very slow, or nonexistent in some cases. This was a quick and easy read that I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good bit of philosophical science fiction.
bacillicide on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was fascinating! It was super short, but so, so interesting. This is actually my second dip into Ursula K. Le Guin's work, and my favorite. The Dispossessed didn't really leave me wanting to read more of her, but this one certainly did. My mind = blown.
dogbrain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
dreaming mt hood into visibility, and getting rid of cars downtown!
brakketh on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Quite enjoyed reading this piece, Le Guin has some very interesting ideas and is always a pleasure to read.
CBJames on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K Le Guin is science fiction, but it's a science fiction of ideas, of what if's, not of technology and alien planets. There are aliens and technology in the novel, but they are beside the point really. This is a fable, like so many episodes of The Twilight Zone, a story about the improbable designed to tell us something about the every day.In The Lathe of Heaven, George Orr has dreams that come true. His dreams come true, and he is the only one who notices the changes they make in the world around him. To stop his dreams he has been taking overdoses of various drugs which is a crime punishable by forced visits to a psychiatrist in Le Guin's anti-utopian future. The bulk of the novel is made up of Orr's sessions with Dr. Haber. Dr. Haber does not try to cure Orr. Instead he tries to use his power to improve the world, to clean up pollution, reverse global warming, stop war. These all sound like good ideas, but it never works out that way in fiction, not for long. Soon Dr. Haber is creating a stifling, controlled society, where the individual is sacrificed for the greater good. George Orr tries to rebel but how can he when Dr. Haber has gained control of his dreams.I found The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin to be entertaining and surprisingly pertinent to today's world. Considering the book was written in 1971 this is not exactly good news, but it is a very good book. Even if you're not a fan of science fiction there is much to enjoy in The Lathe of Heaven. I'm giving it five out of five stars.
MaowangVater on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
George Orr is having disturbing dreams. He¿s so afraid that he¿s trying not to sleep. He borrows his friends¿ Pharm cards to keep himself drugged up enough to stay awake. It doesn¿t work, and after the inevitable crash, he¿s sent to Dr. Haber for Voluntary Therapeutic Treatment. It¿s either that or he goes to jail. Dr. Haber is a dream specialist and he has a wonderful new machine, the Augmentor that he wants to try on his new patient. Combined with hypnosis he sure he can cure George of the idea that George¿s night fantasies can somehow change reality. His first hypnotic suggestion to George is to dream of a horse. When George wakes up the picture of Mt. Hood in Dr. Haber¿s office has changed to a picture of a horse. George is not at all surprised that this has happened. Dr. Haber won¿t say anything. After a few sessions Dr. Haber suggests that it would be good for George to dream of a bigger office for the doctor, one with a real view of Mt. Hood. It¿s a small thing, but what happens when Dr. Haber suggests that George dream of a world without the problem of overpopulation is not.
auntmarge64 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Portland, OR, in the near-future (our near past - this was written in 1971), George Orr discovers his dreams are changing reality and turns to drugs to quell them. He is sent to a psychiatrist, whose response is to start experimenting with George's dreams to design his own utopian world. With reality changing every day, but his memories encompassing all the realities simultaneously, George desperately searches for some way to stop the doctor, to whom the authorities continue to send him. LeGuin makes George's experience quite vivid for the reader, who soon finds herself unable to put the book down until George either succeeds or fades into madness, and the world into chaos.
bluesalamanders on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
George Orr's dreams change reality. He is sent to a psychologist with a specialization in sleep and dream disorders and for the first time in his life, he has hope that he'll be able to stop his "effective dreaming", which is a responsibility he does not want. Instead, the doctor starts using his dreams to change the world. But dreams aren't as easy to control as the doctor would like to believe...I was expecting another book as dense and difficult as The Left Hand of Darkness, but Lathe of Heaven was both shorter and much easier to read. That doesn't mean it was less powerful or fascinating, however.
santhony on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Despite reading well over a thousand books over the years, many of them science fiction, I somehow neglected Ursula LeGuin. I attribute this to being an early Lord of the Rings fan and viewing her Wizard of Earthsea series as a cheap imitation. As a result, I pigeonholed her as a second rate fantasy author and failed to discover her numerous, outstanding science fiction works.After reading her Left Hand of Darkness and Worlds of Exile and Illusion, both of which I enjoyed very much, I began to actively seek out her work, hence my exposure to this very short novel (actually more of a novella). Those seeking hard science fiction may be disappointed, as her focus is more sociological and anthropological than with technology, space or time travel.This short work, set in a depressing dystopian American near future, features George Orr, a dreamer, but not your average, run of the mill dreamer. George¿s dreams have the ability to change reality. When George thinks he is insane and struggles to avoid sleep, he is directed to Dr. William Haber, a specialist in dreams and sleep disorders who soon discovers a way to profit from George¿s abilities, by directing his dreams. But dreams are tricky and Dr. Haber¿s suggestions and direction do not always lead where he thinks. For example, a suggestion to dream of world peace results in intergalactic war.I¿ve seen reviews which attribute political and abstract interpretations to this work, and such may have been the author¿s intent. For me, however, the short work was a highly entertaining and thoughtful essay which highlights the futility and hidden dangers inherent in trying to exert control over matters incapable of being controlled.
LaPhenix on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Leagues away from what I typically pick up, I can¿t pretend to grasp all the ideas broached in this dystopian novel. Though the writing style I¿ve come to associate with dystopias is unvarying, the beautiful imagery, often lucidly symbolic, make this book more accessible. Written 40 years ago, the themes and setting don¿t feel dated, and indeed the ideas addressed are ones society still weighs today. Le Guin¿s choice to set the novel in a real location makes the city¿s state in the different continua seem more realistic and plausible. Le Guin¿s novel is a stirring and engaging read.
littlepiece on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I've read many of LeGuin's books, but this one is by far my favorite. Younger readers should probably start with the Earthsea books and Annals of the Western Shore, but for adults I suggest starting here.
crazybatcow on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a re-read of a book I read many years ago. I remember thinking over the past decade or so that this book had always been one of my favorites. I won't say that I was disappointed by my re-reading, because really, I wasn't. But the writing is much drier and much more "distant" than I remember it being. I didn't care about the characters at all, and I couldn't figure out why Orr wouldn't just dream his own dreams - of course, now I know it's because of the time when this novel was written - when individuals believed the medical profession/government/powers-that-be were "right", regardless. Anyway, I still LOVE the concept behind the book (wouldn't that be so cool?), but the writing of it, or the standards of the era within which it was written... not so much.Originally I gave this 5 stars. Now, as an adult, I'd give it 3.5
sturlington on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In a near-future decimated by climate change and overpopulation, a perfectly ordinary man discovers an extraordinary talent: whatever he dreams becomes real. His efforts to escape what he considers his curse land him in the clutches of a psychotherapist, who uses a machine of his own invention and hypnosis to control the dreams and attempt to solve the world¿s problems. What results is a bizarre merging of the ¿real¿ world with the infinite worlds of dreams until the two can no longer be told apart and all worlds are on the brink of the void. This is a fascinating novel that explores the unknown power of our dreams, the dangers of playing god and the possibilities of infinite worlds.
donna47 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very good. Very interesting concepts
shawjonathan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My copy of this was a long way from new when I bought it in Hiroshima: it had done time in the Roswell Public Library, New Mexico, and a bookshop in Missouri. Published in 1971 and set in the late 1990s, it makes much of the Greenhouse Effect, quotably if not always in line with currently favoured scenarios:"'It's raining already.' In fact it was, the endless warm drizzle of spring -- the ice of Antarctica, falling softly on the heads of the children of those responsible for melting it."The book, contrary to my expectations of Le Guin, is pretty much hard science fiction, the science at its centre being oneirology, the study of dreaming. But it's also got plenty of environmentalism, multiple realities and, in the end, aliens worthy of Doctor Who. Excellent, intelligent SF without pretensions, which makes me keen to read more of St Ursula.
Tatiana_G on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Would you like to play God?Would you like to shape the world to your liking? Maybe to rid it of war, overpopulation, hunger, racial prejudice, decease? To make it into your own idea of Heaven?Well, the two main characters of The Lathe of Heaven have different opinions on this subject. George Orr, who possesses a unique ability to change the world by dreaming about, seemingly, the most mundane things, wants this power to be gone, he is sure the events should take their natural course, no matter how dire the consequences are to the humanity. His doctor, William Haber, thinks it is his responsibility to make this world a better place. He is adamant he will achieve his goal of a perfect society! And he will use Orr's ability as a means to his megalomaniac ends. Does it matter that people in his utopia are all of a battleship gray color? That sick people are euthanized? Not to Haber, as long as it is for the common good.The Lathe of Heaven was the first Le Guin's book that tickled my visualization "powers," which are very modest, to put it lightly. My imagination went in overdrive picturing our planet changing - billions of people disappearing, landscapes transforming, climate adjusting - all retroactive results of Orr's unconscious dreaming. This story would make a visually stunning movie a la Inception, only a million times better, because Le Guin explores much cooler ideas of fatalism, equanimity, and God complex.4 stars because it took so long to come up with the idea how to fix Orr's dream problem. I had the solution the moment I knew what his complaint was and I don't understand why Orr himself never thought of it. A bit of a weak plotting there.Besides this minor issue, the novel is just immensely exciting and imaginative.
Abras on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A book about a man whose dreams alter reality? I was skeptical. I heard plenty of good things about this book and found it on several "Best Of Sci-Fi" lists but it just didn't seem like my kind of book. The main plot line, mentioned above, seemed like a good one, but my inner skeptic instantly recognized that it could be easily corrupted by poor writing. My mind raced with visions of religious symbolism, tedious philosophizing and page after page of vague, long-winded prose.In case you haven't guessed by the four star rating, I was sorely mistaken. The story turned out to be a lot more grounded than originally expected. It follows an ordinary man --in the future, yes, but still a very plausible and "normal" future-- who struggles with his reality-changing dreams. He ends up at a psychologist's office with hopes of curing or at least controlling these kinds of dreams. The psychologist, however, has different plans. Once he learns of his patient's extraordinary ability he starts trying to change the world for the better. I'll leave the plot synopsis at that so as to avoid spoilers.This book manages a nice balance that is rarely achieved. The action moves along at a steady pace but never at the expense of deeper discussion, and vice versa. Thus it avoids becoming a "yawn-fest," the kind of book you're forced to read at school; nor does it ever seem like a cheap thriller that stays on the sales charts for a few weeks then dies, never to be heard from again. As it grows older it is likely that many will label it as a classic sci-fi book, and I am hard pressed to disagree with that attitude. It has a certain timelessness that will keep it relevant, as well as an air of excitement that I am sure will convince people to actually, you know, read it. Little is more tragic than a good book that no one has ever read, after all.