The Lathe of Heaven

The Lathe of Heaven

by Ursula K. Le Guin


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The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin

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: 48,539
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

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 the creature 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 moveagain; 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.

Reading Group Guide


We have all, at one time or another, heard the phrase, "Sleeping your life away," and laughed at its absurdity. But what if, upon waking, you are faced with the horrific truth that your life, as it existed the night before, is no longer. In its place is the abstraction of a dream ... your dream.

For George Orr, the effect of his dreams on the world around him is truly more significant than anyone realizes. An insignificant man in a futuristic Earth, Orr has the unwanted power of being able to change the course of world events not only in the future, but back to the very beginning.

Orr has been placed on Voluntary Therapy under the care of Dr. Haber, a distinguished therapist and creator of the Dream Augmentor. At first desiring to help Orr and make the world better, Haber is soon obsessed with the dreaming power and wants it for his own. But with each one of Orr's dreams, things worsen. Millions of people are killed, all races are wiped, and the Aliens land.

Realizing that this world is of his making, for better of for worse, Orr must search within to find the strength to battle Haber and survive in his ever-changing world. A dark tale of an uncontrollable power, The Lathe of Heaven is a masterful rendering of humanity and the powers that corrupt.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What role do the quotes play throughout the novel? Which was your favorite? Why? Which quote, if any, do you think encapsulates the main theme of the novel?

  2. Do you think that George has found a way to stop his dreams at the end? Does the importance lie in his ability to control the dreams or toexterminate them?

  3. What would you do if you could change the world by dreaming? What would be your first dream? Would it be a power you would want to keep?

  4. As much as his world changes around him, Orr was still able to remain true to his core being. How important do you think this stability is to the outcome? Was his therapy helpful in this aspect?

  5. The main tension throughout the novel is that between Orr and his therapist Dr. Haber. How do this tension and its inherent power struggle get resolved? In the end who is the stronger?

  6. Heather LeLache is the main female character throughout the novel. How does her character change, both in her view of Orr as well as her view of the world she lives in? Why is she the only character who is, effectively, reborn?

  7. How does Dr. Haber plan to use Orr's power? Why is he destroyed by his own plans in the end? What is his never-ending dream/nightmare?

  8. Which of Orr's many worlds would you feel comfortable living in?

  9. Despite the changes that wreak havoc upon Orr's world, there are a few elements that remain constant. What are they and why do you think they are important?

  10. Why do you think the aliens are the only ones who can save Orr? What do the aliens represent in his mind?

  11. Can you find reality in a dream?

About the Author

A multiple award-winning author, editor, and anthologist, Ursula K. LeGuin was born in 1929 in Berkeley, California -- the daughter of writer Theodora Kroeber and anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber. She went to Radcliffe College, did graduate work at Columbia University and attained a 1953 Fulbright Fellowship. Le Guin married historian Charles A. Le Guin and has three children and three grandchildren. She has lived in Portland, Oregon since 1958.

Throughout her illustrious literary career -- 19 novels, short stories in nine collections, two volumes of translation, 13 books for children, three collections of essays, and numerous honorary degrees, teaching posts, and awards -- Le Guin has held to the highest standards in her writing, taking risks that would bring great rewards and praise from her contemporaries.

Having received countless awards -- a National Book Award, five Hugo Awards, five Nebula Awards, the Kafka Award, a Pushcart Prize, the Howard Vursell Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the L.A. Times Robert Kirsch Award to name a few -- Le Guin has also had three of her books become finalists for the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

Le Guin's first major work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness, propelled her instantly to the forefront of her field. Since then, she has used the context of her work to delve into such issues as gender roles, morality, and the individual's ordinary grief. Working in so many forms -- from poetry and prose to screenplays and voice text for recordings -- Le Guin has transformed the genre in which she works countless times over. An intensely private figure like many of her characters, Le continues to create her fantastical worlds for all ages.

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The Lathe of Heaven 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
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.
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
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.
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 ...
Anonymous 10 months ago
A compelling story that keeps you turning the pages and leaves one with questions about life. Ursula is a master story teller.
ksprings 11 months ago
This review was first published on Kurt's Frontier. Synopsis: George Orr lives in a world beset by climate instability and overpopulation. However, his dreams have power over reality. When he awakens from vivid dreams, he finds that the world has become strange. It does not fit the clear memory of the world before he slept. Terrified of this power, he seeks the help of psychiatrist Dr. William Haber. Dr. Haber realizes what a powerful tool this could be for good. George becomes a pawn in Dr. Haber’s playing God. With each dream, humanity grows more imperiled. Review: This is the first novel I’ve read by the late Ursula K. Le Guin. The concept itself is interesting. What if a person found he had the power to change reality? Could this person manage all the variables that go into changing reality? This is a fascinating element of this novel. As Dr. Haber manipulates George Orr’s gift to change the world for the better, new problems seem to replace the old ones. My problem with the book is that it becomes confusing. This is a danger for books that deal with alternate reality stories, such as time travel. As the world changes, so do the settings, antagonists, and goals. Being an action/adventure type, this may not have been the Ursula Le Guin story to cut my teeth on.
Anonymous 12 months ago
Ursula is clearly intelligent and empathetic to that which society needs to endure. she created a vivid reality through which she explored the tendency of humanity to be at war with itself on many levels. Her prose however is flat and tedious.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This story without revealing too much delves into the esoteric nature of dreams. It's a fine example of speculation in science fiction that deserves to be read with the knowledge that much like a dream it can be difficult and discombobulated at times, but no less a triumph in delivering a rich experience and something that challenges as much as delights any science fiction reader.
Gilbert_M_Stack More than 1 year ago
I first encountered Ursula Le Guin as a teenager in her Earth Sea Trilogy, a wonderful tale of magic with deeper levels I totally missed in my initial reading. The Lathe of Heaven is for a more mature reader dealing with themes like responsibility, hubris, compassion and love. This is the second time I’ve read the novel and it won’t be the last. When the novel opens George Orr is an unassuming man with a problem. He’s convinced his dreams can change reality and he’s taking illegal drugs to keep him from hurting people while he sleeps. He’s put under the care of Dr. William Haber who’s skepticism quickly disappears as he begins to unethically abuse Orr’s gift through hypnotism and an experimental machine to remake the world into a better place where his own importance is recognized and the big problems—war, racism, overpopulation, etc.—don’t exist anymore. But Orr’s power works through the unconscious and Haber never quite gets the results he wants—not that he blames himself. Success is due to his genius, failure is the fault of the man he’s using his legal hold over to coerce into changing the world. Orr’s effort to get legal help introduces the third and most interesting character to the story. Heather LeLache is a lawyer who becomes interested in Orr’s case and actually sees the world rewritten while she observes his therapy. The shared experience brings Orr and LeLache closer but can their growing friendship—hidden from Haber—survive an ever-rewritten world. The ending of this novel is a painful one filled with growth and horror, but not without hope. This one will make your head spin.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Classical science fiction by a master.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But also set in my home town. This is sci-fi at its best and most delightful!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An absolutely brilliant book by an amazing storyteller.
ryanseanoreilly More than 1 year ago
A refreshing philosophical exploration into high-concept esoteric questions draped in all the brilliant colors of science fiction. This is a tale rooted in the exploration of hubris in its broadest sense. Whatever array of the political spectrum you subscribe too, the story will speak to you. The plot centers around the personal struggle of George Orr who is blessed and (mostly) cursed with the ability to change reality through his dreams. This Midas-like touch tortures the protagonist due to his inability to completely control his dreams and avoid the unintended consequences. You might be able to boil this story down to the simple posit that this is what happens when one is granted god-like powers. Not an exactly new storyline. However, the author’s unique take is that Orr’s dreams don’t exactly change things for individuals. Instead the changes are realized more so on the macro level, which in turn affects the individual to varying degrees. Le Quin manages to stencil in distinct and sympathetic personalities with the three main characters of this novella without excessive prose. She shies away from the trappings of rote evil and refuses to prop up some symbolic villain to be slain (I understand this to be a theme with her writings). That said, I did find myself searching for the design of evil lurking in among the fringe motivations of the characters. Everyone in this book seems to want to do the good that they see fit to do (don’t we all). However, I will contrast her writing with other authors like George R. R. Martin who also explore the many gray facets of imperfect personhood. In this novel, there is no deep-seeded, nefarious mystery that must be dredged up to elicit a sympathetic revelation for the reader. Instead, Le Guin, has developed characters who pursue a hero’s journey that is guided more so by their philosophical ideals than by any personal faults or weaknesses. That is not to say the characters are without personal struggle and conflict. They still must question their loyalties to their own beliefs and the limits of their abilities to carry out their convictions. The struggle is thoughtful and heartfelt. The pain real. Life, reality and living are incredibly complicated without the forces of evil laying out traps and undermining one’s best efforts. Even the best of intentions cannot come without unforeseen consequences (credit: Gandalf: “Even the wise cannot foresee all ends.”). Le Quin also has a sweet and subtle way of gently weaving in some Taoist philosophies into the storyline without any pedantic overtones. Her juxtaposition of these eastern notions against a more concerted western altruism is compelling. So too is her ability to create a world that is constantly changing with characters who must perceive more than one reality at once. Le Quin is dealing with something akin to writing about time-travel and all the confusing questions and inconsistencies that can abound from such a storyline. Here her masterful prose paints a perfect and understandable story as she tackles multiple realities at the same time and yet still manages to move things impossibly forward (with a protagonist whose chief talent is to hit the BIG reset button every time he sleeps). And she does it with such ease and such spare masterful prose that you simply float through. It would be so easy for another writer to become mired in the mechanics of such concepts. (podcast: No Deodorant In Outer Space)
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My favorite has always been the Left Hand Of Darkness but the Lathe of Heaven still haunts me twenty five or thirty years after I first read it.
lilangeljag24 More than 1 year ago
Very good story and very intriguing ideas of how the world/society can be....Definitely leaves you wanting more...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of the great novels in Sci-Fi history along with her Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was terrible! I would be more interested in pulling out my nails with pliers than to read this book again, forever or ever. Anyone who wants to read this book, hit yourself on the head first. Kids, don't do this at home!!