Women worth reading: Ursula K. Le Guin

Science fiction isn’t a genre I gravitate toward. I have a hard time wrapping my brain around, and becoming invested in, interstellar anything, artificial intelligence, global catastrophes, and characters named Cthulhu. That said, there are exceptions to every rule, and, as a 30-year-old, I finally heard of masterful science fiction/fantasy writer, Ursula K. Le Guin.

There’s a lot I don’t know about the science fiction/fantasy genre, but it seems like a topic that’s still quite a bit of a boy’s club. I was immediately intrigued by Le Guin as a female author who focused much of her writing on gender roles, political systems, and imagined societies. I loved the idea of starting off 2016 with a departure from my typical type of book, authored by a badass lady author.

I don’t know how The Lathe of Heaven matches up against Le Guin’s other works. I didn’t even seek this book out specifically. To narrow down which Le Guin book to read, I searched the offerings of my library, read through the descriptions, checked a few Amazon reviews, and picked the one that seemed the least “out there.” I knew that would be key for me to have any “buy in” to the story. Thankfully, I wasn’t left disappointed!

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The Lathe of Heaven, published in the early 1970s, takes place in the not-too-distant future. The setting is Portland, which is where Le Guin now calls home. The book references population decline, plagues, wars, environmental disasters… basically, it’s not such a wonderful world. We meet George Orr, a man who seems remarkably average. However, George is dealing with a very extraordinary problem. Since an adolescent, some of his dreams become reality. His dreams alter life on a grand scale, affecting the entire world population and course of history. He tries overmedicating himself to keep from having such vivid dreams, which lands him in the office of Dr. Haber, a psychiatrist.

Haber comes across as good-natured, self-assured, and intent on helping Orr overcome his dreaming dilemma, but it quickly becomes evident that Haber sees the value of manipulating Orr’s dreams for his own benefit. Soon the world begins changing drastically in small and big ways, as Haber uses Orr to design the kind of world he thinks should exist. Orr, becoming increasingly uncomfortable with Haber playing God, decides he must stop him.

The book read, at times, like a philosophy book, and left me feeling as though I’d just watched an unsettling episode of The Twilight Zone. I still have a bit of digesting to do with this book, its content, and message, but I’m so glad I started off the year reading such an interesting, thought-provoking read.

Also, doesn’t Le Guin look like such an interesting person? I’d love to have a cup of tea with her and just listen to her talk about life.

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Women worth reading: Ursula K. Le Guin

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