Sci-fi is not my novel genre of choice, but Le Guin is a fine writer so I only hesitated a little while before spending a dollar on this one. Actually it barely constitutes a novel at all, following the lives of the protagonists comes a distant second to an extended allegory on the merits of utilitarianism as a philosophy.
This is done through the interaction between George Orr, who has the ability to alter reality in dramatic ways through his dreams and wants to be cured of this power, and his therapist, William Haber, who is able to give direction to the dreams and thus shape the world to his choosing.
Naturally this raises potentially interesting issues as to whether Haber’s largely benevolent ends can justify the means, the inevitability of unintended consequences and so on, but the book doesn’t really explore them because the examples are so grotesque. For instance, when Haber tries to address the problem of overpopulation that afflicts Portland in approx 2020 (when the book is set), Orr imagines a plague a couple of decades before which killed off 6 billion people, reducing the world’s population down to 1 billion.
The regular tropes of sci-fi set in Earth’s future are all present and correct – environmental catastrophe, alien invasion, totalitarian autocracy, though the invasion at least is neatly subverted. But while the events of the book are often overblown, the writing and the characters are much more understated. Orr generally responds fatalistically to the changes wrought in his world, while Haber eschews most mad scientist traits. Le Guin’s prose is very good, clearly and convincingly delineating the threads of history and avoiding melodramatic descriptions. It’s this restraint which makes the book readable, if not one worth searching out.
I just had a nap and dreamt very vividly that a) I was Bruce Springsteen’s brother, circa Born In The USA; and b) that I had incredible difficulty doing up my belt. I think humanity can be grateful that my dreaming does not materially affect reality.[/edit]