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The Lathe of Heaven
last updated 2020-12-28

by Ursula K. Le Guinn

Le Guin's foresight amazes me. So much has come to pass that is easy to take her prescience for granted. To quote her foreword in The Left Hand of Darkness:

> “The purpose of a thought-experiment, as the term was used by Schrödinger and other physicists, is not to predict the future - indeed Schrödinger most famous thought experiment goes to show that the "future," on the quantum level, cannot be predicted - but to describe reality, the present world. Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive. Predictions are uttered by prophets (free of charge), by clairvoyants (who usually charge a fee, and are therefore more honored in their day than prophets), and by futurologists (salaried). Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist's business is lying. Science fiction is not predictive; it is descriptive. Predictions are uttered by prophets (free of charge), by clairvoyants (who usually charge a fee, and are therefore more honored in their day than prophets), and by futurologists (salaried). Prediction is the business of prophets, clairvoyants, and futurologists. It is not the business of novelists. A novelist's business is lying.”

The following excerpts especially stuck with me, given my work in climate, energy and water. I'm not including any passages that include plot points, only environmental descriptions, so fear not if you haven't read it. And when you do read this, *keep in mind that the book was published in 1971*.

On a changing climate:

> Blue sky, snow from foothills to peak. Years ago, in the sixties or seventies, no doubt. The Greenhouse Effect had been quite gradual, and Haber, born in 1962, could clearly remember the blue skies of his childhood. Nowadays the eternal snows were gone from all the world's mountains, even Everest, even Erebus, fiery-throated on the waste Antarctic shore. But of course they might have colored a modern photograph, faked the blue sky and white peak; no telling.

> Rain was an old Portland tradition, but the warmth—70° F. on the second of March—was modern, a result of air pollution. Urban and industrial effluvia had not been controlled soon enough to reverse the cumulative trends already at work in the mid-Twentieth Century; it would take several centuries for the CO2 to clear out of the air, if it ever did. New York was going to be one of the larger casualties of the Greenhouse Effect, as the polar ice kept melting and the sea kept rising; indeed all Boswash was imperiled. There were some compensations. San Francisco Bay was already on the rise, and would end up covering all the hundreds of square miles of landfill and garbage dumped into it since 1848. As for Portland, with eighty miles and the Coast Range between it and the sea, it was not threatened by rising water: only by falling water.

> "Come on up with me," he said. "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.

On rivers:

> The Willamette was a useful element of the environment, like a very large, docile draft animal harnessed with straps, chains, shafts, saddles, bits, girths, hobbles. If it hadn't been useful of course it would have been concreted over, like the hundreds of little creeks and streams that ran in darkness down from the hills of the city under the streets and buildings.

On cars:

> Roads were not kept up the way they were when the Highway was king; there were rough bits and pot-holes. But Heather frequently got up to the speed limit (45 mph) as she drove through the broad, moonlit-twilit valley, crossing the Yamhill River four times or was it five, passing through Dundee and Grand Ronde, one a live village and the other deserted, as dead as Karnak, and coming at last into the hills, into the forests.