In this blog series, we’ll explore the contributions women have made to the horror genre throughout history. With reviews, recommendations, and reading lists, we hope to help you discover some new, spine-chilling reads (and watches) for the month of October. If you’ve got a book or movie you’d like to review, or a short reading list you want to contribute, shoot us a pitch: email@example.com.
Welcome back, horror fans! After a one-day hiatus (as the creator of TV’s Hannibal Bryan Fuller would say, a HeAteUs) we’ve returned to our list of top 5 horror novels written by women. On Saturday we reviewed Catherynne Valente’s first novel The Labyrinth, and the day before we looked at Tananarive Due’s The Good House, as well as providing some context for the place and role of women within the horror genre.
Today, we’re going to look at our first ‘classic’…
3. The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin
Alright, so arguably this is a science fiction novel rather than a horror story—but despite its futuristic setting (er, well, it’s set in 2002), this novel is built on the kinds of fears and anxieties that fuel the horror genre. Written in 1971, The Lathe of Heaven was nominated for both a Hugo and a Nebula award, and won the Locus Award for Best Novel in 1972. It was also adapted for TV twice, so you’ve probably heard of it, even if you haven’t read it.
The protagonist is George Orr, a draftsman whose life is more or less unremarkable, aside from one small thing—his dreams have the ability to alter reality. Alas, while George can dream “effectively,” he is unable to control what he dreams; and when reality changes, George is the only living soul who retains any memory of the pre-dream world. This concept is, by itself, pretty fucking terrifying—dreams and nightmares have long been rich fodder for horror authors, and the idea that one’s nocturnal imaginings can have an impact on the real world is pretty chilling.
But the narrative grows darker when George is coerced by shadowy governmental figures into undergoing “voluntary” therapy sessions, under the guidance of Dr. William Haber. Needless to say, Dr. Haber doesn’t exactly have George’s best interests at heart; instead, he seeks to use George’s power to change the world by hooking up to a machine known as The Augmentor.
Like much of Le Guin’s work, The Lathe of Heaven tackles social themes, amongst them racism, environmentalism, and nuclear war. As concrete reality dissolves and Dr. Haber becomes increasingly demanding and malevolent, doctor and patient tumble through a series of utopic and dystopic landscapes until George is forced to face that which he truly fears: himself. Le Guin is a master of her craft, and her expertly constructed narrative will have you hooked till the very last page.
Join us again tomorrow, when we’ll unveil our number two pick for greatest (read: Kia’s favorite) woman-authored horror novel. Till next time–sweet screams (I mean…dreams. Dreams.)
Kia Groom is founding editor of Quaint Magazine, and a hardcore horror fan (ever since her best friend strapped her to a chair and forced her to watch The Ring in 11th grade). The recipient of an Academy of American Poets award, and the runner-up for the 2014 Judith Wright Poetry Prize, Kia’s work has been published in Midnight Echo, the official magazine of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association, as well as journals such as Cordite, Going Down Swinging, Westerly, Permafrost, Inky Needles. You can find her online at kiagroom.com and she tweets@whodreamedit.