Tales of Fantasy and Wonder (Ursula K. Le Guin + Terrance Dicks)

In Ursula K. Le Guin’s 1971 science fiction novel The Lathe of Heaven, a future Portland, Oregon is redrawn according to the dreams of a gentle man who doesn’t want to hurt anybody. Sometimes I worry that old-school SF novels will bore me with endless world-building, but The Lathe of Heaven is earthy and direct, packing a wallop more like a great SF short story.

Mark Turner loves the book so much he named an album for it. My wife Sarah Deming was on a Le Guin kick recently, and read The Lathe of Heaven after I told her Mark was a big fan. She loved it as well, so I finally came to my senses and read it for myself. Highly recommended.

To let understanding stop at what cannot be understood is a high attainment. Those who cannot do it will be destroyed on the lathe of heaven. — Chuang Tzu 

A 1980 PBS production has a cult following. Sarah told me I would dig this made-for-TV movie because, “It’s like old Doctor Who.”  Yeah, the PBS translation is also great, and apparently Le Guin approved of it as well.

Speaking of: Doctor Who fandom has been processing the death of Terrance Dicks last week. Dicks was the script editor for the Jon Pertwee era and wrote a few classic stories of the Tom Baker era including Robot, The Brain of Morbius, The Horror of Fang Rock, and State of Decay. With that, he is in the pantheon for Doctor Who fans already…but there’s also his work offscreen. It is quite extraordinary how so many of us read so many Dicks novelizations for Target Books in the late 70s and early 80s.

I’ve copied the following list of off the Tardis Wiki. The books I read as a boy are in bold.

Doctor Who and the Auton Invasion
Doctor Who and the Day of the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen
Doctor Who and the Giant Robot
Doctor Who and the Terror of the Autons
Doctor Who and the Planet of the Spiders
The Three Doctors
Doctor Who and the Loch Ness Monster
Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks
The Revenge of the Cybermen
Doctor Who and the Web of Fear
Doctor Who and the Planet of the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Pyramids of Mars
Doctor Who and the Carnival of Monsters
Doctor Who and the Dalek Invasion of Earth
Doctor Who and the Claws of Axos
Doctor Who and the Brain of Morbius
Doctor Who and the Planet of Evil
Doctor Who and the Mutants
Doctor Who and the Deadly Assassin
Doctor Who and the Talons of Weng-Chiang
Doctor Who and the Face of Evil
Doctor Who and the Horror of Fang Rock
Doctor Who and the Time Warrior
Death to the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Android Invasion
Doctor Who and the Hand of Fear
Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy
Doctor Who and the Image of the Fendahl
Doctor Who and the Robots of Death
Doctor Who and the Destiny of the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Underworld
Doctor Who and the Invasion of Time
Doctor Who and the Stones of Blood
Doctor Who and the Androids of Tara
Doctor Who and the Power of Kroll
Doctor Who and the Armageddon Factor
Doctor Who and the Nightmare of Eden
Doctor Who and the Horns of Nimon
Doctor Who and the Monster of Peladon
Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child
Doctor Who and the State of Decay
Doctor Who and the Keeper of Traken
Doctor Who and the Sunmakers
Four to Doomsday
Arc of Infinity
The Five Doctors
Warriors of the Deep
The Caves of Androzani
The Mind of Evil
The Krotons
The Time Monster
The Seeds of Death
The Faceless Ones
The Ambassadors of Death
The Mysterious Planet
The Wheel in Space
The Smugglers
Planet of Giants
The Space Pirates

I can’t remember how I got the money to buy all those books from the Little Professor Bookstore in Menomonie. I was definitely helping keep them in business:  they’d be sure to stock a copy of each one as it came out because they knew ol’ Ethan would be around to grab it before too long.  The books weren’t expensive — under two dollars each, I think — but my parents were broke and I didn’t have much of an allowance. H’mm. I must have saved up any holiday gift money from relatives, plus one summer I mowed the grass at cemeteries with my Dad.

At any rate, any dedicated reader of DTM knows I can be obsessive about collecting information. The work of Terrance Dicks was one of my first “projects.”

These novelizations are not for adults, and truthfully when I’ve looked at one or two recently I can’t quite see why I loved them so much as a child, either. It’s still easy for me to enjoy the prose of brilliant young-adult stylists Ellen Raskin or Daniel Pinkwater (two others I joyfully read as a boy), but Dicks is just getting the job done in brisk and competent fashion.

As with so many dusty artifacts of pop culture, the first high romance must have been a convergence of time, place, and something in the air. Tom Baker says that Doctor Who fans, “Are in love with their own vitality,” and I guess rolling up to the Little Professor to buy Terrance Dicks was a vote of confidence in myself.


When I was “done” with the series, I donated my Terrance Dicks collection to the school library. Yep, that’s tape on my glasses. 

Matthew Guerrieri tribute.

Elizabeth Sandifer tribute.