Clay Kallam's Reviews > The Word for World is Forest

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
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Jul 05, 2011

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bookshelves: sf-fantasy
Read in November, 2010

Perhaps seeking to build on the success of the movie Avatar, Tor has re-released Ursula LeGuin’s Hugo-winning classic, “The Word for World Is Forest” (Tor, $11.99, 189 pages). The reason? There’s an invasion of a distant planet by humans, a planet that already holds a less-advanced civilization, at least technologically speaking.

LeGuin has said that “The Word for World Is Forest” was greatly influenced by the Vietnam War (the novella upon which it is based came out in 1972; the book in 1976), but in the 21st century, it has a much stronger ecological resonance. The concept is that homo sapiens has landed on a planet that is almost all forest, and that all the wood on Earth has disappeared due to environmental collapse. Naturally, then, humans go about extracting as much wood as possible to ship back to Earth, and basically enslave the locals in order to do so.

Though I’m a huge fan of LeGuin, I don’t think “The Word for World Is Forest” holds up as well as many of her works, especially because the villain is so clearly a stereotype and not a person, and also because we have advanced so much further down the ecological road than we had in 1976 that now she is preaching to the choir.

Usually, I heartily recommend reissues of the classics, but I’m afraid this one isn’t really worth the $11.99 – especially since it’s really a padded-out novella that only gets to 189 pages thanks to big print, wide margins and lots of space between lines.
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