Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽'s Reviews > The Word for World is Forest

The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
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really liked it
bookshelves: science-fiction
Read 2 times. Last read November 2017.

3.5 stars, rounding up. Final review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:

In The Word for World is Forest, Ursula Le Guin’s 1972 Hugo Award-winning novella, she works out her frustrations with the Vietnam War, colonialism, and ecologically insensitive societies. The human colonists on the world Athshe have enslaved the 3-foot tall, furry green native people and have created ecological disaster everywhere they go. They’re stripping the forests for logging purposes, as timber is worth more than gold back on Earth, to the point that (unlikely as it may seem) it’s a profitable venture to ship logs back to Earth at sub-light speeds.

When Captain Don Davidson ― a perfectly loathsome man who spews racist, crude, and ignorant thoughts and words at every turn; the scenes from his point of view are like wallowing in a cesspool ― rapes one of native women, who he doesn’t really view as human, it proves to be the turning point in the relationship between the human colonists and the formerly peaceful natives.

Le Guin writes a powerful, somewhat allegorical tale; it’s just too bad she uses such a scenery-chewing, one-dimensional villain to make her point. The Word for World is Forest is a very moralizing, preachy story, but there are parts that are subtler, and as a whole it will stick with me. It was written in 1968, and there are some definite resemblances to the later movies Return of the Jedi (Ewoks, anyone?) and Avatar; the inspiration seems fairly clear. The connection has raised enough discussion that Le Guin expressly distances herself from the latter film in the Introduction to the recently published two-volume Library of America collection, Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories (“Since the film completely reverses the book’s moral premise, presenting the central and unsolved problem of the book, mass violence, as a solution, I’m glad I had nothing to do with it.”). Le Guin’s ending confronts that “unresolved problem,” in one of the stronger scenes in the story, making it clear that a society’s adoption of violence as a means to an end, while it may win the immediate battle, is a Pandora’s Box.

I first read The Word for World is Forest about twenty years ago; I think I even still have the paperback with this cheesy cover:


I have to say that I definitely appreciated it more this time around, in large part because I’ve been reading Le Guin’s other Hainish Cycle novels and stories in the LOA collection. Familiarity with her other Hainish works enhances the background setting and grounds the subplot relating to ansible communications from Earth and visiting personnel from other worlds. This time around the real meaning of the title also dawned on me: humans call their world “Earth,” and we are primarily tied to the land and ground, but for the Athsheans, it is the interconnected, living trees and forests that define their world. Hence, in the Athshean language the word for “world” and “forest” is the same. That intriguing concept and the importance of lucid dreaming in the Athshean culture, and their relevance to the plot, added some much-needed depth to this novella.

I received a free copy of this for review as part of a two volume set, Ursula K. Le Guin: The Hainish Novels and Stories, which I recommend highly to anyone who likes thoughtful SF.
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Reading Progress

1990 – Started Reading
1990 – Finished Reading
February 8, 2014 – Shelved
November, 2017 – Started Reading
November, 2017 – Finished Reading
November 3, 2017 – Shelved as: science-fiction

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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Peter Tillman "Le Guin writes a powerful story; it's just too bad she uses such a scenery-chewing, one-dimensional villain to make her point. It's a very moralizing, preachy story, but there are parts that are subtler, and as a whole it will stick with me. "

Why I havn't reread it lately. Villain is Poster child for "bad Ursula", in the old rasfw-speak. Of course, she's too good a writer to be really all bad.

As always, thanks for the many, many thoughtful reviews you post here. What, you don't sleep?

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Who needs sleep? ;)

Peter Tillman Me?

Peter Tillman Ooh! Ooh!
*Women Seeking Men*

Three grad students looking for men.
Our favorite activities are:
1. Eating
2. Drinking
3. Sleeping
4. Making fun of people. [from Tucson Weekly]

Peter Tillman I like driving around with my two cats, especially on the freeway.
I make them wear little hats so that I can use the carpool lane.
Way too much time on your hands too? Call me. SWF, 42, 5'10",
brown/blue. [from LA Freep]

Peter Tillman I keep a file of this stuff, from the USENET days. In case you're wondering....

Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ I was thinking these were rather random ... Funny, though.

Peter Tillman Well, good. I don't recall carpool lanes in SLC, but you see many cars with VERY DARK tinted windows in the SoCal carpool lanes. Could be kitties in VERY TALL hats for all we know.....
I wonder if the kids still use want ads for courting? ["Hooking up"]
Craig's List?

I was comparing notes with my CT brother in law -- he started dating my sister 47 yrs ago! [ I've been with my wife for 39 yrs.] He remembers borrowing my copy of John D. McDonald's "Wine of the Dreamers" (which wasn't new then} some 40 yrs ago! I better chk to see if he gave it back. Good book, since you're rereading the classics.

Incidentally, Van is the son of a Midland TX oil millionaire. And a helluva nice guy. So Beth did all right.....

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