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The Word for World is Forest Mass Market Paperback – March 21, 1991

58 customer reviews
Book 6 of 7 in the Hainish Cycle Series

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Mass Market Paperback, March 21, 1991
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Editorial Reviews


The slender book is fairly simplistic, but it's still compelling and thought-provoking. SFX It's a compact tale, a masterclass by a powerful writer who fashions a lean narrative where others might have produced a much larger, bloated tome, and yet for all the brevity Le Guin delivers not just a narrative but a believable alien world and society in short yet compelling scenes. FORBIDDEN PLANET --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Ursula K. Le Guin was born in Berkeley, California, in 1929. Her novels include Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions, and The Left Hand of Darkness. With the awarding of the 1975 Hugo and Nebula Awards to The Dispossessed, she became the first author to win both awards twice for novels. Le Guin lives in Portland, Oregon.

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Product Details

  • Mass Market Paperback: 169 pages
  • Publisher: Ace (May 15, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0441909159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0441909155
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 1 x 5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,269,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
On the planet Athshe, there is no word for war, there is no concept of murder, there is no language of hate. The world is one vast, green, gentle forest full of people who live between the world-time and the dream-time, who resolve their conflicts by means of ceremonial singing. Then the Terran League discovers Athshe's existence and a pattern of "colonization"-very similar to the exploitation of "primitive" cultures on Earth-begins to destroy the planet and its people; and, eventually, one young Athshean named Selver learns how to hate. On reading the back cover of "The Word for World is Forest" the novel struck me as being somewhat simplistic: good aliens live in tune with nature, evil destructive humans rape their planet, revenge ensues with tidy moral at the end. I was pleasantly surprised. The contrast between humans and Athsheans is much more than good-bad or nature-machine; the story is about more than the forced loss of innocence. Over the course of the novel Selver, whose wife was raped and killed by one of the human officers, becomes a god: he is the means by which new concepts are brought into the culture, and the concept which he learns and then teaches is war. The book is as much about the irreversible exchange of truly alien ideas as it is about anything.
Despite its seemingly formulaic premise, "The Word for World is Forest" is a thought-provoking and somewhat disturbing short novel written in Le Guin's usual poetic prose.
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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 28, 1997
Format: Mass Market Paperback
You can count on one thing after reading a Le Guin novel: a lot to think about afterward. This book tells of future Earthlings, who have invaded a lushly forested planet called Athshea. The natives are meter-tall humanoids covered in green fur, a peace-loving tribal culture. All the humans do seems destructive and senseless, and they decide they must find a way to make them leave. Obviously an analogy of European/American relationa/attitudes toward Third World nations; in anyone else's hands this could easily become mawkish and heavy-handed. Le Guin, on the other hand, transforms it into a powerful statement.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By D. Ben Flasher on September 12, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Much as I'm in agreement with this book's message of environmentalism and nonviolence, I found its delivery of that message to be preachy, joyless, and heavy-handed. Its tale of colonist humans and their conflict with the native Athsheans transplants the worst atrocities of colonialism's past into the future, but loses any subtlety and nuance in the process.

It doesn't help that the Athsheans embody just about every romanticized stereotype of the native primitive. Like the most Disneyfied take on Native Americans, they live amongst the trees, perfectly in balance with nature. They're deeply spiritual, with a strong, aboriginal-like connection to the dream time. And, in the book's most groan-inducing conceit, they're completely peaceful, never having even conceived of murder until it's introduced to them by humans.

The humans, on the other hand, exemplify the worst habits of colonialism to a degree that strains believability. Despite the fact that the Athsheans have learned English, only one scientist, Lyubov, sees them as intelligent beings with a worthwhile culture. The rest of the colonists treat them with disdain and virulent racism, casually beating, enslaving, and raping them (or turning a blind, indifferent eye to those who do). This never quite makes sense; the humans complain that the Athsheans aren't any good as slaves (or anything else that they use them for), and the Athsheans themselves would happily avoid the humans if left to their own devices. The humans seem to be enslaving the Athsheans purely out of spite.

As polarized as the characters' views are, Le Guin does a skillful job of getting inside the head of each. Still, though she fleshes them out well and makes them believable characters, they're not particularly engaging or likable.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ed Luhrs on March 22, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
This novel moves along. No wasted words. Sharp, pertinent symbolism, surreal imagery, and great dialogue abound.

Unfortunately, I think Le Guin picked a title that prompts ordinary folk to go: huh? "The Word for World Is Forest," however, is a Le Guin masterpiece. It is charged with the best in her, the energy of her earlier days.

At her worst, Le Guin's writing can be pedantic and sleep-inducing. Yet she has written so much that is excellent that I cannot help but have a great deal of respect for her. This novel is one of the quickest jolts of science fiction fun that I have yet to experience. It moves swiftly, and its meaning stays with you for a long time.

* * *

Eleven years later, let me add: much of her newer stuff is great too. I just read some of the stories in The Birthday of the World. Wow. I need to read more. She'll always be one of my all-time favorites.
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