- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; Second edition (July 6, 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780765324641
- ISBN-13: 978-0765324641
- ASIN: 0765324644
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 91 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #59,532 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Word for World is Forest Paperback – July 6, 2010
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“Le Guin writes in quiet, straightforward sentences about people who feel they are being torn apart by massive forces in society― technological, political, economic―and who fight courageously to remain whole.” ―The New York Times Book Review
“Like all great writers of fiction, Ursula K. L e Guin creates imaginary worlds that restore us, hearts eased, to our own.” ―The Boston Globe
About the Author
Ursula K. Le Guin (1929-2018) was the author of more than three dozen books for children and adults, including her groundbreaking novels The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed, both honored with Nebula and Hugo awards for best novel. She was also awarded a Newbury Honor for the second volume of the Earthsea Cycle, The Tombs of Atuan, and among her many other distinctions are the Margaret A. Edwards Award, a National Book Award, and additional Nebula and Hugo awards. Her other books include The Eye of the Heron, The Word for World is Forest, and the Hainish series. In 2014, Le Guin was named the Medalist for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by the National Book Foundation.
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The story rotates between several point-of-view characters, all of them well-drawn with distinct voices, though not all of them have depth; between them you see the storm developing that will shatter New Tahiti and change the Athsheans forever. Captain Davidson is a dominant soldier, more than ready to push the Athsheans back by force in retaliation for their attack; disagreeing with the colony’s leaders, he forms his own guerrilla force to enact vengeance. Lyubov is with the colony’s science staff, one of the few people who has some comprehension of the Athshean culture and society. Selver is one of the Athsheans; when his wife dies after Davidson rapes her, Selver does what the Terrans considered unthinkable and fights. He continues that fight against the destructive Terrans, who continue to plunder the forests—and as the title points out, the Athshean word for “world” and “forest” is the same.
Compared to Le Guin's best, this one is something of a lesser read---the tone is very didactic, Davidson is a bit too cartoonish in his villainy, and there's a number of obvious cliches at play here. It's very much a work from the early '70s, reflecting the anger and frustration of Vietnam, Woman's Lib, and the growing environmentalist movement, all of which are major themes in the novel. I left The Word for the World is Forest thinking that another hundred pages and some additional polishing would have mitigated its flaws, turning a strong novel into a great one. But aside from the brevity and clichés, Le Guin's prose still shines, and the execution is quite good... the rotating-PoV in particular is well done, allowing the reader to learn quite a bit of information, and see both sides of the story, in a natural way that precludes exposition. Her parable hits you with all the subtlety of a Mack truck---it's not the nuanced, layered novel that Left Hand of Darkness or The Disposessed are---but it's a surprisingly entertaining novel, and well worth the few hours it'll take to read through its 190 pages.
The original context was the Vietnam War, but with ecocide much further along today than it was in 1972, the environmental message is more timely than ever. As fiction this is not nearly as good as later works like "The Dispossessed" or "Always Coming Home," but though simple, it packs a punch.
I wonder whether Andre Norton's 1966 novel "Victory On Janus" was an influence on both Le Guin and Cameron. Her novel with a similar plot and theme includes humans who transform and become part of the indigenous people fighting against their off-world based destruction. That element is not present in Le Guin, but it is in Cameron.
As usual, Le Guin does an excellent job of imagining, and describing, the near infinite diversity of human life. 'The Word for World is Forest' is a fun, quick read, filled with decent dialogue and lots of action. The character development is woven in nicely to the narrative and the plot, and the plot has a good pace. In fact, the pacing is the book's strongest technical aspect. Le Guin does an excellent job of changing perspective as well as establishing character motivation. This book is also a fun look into the development of her multi-planetary society from the perspective of a peripheral planet.
The hero, Selver Thele, the native society and the anthropologist become quite complex throughout the story's development. Le Guin does, as per usual, an excellent job of building a coherent, nuanced society, established through it's historical and environmental context and by the interactions of its members.
The villain, Captain Davidson, is perhaps the largest detriment to the book's overall quality. He is entirely unlikable, is racist, misogynist, violent, jingoistic and has no regard for nature. He is an ugly caricature of a 'man's man' and has no complexity beyond that. He is placed in direct contrast to the heroes, the Athsheans who are a race of peace-loving, nature-oriented natives with low technology and dreaming mystics. The anthropologist who is charged with studying this sub-species of humanity seeks to ensure their protection through academic and political endeavours. The Athsheans are enslaved for labor and sex by the Terran military. These Terrans are charged with logging the planet to aid Earth's waning resources. The Athsheans rise up and begin guerilla warfare against the Terran military. The central hero, Selver Thele, an Athshean brutalized by Captain David, leads the assaults. The anthropologist realizes that that the Terran military in general and Captain David specifically have taught Selver, and by extension all Athsheans, hate, violence and death. Fortunately there is a semi-happy ending with the defeat of the local Terrans and the legitimization of their peace-agreement by the new Terran government.
Le Guin's blatant ideological preaching can be a little distracting at times.
Overall, this is a good book. Even though the ideological themes and the handling of the villain were clumsy, and the heroes got favored development, the pacing and world-building were quite enjoyable. For those who read Le Guin's work in published order, this book is also an interesting look at Le Guin's growth as a writer.