Book Review: The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin
Official FC Rating:
My partner, Sean, and I have a lot in common, but an area where we definitely differ is the genre of sci-fi. Sean loves sci-fi. When he isn’t reading something non-fiction, his fiction genre of choice is frequently of the sci-fi variety. Me? Not so much. As much as I enjoy weird elements in the novels I read, with limited exceptions, I’ve never really gravitated towards sci-fi.
Sean highly recommended I read The Word for World is Forest by Ursula LeGuinn, who is a renown sci-fi writer. He told me some of the themes of the novel, and I decided I’d give it a shot. This may sound odd, but I did enjoy the themes of the novel, but I didn’t really like the novel itself.
The Word for World is Forest takes place in the distant future where humans are colonizing other planets in the galaxy. It is implied that we essentially destroyed Earth’s natural resources and thus rely on resources from planets far from Earth (referred to as Terra, in the future). As a logging military branch from Terra colonizes the planet, Athshe, they terrorize, enslave, torture and destroy the habitat of the natives, Athsheans, who are described as being like small men, but covered in green fur and hair. Before the humans, referred to as “yumens” by the Athsheans, arrived, Athshe was known for its peacefulness and was covered in a luscious forest. Led by the Athshean Selver, the Athsheans are eventually left with no choice but to abandon their peaceful nature and strike back against their bloodthirsty masters. The story follows through the war that ends up taking place on Athshe.
A clear commentary on the evils of colonialism, greed, racism, and environmental destruction, the themes of this novel are important, and I very much agreed with Le Guin’s perspective. However, I felt that the execution of the novel itself fell flat for me. It was just too strange for my taste, and I always struggle with novels when I can’t get close to any particular character. Maybe I just don’t get sci-fi, but what frustrated me most was just the odd setting of this novel. I feel like the messages Le Guin gets across loud and clear in this novel could have been made in a setting that was slightly less bizarre.
Ursula Le Guin is a respected sci-fi novelist, and while I didn’t particularly enjoy this novel, I entirely respect Le Guin’s writing and skill. This brand of sci-fi might just not be for me; however, for those that are socially conscious and are also sci-fi fans, this book will be a perfect fit for you.