Sunday, August 15, 2010

Edi's Spotlight: The Word For World Is Forest by Ursula K Le Guin

Once again I have to Tor/Forge publicist Cassandra Ammerman for sending us a copy of the US paperback edition of The Word For World Is Forest (pb ,re-released 2010; first published 1976) [ISBN-13: 978-0765324641] by Ursula K. Le Guin.
"When the inhabitants of a peaceful world are conquered by the bloodthirsty Yumens, their existence is irrevocably altered. Forced into servitude, the Athsheans find themselves at the mercy of their brutal masters.
Desperation causes the Athsheans, led by Selver, to retaliate against their captors, abandoning their strictures against violence. But defending their lives, they have endangered the very foundations of their society, for every blow against the invaders is a blow to the humanity of the Athsheans. And once the killing starts, there is no turning back."
Two things before I start with my review.

1. Let quote some more information from Cassandra about a novel written when I was just thirteen years old (OMG, how old I am).
"Based on a novella Le Guin wrote in 1972, The Word For World Is Forest was inspired by the Vietnam War.
Its influence and reach have been immeasurable, with references throughout several decades of pop culture. A copy of the book was seen in the background of the Stanley Kubrik film Full Metal Jacket, and it is alluded to in Stephen King's novel The Stand. Even now, The Word For World Is Forest remains relevant: in December 2009, critic Gary Westfahl compared the blockbuster film Avatar to Le Guin's novel in an issue of Locus."
2. For more background information about The Word For World Is Forest I recommend to read the related Wikipedia entry.

Unbelievable for any SFF enthusiast but true The Word For World Is Forest has been my first Ursula K. Le Guin read. I read the 190 pages within a day. I must admit I can't remember the last book I read with similar length.
Anyway the length of a novel does not say anything about the quality of the content.

The first thing which surprised me has been the prose: Elegant and timeless after all these years. If somebody had told me before, The Word For World Is Forest has been written in 2009 I would have believed it without doubt.

Story wise I have been surprised by the depth of the story. Of course the similarities between Avatar and The Word For World Is Forest are obvious. But there is more behind The Word For World Is Forest. It is the collision of two worlds and their cultures. It is the collision between the primacy of economy paired with reckless power on the one side and people who are as one with nature and themselves. Of course there are also humans who area bit more aware of the Athsheans' culture but they are exceptions. One of the most fascinating characters is the Athshean protagonist Selver. The novel has been too short to show the whole complexity of this character.
I know that a lot of people found the "bad" human protagonist Davidson flat ad predictable. Initially I would agree. But you need to think about this character. He is nothing more than a fanatic in pure form. He is in himself one dimensional. Our history (military and religious) is full of them and you find them still nowadays....

Finally let me say that The Word For World Is Forest is still more than worth reading after more than 38 years.
And there is the shattering insight that after 38 years mankind did not change and will not change in future which means The Word For World Is Forest is a reflection of our society in form of a science fiction novel.
Poor, poor Earth and other planets...


Aude said...

Enjoyed your review and tried to find the book, looks like you gave the ISBN for another book.
# ISBN-10: 0765324644
# ISBN-13: 978-0765324641

ediFanoB said...


oops! I made a mistake. Thank you very much for your hint.

I replace the wrong ISBN-13 with the right one.

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