Ursula K. Le Guin: The Word for World is Forest (Hardcover, 2010, Tor / Science Fiction Book Club, Tor Science Fiction Book Club) 4 stars

Centuries in the future, Terrans have established a logging colony & military base named “New …

Learning nonviolence

3 stars

I don't generally enjoy science fiction, and although I do love Ursula le Guin's theory and ideas I have never managed to finish any of her books before this one. Her writing is good, but I find that science fiction often gets too tied up in hammering home its analogies without remembering to tell a good story. The Word for World is Forest does not have this problem.

Ostensibly, this is a novel about two races of human. The first are Terrans (from Earth) who have landed on a distant planet and are cutting down its rich forested surface because there is no wood left on Earth. The other are Athsheans, who are colonised, enslaved in all but name, and are being forced to live their lives in a "terran" way by sleeping at night and working in the daytime, for example. The book weaves in the injustices of settler colonialism and the violence of technological war, telling a story that many of us are familiar with.

Although at times the book goes to great lengths to hammer its messages home, it remains interesting enough throughout. The real strength is in the way it presents "otherness". The Athsheans call their world "forest", and so all life comes from trees, just as terrans call their world "earth" as they are promethean, born from clay. Terrans cannot "dream" like the Athsheans without using hallucinogenics, and violence, once introduced as an idea to their society, cannot be unlearned.

Some of the analogies are unresolved. For example, all of the main characters are male, and no female character is given any prominent voice. Le Guin was not a writer who did things accidentally, but it's not clear whether she was critiquing how women are portrayed in similar novels, or how violence is a male obsession, or something else. Irrespective, this is still worthwhile, contemplative and an enjoyable book.