The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K Le Guin: Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS

Well, time got away from me a bit with everything I have going on in my personal life at the minute (end of the academic year is… full-on!) and I didn’t manage to post a review last weekend. I did have this post ready to go live, and apologies to anyone who saw it pop up last week with just the images and no text! I should really learn to not schedule posts with no text, but I just find it easier to bulk-schedule once I’ve planned and then copy and paste the text in once it’s ready to go! This weekend is going to be where I can focus on my July content, however, so hopefully I’ll get a couple of posts ready to go. Today, I’m talking about a book I read (and planned to review!) last week, The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K Le Guin.

Le Guin is such a famous author in the world of science fiction (and the wider literary world) that I am surprised that I know so little about her works. However, this book caught my eye when I was browsing, and as one of my goals for this reason year was to branch out into different genres, and science fiction is one of the genres I wanted to read more of.

In The Word for World is Forest, the scene is set on a distant planet, colonised by humans, who have apparently selected the planet for its propensity of wood. The natives, much like humans in appearance, but short, and covered in green fur, are enslaved by the humans to help in their logging work. Naturally, this master/slave relationship turns out to not sit well with the natives, who end up revolting.

Le Guin’s writing is excellent, and as a reader I felt truly drawn into this world. In many ways it felt like Earth, but at the same time it was evident that the setting was alien. I did wish that more of the book was dedicated to the point of view of the native people (colloquially known as creechies, or more formally as Athsheans): the second chapter gives a fascinating insight into the culture of these people, but then this gets sidelined as the book progresses in favour of following the humans and the downfall of their colony.

As characters, none of the humans were particularly memorable for me, and the majority of the native people weren’t given enough time on the page to become fully developed independent characters. There was one Athshean, Selver, who did feature enough to feel like a fully developed character, but even then, I wished we had been able to experience his perspective more.

The plot was where this book really stood out for me. The main reason I normally steer clear of SFF is down to preferring to read literature that offers a commentary on our own society, which escapism SFF doesn’t usually provide. However, that isn’t to say that SFF can’t produce commentary on our society, as Le Guin is more than capable of doing so. Obviously, this book is dealing with colonialism, and is a very thinly veiled warning against colonialism, and the rights of native peoples to their own land and customs. While not the most subtle allegory, Le Guin does manage to change the audience’s perspective throughout the book, from pro- to anti-human, and therefore turns the reader towards anticolonialism. The Athsheans, initially, are presented as more like animals than people, but once the second chapter arrives, and with it their perspective, the reader is able to see how their society operates in similar ways to our own, and the effects that the humans are callously having on the lives of these people.

This message definitely isn’t a new one, and is certainly widely explored in literature, but it’s definitely a theme that I seek out, but haven’t (until now) really sought out in SFF. If you have any recommendations for more SFF that deals with colonialism, racism, or offers interesting and insightful commentary into our own society through allegory, please do leave me recommendations in the comments, because I would love to read more like this.

One thought on “The Word for World is Forest – Ursula K Le Guin: Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS

  1. […] The Word for World is Forest – Ursuala K. Le Guin. 4 stars.I wanted to try to read more science fiction this year, and there are few better at science fiction than Le Guin. This was another book I picked up knowing very little about beyond the author’s reputation, but I am glad that I selected this one. It’s a quick read, but offers an interesting allegory for colonialism, through the oppression of an alien race by human loggers. The allegory may not be the most subtle, and the message wasn’t as interesting as I might have hoped, but it was still a great introduction to Le Guin, and she’s an author I’ll be keeping an eye out for. Find my review here. […]

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