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The Word for World Is Forest (1972)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Hainish Cycle, Chronological (2), Hainish Cycle (5)

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2,143675,437 (3.76)91
When the Athsheans, the inhabitants of a peaceful world, are conquered by the bloodthirsty Yumens, they retaliate against their captors, abandoning their rules against violence and endangering the very foundations of their society.
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» See also 91 mentions

English (60)  Spanish (3)  Italian (3)  All languages (66)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
This story had me hooked from the first! The Athsheans were such a brilliantly conceived and wonderfully written people, and the Terrans the perfect example of humanities flaws.

What I especially liked was how much detail and consideration had gone into the world and culture of the Athsheans in such a short novel. The degree of world building was truly astounding.

This was the first book by Ursula K. Le Guin I've ever read, but she is straight up one of my favourite authors already. ( )
  TCLinrow | Mar 17, 2021 |
This story had me hooked from the first! The Athsheans were such a brilliantly conceived and wonderfully written people, and the Terrans the perfect example of humanities flaws.

What I especially liked was how much detail and consideration had gone into the world and culture of the Athsheans in such a short novel. The degree of world building was truly astounding.

This was the first book by Ursula K. Le Guin I've ever read, but she is straight up one of my favourite authors already. ( )
  TCLinrow | Mar 17, 2021 |
Written in 1972 within the context of the Vietnam War, the Gung-ho military guys are stereotypical 1960s "baby killers", smoking dope, dropping napalm on forests from helicopters, shooting up villagers. Feels dated. Was curious about it as an ecological parable to see if it had anything original. The world itself is cool and exciting to think there might be places like it in reality, but yeah, I'm sure humans if they ever got there would consume everything, that is our nature. But so is conservation, leaves you wondering which will prevail. ( )
1 vote Stbalbach | Feb 18, 2021 |
Ursula K. Le Guin is an author whose works I've not yet discovered. I have, however, read a short-story several years ago: Old Music and the Slave Women, in a Dutch translation of the anthology [b:Verre horizons: Nieuwe verhalen van de meesters van de science fiction|11507611|Verre horizons Nieuwe verhalen van de meesters van de science fiction|Robert Silverberg|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1306876472s/11507611.jpg|46244] (Far Horizons). I found the story alright, but found it (at least at that time) hard to get into. It is said to take place in the same world as [b:The Dispossessed|13651|The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle #6)|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1353467455s/13651.jpg|2684122] (on my TBR-pile) and [b:The Left Hand of Darkness|33830160|The Left Hand of Darkness|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1484042359s/33830160.jpg|817527] (on my wish-list). I might re-read the story later.

Another story that takes place in that world is [b:The Word for World Is Forest|7672380|The Word for World Is Forest|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1312066600s/7672380.jpg|3256815]. I really liked the setup, the description at the back. And as Le Guin applied a humanistic approach to her writing... Besides, my edition is "only" 189 pages long/short.

Space Opera SF, you could call it. Man colonises a planet and uses the local resources to supply Earth, as Earth's resources have long been or are on the verge of being depleted. Way to go, humans, way to go. Then again, what's new?

As man encounters the local inhabitants (consisting of different people), the procedure is, as it is even on Earth: occupy and conquer. Exterminate who stands in your way. Use locals as workforce. And so on.
The locals (creechies, human-like creatures with green fur and very peaceful - or naive?) are different from the humans (here mentioned as 'yumen', singular, and 'yumens', plural).

At some point, the Athsheans, led by Selver (who became close friends with one of the scientists among the yumens, Lyubov, who taught Selver the yumen language, while Selver did the same with his), do begin to retaliate against the yumens, and so abandon their anti-violence principle. Necessity knows no law, if circumstances demand specific actions. Despite all the weapons and modern technology, the creechies still outnumber the yumens, listen very carefully to how their captors communicate, how the lay of the land (eh, enclosure) is, and so on. One day, this knowledge would come in handy to drive out the yumens with their own weapons. As the saying goes: when push comes to shove... From one extreme to the next: non-violence to one/a few ferocious outbursts.

Also, as the title indicates, the forest is primordial in the survival of the world and its inhabitants. The forest is more than a forest No forest = no world = no life. All is connected, all life is one.

All's well that ends well, as you can imagine (i.e. the humans are driven back, back to the zone they destroyed, back to where no life dwells and nothing grows), but in the meantime, the damage is done. A large part of the forest gone, the soil not being as fertile any more (the yumens wanting to grow a sort of grass where there were once many trees). Just like in real life.


Even if this story dates from 1972, it's not bound by time, as man has always considered nature and Earth a sort of playground to dig for resources until there's no tomorrow. Other populations? Who cares, we are more intelligent, we are thus higher on the evolutionary ladder. Current examples: Africa, South America, the fracking for oil, the Amazonian forest, ... digging for oil, for iron ore, for diamonds, and so on. Exploiting nature's reserves, exploiting local populations, ... Long term consequences? Pollution, famine, migration, no more biodiversity, more deaths, natural disasters (Earth retaliating against its "captors"), ...

Racism, discrimination, ecological disasters, segregation, they're all in this "short" story.

For the setup, the themes, I can only recommend it. A similar story can be found in, for example, Robert Silverberg's [b:Downward to the Earth|25509124|Downward to the Earth|Robert Silverberg|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1450533462s/25509124.jpg|953818], Adrian Tchaikovsky's [b:Children of Time|34200015|Children of Time|Adrian Tchaikovsky|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1486560216s/34200015.jpg|45276208], ...

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I do have a few remarks:
* A relatively large lack of comma's. I had to re-read several phrases to understand what was written.
* Some typos. Didn't anybody check this text for such things?
* Not always easy to "see" what's going on. Or, if only Mrs Le Guin had separated some phrases into new paragraphs instead of linking them directly with the preceding ones, especially if it concerns new happenings. ( )
  TechThing | Jan 22, 2021 |
just what I needed.
delicious vintage Le guin. the characters are beautifully well drawn such that you can feel compassion for the most repulsive of characters. ( )
  mjhunt | Jan 22, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Le Guin, Ursula K.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chiconi, OscarCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Courtney, R.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Elson, PeterCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Horne, MatildeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lokka, PirkkoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
MacLeod, KenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pariseau, KevinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Powers, Richard M.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stege, GiselaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thole, KarelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Valla, RiccardoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vallorani, NicolettaForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Jean who went ahead
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Two pieces of yesterday were in Captain Davidson's mind when he woke, and he lay looking at them in the darkness for a while.
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When the Athsheans, the inhabitants of a peaceful world, are conquered by the bloodthirsty Yumens, they retaliate against their captors, abandoning their rules against violence and endangering the very foundations of their society.

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