#StaffPick: The Word for World is Forest, by Ursula Le Guin

The Word for World is Forest 
Ursula Le Guin
Tor Books, 2010
Science Fiction
Book 2 of the Hainish Cycle
Available as an eBook.

The Word for World is Forest is a science fiction novella by the late Ursula Le Guin. The book is cast in the distant future on a planet where all the habitable land is blanketed by forests. Earth-born colonists want to cut down the forests while the planet’s Indigenous population has a religious reverence of the forest. Violence ensues.

The narrative was inspired by the era Le Guin was writing in. The book came together in the middle of the Vietnam War in reaction to American foreign policy – right around the time Henry Kissinger convinced President Nixon to bomb Cambodia. Much of the book is allegorical to the Vietnam War and pulls heavily from the history of colonization.

The Word for World is Forest is a political statement, dissenting to conflict for the sake of resource exploitation. Unlike Le Guin’s other books, the plot isn’t particularly subtle. Characters inhabit archetypes without much nuance – it’s clear who’s good and who’s bad. The characterization is akin to pulp science fiction from the same era, only there’s no romantic narrative of men traveling through space to tame and civilize. The Indigenous characters recognize that, even if they resist successfully and drive out the colonists, their culture will be forever changed. Nobody “wins.” It’s a powerful work of subversive science fiction that I highly recommend.