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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars

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on 3 April 2017
Written in 1972 with the US war in Asia fresh in the mind, this short novel is about humans landing on a forest world inhabited by peaceful, intelligent green monkeys. Or short, green, furry humans, depending on your point of view. Deforestation starts, the monkeys are subdued and enslaved. Some of the women monkeys are raped. Some of the men are pubicly castrated. The monkeys are different, in that they have waking dreams and sometimes the dreams become reality. One monkey in particular, whose wife was raped and killed by a macho racist bigot soldier rebels and 200 humans are killed. From there, there is a tense stand off, with the humans having helicopters and fire power and the monkeys having numbers and the benefit of local knowledge.
It's a quiet, thoughtful book. Definitely worth a read.
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on 30 June 2017
Brilliant book. Another excellent and thought provoking tale from a master of her craft
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on 16 June 2017
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on 22 April 2017
Amazing book. I recommend.
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on 11 August 2010
Superb! This short novel is on one level a critique of American tactics and prejudice during the Vietnam War (coming to its end as the book was written) and also a study of how different humans can be and how hard it is to understand one another, a study of how so-called 'primitive' people have levels of wisdom that show the insanity of Western technological-man destroying his environment in the name of progress. I am sure that James Cameron must have been aware of this book prior to making 'Avatar'. It's a shame he did not utilise more of the book's subtlety in his film. As an Ursula Le Guin novel the writing is impeccable as ever.
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on 22 February 2017
So-so. Simple and clichéd narrative. Rather slight and a bit self-regarding. Think of it as a precursor of “Avatar” without the excitement.
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on 4 May 2017
More a novella than a full novel, "The Word For World Is Forest" is Le Guin's extrapolation of aggressive, arrogant industrial-militarism, here shown in an all-out attempt to plunder the resources of an arboreal planet whose inhabitants are contemptuously referred to as "creechies". The analogy to the USA's involvement in Vietnam is fairly clear but the story transcends that "real" milieu to examine the whole idea of destructive intolerance and the lack of empathy or respect between different cultures and ways of seeing. In that sense, it becomes a timeless parable. "Otherness", I feel, is at the heart of nearly all of Le Guin's fiction, this slim volume being no exception. I'm convinced, like other reviewers, that James Cameron must have been aware of it, and probably also the Dragons of Pern books by Anne McCaffrey, when he directed "Avatar"....
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on 25 November 2006
"Many words of the Women's Tongue, the everyday speech of the Athsheans, came from the Men's Tongue that was the same in all communities, and these words often were not only two-syllabled but two-sided. They were coins, obverse and reverse...Often [the two meanings] were connected, yet not so often as to constitute a rule."

- anthropologist Raj Lyubov, herein

Athshe is a world of ocean and islands, whose land-dwelling lifeforms were obviously imported from Earth about a million years ago. Similar enough to be recognizable - and to trip up Earth-humans attempting to understand the people of Athshe who fail to take into account the subtle differences. The land-based portion of the ecosystem is small, but stable - forests that keep the topsoil from washing away, a small population packed relatively close together, with a culture that channels their aggression into (mostly) non-violent outlets. In particular, while they're in an environment unsuitable for some kinds of development, they've mastered the arts of controlling their dreams. Their language is a particularly interesting key in understanding their culture.

Then the humans of Earth arrived, determined to exploit the planet for its resources and colonize it, faced with a native population without a tradition of warfare or advanced weaponry with which to fight - a population which those in charge aren't interested in understanding, but who aren't fools, and who are being *shown* how to make war in a series of pitiless, unending lessons.

In an interesting twist, two of the three viewpoint characters are Earth-humans, representing opposing points of view on Athshe's true worth and the worth of its people, while the third is a Dreamer of Athshe. Davidson, who fancies himself as a pioneer and Conquistador, opens the book with his bigoted view of the native "creechies" - only to find himself flat on his back, at the mercy of a man whose wife he killed, left alive to carry a message back to the other humans. Lyubov, the planet's only anthropologist and the only human to have properly studied the languages of its people, provides a window through which the reader can gain a clearer understanding of Athshe's culture. Finally, Selver, Lyubov's friend and Davidson's victim, has become a god among his people, though what that means isn't quite what an Earth human might think; and having learned what will happen if the humans are left unresisted, he has also absorbed their lessons of warfare. The contrast between Davidson's view of Athshe - rotting forests to be cleared away, animals to hunt - and that of Selver's people is in itself worth reading the book for. (In fact, the nuances of Athshe culture that lead them to practice warfare, and the accompanying nuances of understanding their language and their mastery of dreams are as important, if not more so, than the brewing revolt.)

Less than three thousand aggressive, armed Earth people - only a few hundred of them women, incidentally - against a native population of about three million, wherein the Earth people are cut off from the rest of interstellar civilization by the barrier of lightspeed. The lack of supply lines is a serious handicap to the better-equipped Earth-people, but numbers and familiarity with the terrain are on the side of those born on Athshe.

As one outsider points out, "You have not thought things through." The ecological disaster shaping up on Athshe is quite logical in its development - the loggers are following profitable plans of exploitation drawn up on Earth, where the communications lag prevented sensible feedback from being applied when the native ecology was better understood, and naturally enough, military and management personnel are in charge on "New Tahiti", not ecologists, and they don't *want* to believe that logging out the islands will turn them into desert rather than farmland. The slow build-up of native resistance is due to most of Athshe's people not having even seen the new invaders, while few of those who *have* suffered from them are in a position to make their people see the danger, being enslaved under conditions that for an Athshean interfere with the ability to think clearly, since Earth-human and Athshean sleeping patterns differ as much as their cultures do.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 November 2012
One of LeGuin's early SF books, in which a peaceful, forest-dwelling people on a planet covered in trees, encounter a strange race in spaceships who come along bent on plunder. The arboreal people literally use the word 'forest' for their world as they know nothing else. So the invaders are "cutting down the world as they come."
This is not her best work, because the simplicity of the tale cannot rival The Left Hand of Darkness or The Dispossessed. But we can see her style and sense of storytelling about a different race developing.
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on 3 December 2016
LeGuin has a gift for seeing inside the mind. As we view the story from within the mindset of its characters, we can grasp how tragedies like war or murder occur. That mind's blindspots are revealed by their absence, and may be caused by training.

There are many implications resulting from the insights in this story. One example is that exposure to a behaviour results in a change to our psychology. This means that what we choose for entertainment, or for that of our children, does affect our minds.

Another is to do with the subject of obedience. Is a slave or a 'volunteer' obedient due to fear or loyalty, compulsion or choice? What of a soldier, or a member of any hierarchical organisation? How far does duty go, and in which circumstances is it morally right to rebel?

All this and more is considered in within this entertaining tale, which is beautifully written, and depicts an alien world so well that it would sell holidays there.
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