18 February, 2020

[Review] The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. Le Guin

Cover image from the goodreads website.

Series or Stand Alone: Hainish Cycle #5
Release Date: 17 March, 1972 (audio 7 December, 2009)
Publisher: Audible Frontiers
Genre: Science Fiction/Colonial Science Fiction/Adventure
ASIN: B00304MW0Y
Edition: Audiobook
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Review Written: 3 February, 2020
Warnings: Racism, Character Death, Mentions of Rape
The planet Athshe was a paradise whose people were blessed with a mystical awareness of existence.

Then the conquerors arrived and began to rape, enslave, and kill humans with a flicker of humanity. The athseans were unskilled in the ways of war, and without weapons. But the gentle tribesmen possessed strange powers over their dreams. And the alien conquerors had taught them how to hate....

See more by Ursula K Le Guin at her Website.

This book is not one I would have picked on my own, and honestly I wasn't completely enthralled when it crossed across my book club list. While I have very little opinion on the author herself (her style was a bit much for me), I don't particularly enjoy starting in the middle of series. The Hainish Cycle technically is just loosely associated but a bit of backstory would have helped me understand this better.

We started the novel with Captain Don Davidson, a man's man, and possibly the worst possible example of human nature. I spent 95% of this book wanting to punch this man in the face, and the other 5% wanting to just jettison him into space without a suit. His toxic ideas of masculinity, his mental Olympics to justify his actions, and just his general presence was enough to make me rage and consider throwing my iPod across the room. Captain Davidson starts his day out by deciding he's going to check on the new shipment of girls (yuck) who have come in from the 27 light-year journey from Earth to help add "entertainment" for the men because most were too good for the "allowed homosexuality" among the logging camp. While doing this, he actively insults several of the locals who are working "voluntarily" in the camps. (Spoiler: They're not, they're slaves, but as Davidson tells one character with in the first 10 minutes of the novel "It's not slavery if they're not human". YIKES!) 

We are introduced to Raj Lyubov, an anthropologist who has joined the logging parties in order to study the native people of New Tahiti (Athshe). The  Athsheans are describe as being roughly the size of a 6 year old child (which is subjective in and of itself, children vary in sizes but okay) and covered in fur. Perhaps the best comparison would be the bonobos. Either way, Lyubov does his best to convince the leaders of the logging communities to not disturb the local colonies too much, however given the apparently desperate need for wood (27 light-years away) on Earth, the commanders are less inclined to care if a few human rights are violated while they work. This is clearly seen in a point in the book where Lyubov realizes his reports have not been passed further down the line of command during a military trial for the destruction of Camp Smith (the one under Davidson's control). 

The final major player in this world is Selver, an Athshean who is equated to a 'god' or translator because he brings the concept of murder and mass murder into the the Athshean culture. This culture, which has previously gotten along peacefully within their own means, now has the concept of killing one another. Selver, who blames Davidson for the death of his wife, plots his revenge on the Terran humans and proceeds to wipe out Camp Smith. That done, he plots to take out the main 'city' of the loggers, Centralville. 

In a highly disjointed style, the novel seems to skip weeks and months at a time. At one point the destruction of Camp Smith is mentioned to be a month past, and the end of the book skips 3 years to the point that the colonization of the world is being discontinued and the remaining prisoners/Terrans are being removed. Honestly, this novel could be noted to be a parallel with the Vietnam Conflict (which was in the later stages during the writing and publication stages). Despite the outrage I felt towards one third of the main characters, and the definite annoyance of less scrupulous means, the novel isn't terrible for it's time period. Just be warned, you might want to punch a few guys in the throat.

No comments:

Post a Comment