The Word for World is Forest

For such a small book, Le Guin has packed an incredible amount of emotion into this novel. Barring the title, World is a tight, succinct, detailed look at what happens when a society is forced to change.

On faraway planets, many years from Earth, humanity has rediscovered lost brothers of ours. Colonizing humans who have been so far removed from their home planet that they are completely different physically and mentally. (She explores a very similar motif in her more famous novel The Left Hand of Darkness). On many worlds, our relatives are very similar. Human light if you will.

On the world the novel takes place though, the human inhabitants are very different. They are short, covered in green fur, and resemble monkeys. Their culture, society, and mannerisms are so different it is difficult for Terrans to see them as anything other than animals.

And if they are animals, we can exploit them right?

Lacking the capacity for war or even murder, the natives are easy pickings for corporate interests. What they lack in knowledge, they make up for in their ability to learn. They will learn how to fight, and how to murder, just like humans should.

Le Guin has a gift for differing perspectives. She follows three characters. One, a tortured former slave who will lead his people to war. One, a manifest destiny type, humans above all aggro-masculine manager. And a scientist trying to understand the differences between the two. Essentially, we see the same events through three very unique sets of eyes. It’s heartbreaking, top notch stuff. My heart was very heavy after finishing this book, watching a peaceful people learn how to murder. And when they eventually win, how they can’t forget how to murder now that they know. Original sin has entered the game.

It’s like a novelization of Avatar. But, you know, good.

3.5 out of 4 stars.

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