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The Word For World Is Forest (1989)

The Word for World is Forest (1989)

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About book The Word For World Is Forest (1989)

Part evocative and subtle, part heavy-handed but still compelling.This is a novella about the devastation a human colony wreaks on a forested world and its inhabitants, and how the inhabitants must fight back despite their habitual peacefulness -- written by a U.S. author during the U.S.'s participation in the Vietnam War.... You see why it might be heavy-handed.The story is told from three alternating perspectives. We open with Captain Davidson, a macho human-chauvinist, the author of many outrages against the Althsheans, whom he calls "creechies." Then, Selver, an Althshean man and Dreamer, whose story we take up shortly after he has led an attack on human camp that will change everything forever. The third perspective is that of Raj Luyubov, sole human anthropologist attached to the colony and, it seems, the only human in the colony who really takes the colony's responsibilities to the Althsheans seriously.The Selver chapters, and the parts of Luyubov's where we learn more about the Althsheans, are interesting for the Althshean worldbuilding. LeGuin doesn't go into great detail, but there are some very thought-provoking tidbits: what the Althsheans mean when they say "god"; how they perceive the act of dreaming; what it means to live on a world that is either forest or ocean.I get the sense that some of the worldbuilding from the human side of things happened in other of LeGuin's books. The Word for World Is Forest is part of the Hainish Cycle, which I haven't read any more of. For example, the characters here learn briefly about the ansible (LeGuin coined this word), which is new technology at the time. But I think the uses of the ansible and the League of Worlds that seems to have been created at about the same time are explained more fully in other Hainish books. Still, the information in The Word for World Is Forest was mostly enough for the story.I was going to write "One thing I would sort of have liked an explanation for was Captain Davidson's character," but then I realized something.I'm often frustrated by the way a lot of science fiction (usually from the 70s and earlier but sometimes later) portrays a future world that has changed from the world of the author in so many imaginative ways -- except in terms of, say, gender roles. There's a single world government and FTL travel and everyone eats scientifically-designed bean-paste for breakfast instead of bacon and eggs -- but all the women are still housewives, sex workers, or secretaries!I was about to try to explain why I'm not frustrated with Captain Davidson's character in quite the same way, even though he's a man of the future who's succeeded so far in his career by being a misogynistic, chauvinist so-and-so. Then I figured out what really gets me about the above type of scifi: not that sexism still exists in the future, but that the authors who write it that way so often don't perceive it to be a problem.It's normal to have only male primary characters because if you had a female protagonist whatever would she do apart from fall in love; that would never drive the plot! Of course two men have conflict over a woman, or a woman's sexual jealousy leads her into treachery, or the male drive to conquer women sexually is a perfectly self-explanatory analogy for the need to colonize the stars. These things are so normal that apart from a few self-satisfied rhetorical sighs about human nature, one needn't explain or even draw attention to them. So these authors seem to think.So one of the reasons I love James Tiptree, Jr. and Joanna Russ and Marion Zimmer Bradley's Renunciates is that they're writing the same situation except truthfully: their stories say "here's a universe full of wonders, and the men do and see everything first while the women are only sex objects, and that's the problem with us. Captain Davidson thinks he symbolizes the driving force of human colonization, but actually he's exactly what's wrong with it.The story of the Althsheans in The Word for World Is Forest is the story of a people who are just realizing that in saving themselves from death by human colonization, they have changed themselves deeply. Like any major change, its touch is light, its harbingers are easy to miss amid the shock of more immediate events, an outsider (Luyubov) might be able to perceive it more clearly, but some of the wise can grasp what is happening.And now I think the story of the humans in The Word for World Is Forest is also a story of this kind of change.At the beginning Captain Davidson -- perfect embodiment of accepting and glorifying chauvinism -- is the microcosm of the human colony. He's not in charge, but everything's run in the way he approves of, with only enough dissent to make him feel like he's working for it. And then, just as Captain Davidson's attention is suddenly taken up by the unexpected-to-him revolt of his creechies, a ship appears, bearing humanoid representatives from the new League of Worlds, and an ansible. Davidson thinks of these arrivals as irrelevant, a distraction from the real problems of government and military action at hand, but to his frustration they bring new orders -- a stricter hands-off-the-natives policy. How is he supposed to work for the greater good of humanity like that? He'll have to do something...The Luyubov chapters explain to some degree what is wrong with the military attitude to Althshea, and why it must change. But nobody listens to Luyubov. It's the Captain Davidson chapters where we see the vast weight of human nature slowly beginning to tilt on its axis. Only occasionally does the necessity of change arise clear and logical out of careful thought and research. To the rest of us, it comes incoherently, bubbling up from the murky depths of complacency, fear, hatred, denial, resistance, and ignorance.I think it would be very rewarding to reread The Word for World Is Forest, paying attention to the Althshean and human response to the vague perception of vast, inevitable change.-----I've been comparing this book to feminist scifi, in which what's wrong with the world is often specifically misogyny. Captain Davidson is definitely a misogynist, and the human colony is definitely sexist (all the soldiers and colonists are men; at the very beginning of the book, a ship has just brought in a group of women who are meant to be wives and sex workers on the colony), but sexism is one thing that the novella does not discuss explicitly. Even Luyubov seems (from brief evidence) to be something of a male chauvinist, although he has accurately observed how different the Althsheans' gender roles are. Instead, it's implied that sexism and sexual violence are part of the larger problem (all embodied in Captain Davidson) that also manifests itself in colonization against the will of the original inhabitants, racism, violence, and destruction of the natural environment.The term "kyriarchy" wasn't coined until twenty years after this novella's publication, but The Word for World Is Forest has some very good examples of it.I said that racism is part of the problem here, and I didn't mean just human racism against the Althsheans. (According to the background science, which I think is explained more fully elsewhere in the Hainish Cycle, humans from Earth, Althsheans, and people from other planets are all descended from the same people who were long ago placed on their respective planets by another ancient people. The humans who understand and believe this tend to regard all of these peoples as different types of humans, and so I think they would call prejudice against Althsheans racism. However, Captain Davidson doesn't believe in this theory; he thinks of the Althsheans as non-human aliens, so I think from his perspective it's really xenophobia. Anyway.) Unlike many stories in which racism is metaphorically condemned by showing the evil of human oppression of a gentle alien race, the humans themselves in this novella are not all or mostly white. In fact, I think that apart from Captain Davidson, there's only one other white character with a name. (I'm not quite sure about Raj Luyubov -- since he's mostly referred to by last name only, I kept thinking of him as ethnically Eastern European, but at one point Davidson thinks derogatorily about "hindis" and I think he is including Luyubov.) According to Davidson's racial theory, Europeans and Africans are better men than Asians, since they come from the "cradle of humanity"; part of his mistrust of his superiors, once he starts getting orders to leave the Althsheans alone, has to do with how many of them are of Asian descent. This includes the head of the colony, Colonel Dongh, who uses the history of his own people to explain why it would be foolish to try to win a war against the Althsheans in their own forest.

Hainish Wars: Episode VIReturn of the Anthropologist*67 EXT. FOREST CLEARING – TOWN OF ENDTOR - LJUBOV'S CRASH SITE 67A strange little green furry face with huge black eyes comes slowly into view. The creature is an ATHSHEAN, by the name of SELVER. He seems somewhat puzzled, and prods LJUBOV with the butt end of a spear. The anthropologist groans; this frightens the stubby ball of green fuzz and SELVER prods him again. LJUBOV sits up and stares at the three-foot-high Athshean. He tries to figure out where he is and what has happened. His clothes are torn; he's bruised and dishevelled.The Athshean jumps up and holds the four-foot-long spear in a defensive position. LJUBOV watches him as he circles warily and begins poking him with the butt of the spear. LJUBOV Cut it out!He stands up, and the Athshean quickly backs away. LJUBOV I'm not gonna hurt you, Selver. I came to help.LJUBOV looks around at the dense forest, and at the charred remains of his hopper, then sits down, with a sigh, on a fallen log. LJUBOV Well, looks like I'm stuck here. Trouble is, I don't know where here is.He puts his head in his hands to rub away some of the soreness from his crash. He looks over at the watchful little Athshean and pats the log beside him. LJUBOV Well, maybe you can help me. Come on, sit down.SELVER holds his spear up warily and growls at him like a puppy.LJUBOV pats the log again. LJUBOV I promise I won't hurt you. Now come here.More chirps and squeaks from the little green creature. LJUBOV All right. You want something to eat?He takes a scrap of food out of his pocket and offers it to him.SELVER takes a step backward, then cocks his head and moves cautiously toward LJUBOV, chattering in his sing-song Athshean language. LJUBOV That's right. Come on. Hmmm?Sniffing the food curiously, the Athshean comes toward LJUBOV and sits on the log beside him. He takes off his helmet, and the little creature jumps back, startled again. He runs along the log, pointing his spear and chattering a blue streak. LJUBOV holds out the helmet to him. LJUBOV Look, it's a hat. It's not gonna hurt you. Look. You're a jittery little thing, aren't you?Reassured, SELVER lowers his spear and climbs back on the log, coming to investigate the helmet. Suddenly his ears perk up and he begins to sniff the air. He looks around warily, whispering some warning to LJUBOV. LJUBOV What is it?Suddenly a bullet slams into a log next to LJUBOV. LJUBOV and SELVER both roll backwards off the log, hiding behind it. LJUBOV holds his own pistol ready, while SELVER disappears underneath the log. Another shot, and still no sight of anyone in the forest. Then LJUBOV senses something and turns to find CAPTAIN DAVIDSON standing over him with his weapon pointed at his head. He reaches out his hand for LJUBOV’s weapon. DAVIDSON Freeze! Come on, get up, LJUBOV!He hands the weapon over as a second man emerges from the foliage in front of the log. DAVIDSON Go get your ride and take him back to base. MAN #2 Yes, sir.The second man starts toward his hopper, as SELVER, crouched under the log, extends his spear and hits DAVIDSON on the leg.DAVIDSON jumps and lets out an epithet, and looks down at SELVER, puzzled. LJUBOV grabs a branch and knocks him out. He dives for his pistol, and the second man, now climbing into his hopper tries to close the hatch. LJUBOV fires away and hits the hopper’s gasline causing it to explode.The forest is quiet once more. SELVER pokes his fuzzy head up from behind the log and regards LJUBOV with a confused expression. He mumbles something in Athshean. LJUBOV hurries over, looking around all the time, and motions the fuzzy little creature into the dense foliage. LJUBOV Come on, let's get outta here.As they move into the foliage, SELVER takes the lead. He sings and tugs at LJUBOV to follow him.**freely adapted from scene 67 of Return of the Jedi, with a surprising minimum of alterations. Lucas must have had this book in mind when he created the Ewoks. The similarities, which go far beyond this imagined scene (and include such things as a town called "Endtor" on a forest planet), are too numerous to be coincedence.

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At times charming and at other times quite disturbing, Le Guin's tale of a planet being razed for wood to be shipped back to earth and the revolt of the native inhabitants is completely compelling. The Anthsheans are short, green, humanoid creatures who have mastered the art of dreaming and live in peacefulness with each other. By contrast, Captain Davidson, a Terran human, is a total ass. It takes a lot of talent for someone as evolved as Le Guin to write from the point of view of such a disgusting character. I never thought I'd find myself rooting against humans and for aliens, but in this book, one has to. It takes just as much imagination to write from the point of view of Selver, the Anthshean who leads the revolt and saves his world. I am incredibly impressed by this book and enjoyed reading it very much, as I have all of Le Guin's work I've read so far.

Since I sat, polite, but wanting desperately to excuse myself from the spilt paint, methodical cacophony of clumsy dialogue, garish colors, interludes of mind numbing dead air, segueing into blindingly confusing scenes of (horrible) video game action, and a story that was told to death 70 years ago by people who had had so much passion for the worlds they were creating. A film which quite literally created a world with $300,000,000 worth of CGI, horrifically failing to trump the real juice… ... "Avatar" it has been driving me nuts what book he, James Cameron had (dreadfully) ripped off; a book I loved in my teens, but could not remember the tittle of. Found it in the closet yesterday and this is it.I guess in all fairness he poached the hell out of "Nausicaa of the Vally of the Wind" as well.I do have to credit Avatar with getting me to reread this amazing book.P.S. Avatar is the only Cameron film I have disliked and that includes "Piranha 2: The Spawning.

Great book by a great writer. If you've not yet read any Ursula K. Le Guin, then start with this book. If you've only read a couple by Le Guin and are wondering what next to sample, follow up with this book next. I've only read two other titles by Le Guin, but I wish I had started here first. Le Guin's work is dense and requires some work on the part of the reader, but this book (actually just a novella) is far more accessible and serves as a great introduction to themes and concepts used in her other works. (For example, I was a teenager when I read The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness, and years later was shamed to admit I hadn't truly grasped what an ansible truly was - I came across the term in wikipedia and finally learned what I was supposed to have understood when I tackled those novels as a youngster. But here, in this book, it would have been all very clear what an ansible is used for. And the concept of the ansible is so simple, so imagine what else I missed. I regret not starting here first.)If you've seen the movie Avatar, then you know the basic premise that this book explores, but the book (brief novella that it is) still should be read even though you can easily predict how events will transpire. And I really found the first 4-5 pages fascinating, compelling and enlightening. Read them again looking for snide and subtly sarcastic attitudes that would rankle the indignation of anybody not in the "old boys club" (read: women, subjugated races, etc). It's a man's world (in fact a privileged man's world), isn't it, says the author, and here's the prevailing mindset behind those wanting to keep it that way. 4.5 stars - Absolutely deserves a spot on your "favorites" shelf (or else a no-brainer for your "to-read" shelf.

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