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Publisher's Summary

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....

©1976 Ursula K. Le Guin (P)2009 Audible, Inc.

Critic Reviews

  • 1973 Hugo Award, Best Novella
  • All-Time Best Novellas (Locus Magazine)

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What listeners say about The Word for World Is Forest

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Classic Tree Hugger Masterpiece

Ursula LeGuin is so much head & shoulders above most other SciFi/Phantasy writers it's not even funny. This world is beautiful and a dream. Allegory with guns, but not a shoot 'em up. Not for every one,it's somewhat slow. This is not a long novel, but so dense I relisten to chapters just to get it all. And then on re -reading/listening get more. Here the author does not spell everything out but it implied in a masterful way, that it engages your own imaginative function.

18 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

She is talent incarnate

Rarely can one find a read so full of deeper, and not instantly obvious, meanings that one has to stop the recording regularly to think about it, while also being wholly enraptured by the tale as it progresses.
Le Guin is a rare breed of writer, a true innovator, a master of literary sorcery.

18 people found this helpful

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Violence begets violence

This is a very powerful story. And it isn't about how terrible human being, represented by Davidson, are. It's about how, in the face of violence, in the face of degenerate abuse, those abused may be justified in exercising violence as retribution. But, then, they also pay the prize of violence. Guilt, shame, loss of humanity, nightmares.

It really is a brilliant title. Our word for world is a glorified word for dirt. On the other hand, it's in the dirt the forest grows. If this story must be considered moralistic, the moral is that although violence might save you from one enemy, it leaves you defenceless against another. And the question is which enemy is worse.

Sure, Davidson, the main villain of the story, is a caricature of a beast. He's so vile it can be both a little exhausting and a little amusing to suffer his drivel. However, and this is the scary part, as far as I'm concerned, the atrocities he commits were, really, actually committed by real life humans, numerous times over the course of our sordid history. In Le Guin's story, evil springs from Davidson's insane philosophy, a philosophy so far out there, it looks like the ramblings of brainwashed cultist indoctrination victims. We, on the other hand, we, real humans, have no need for nearly as pronounced a framework in order to rationalise those very acts. We'll happily rape and murder our way through the people a town over if we think their blood is off.

Even then, though, the pillaged can retaliate. But only at a price.

This book was worth every second, and I wholeheartedly recommend anyone to read it.

Finally, I saw somewhere that the book is considered some kind of propaganda by certain critics. I think it was in favour of anarchy, though the label of communist propaganda gets slapped on almost anything from the Cold War era that did not align exactly with whatever brand of capitalism was in the wind at the time of publication. Anyway, whatever propaganda this book is supposed to spew, I cannot find it. It's all a beautiful morally grey conflict, where murder is murder, and genocide is genocide.

15 people found this helpful

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Worth it for the narrator

Every once in a while you listen to a book that's both really well written and really well read. Kevin Pariseau knows pace, voices, and characterization and made this book more amazing than reading the written word.

10 people found this helpful

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Avatar's influence

Clearly, this book inspired James Cameron's Avatar. I enjoyed Avatar on many levels and appreciated very deep messages (and the not very deep messages). The Word for World is Forest is equally mesmerizing. Well worth your time.

18 people found this helpful

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Great all around

I've read the Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed and they were both rich with imagination, idea, and social relevance, but Le Guin's prose was so dry that those novels failed to really light my mind afire. Not the case with this one. All the cerebral, social and political aspects so common with her are there, but there's a juiciness to the writing and to the characters that I just never found in the other novels. Her exploration and demonstration of toxic masculinity through the character of Davison is possibly the most brilliant I've ever read. There are so many good reasons to read this book, but that one alone makes it worth your while.

5 people found this helpful

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Leaving the Shadow

"--the anthropologist cannot always leave his own shadow out of the picture he draws--"
- Ursula K. Le Guin, The Word for the World is Forest

The more Le Guin I read, the more I love her. Reading Le Guin for me these last couple years, reminds me of how I felt when I first discovered John le Carré. They seem to both be able to write the same theme in so many different ways. It makes me think of Monet's many versions of the same church front or pond. Masters all. An artist doesn't have to go very wide to create worlds, sometimes the best worlds are created by just going deep.

In this novel Le Guin explores two cultures colliding. In many ways, this book is an exploration of acculturation. Le Guin's parents were both anthropologists, so some of these ideas pop into many of her books. The novel, while dealing with big themes of cultural anthropology and environmentalism, still doesn't let the themes dominate the narrative. She creates an interesting story, fantastic characters, and lets the themes come naturally. Nothing is forced. Her ideas seem entirely native to the story.

12 people found this helpful

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Imagination at work

Le Guin again pleases with her imagination. I first read this as a story in Harlan Ellison's book Dangerous Visions. It was great experiencing it again.
A world hard for the reader to conceive but fascinating to see unveiled. Men's insensitivity is cleverly explored by Ms Le Guin. It is fun to listen to a woman's perspective.

3 people found this helpful

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Just a little heavy on stereotypes

Knowing how humanity has changed in the last 100 years, it is a little hard to imagine that policies of human expansion in the next millennium would regress so much back to the 15th to 19th centuries. Still, there will be individuals who are unenlightened. Back when this book was written, pessimism about humanity's future filled the air, and so this story.

1 person found this helpful

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Painful

As always, ms le Guin crafts a very concise and poignant story, but it’s exceptionally hard to read. the parts from an officer character were just painful to listen to with such amount of cold hatefulness and cruelty. and there’s also some random sexism from the scientist? And the fridged wife of the local character? All of them are brilliantly written though, just as the world around them.
The performance though, was not for me, nothing exceptionally bad, I just didn’t feel like the narrators voice matched the story. I listened to the 2nd chapter 2 times and then gave up and read the rest.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Isolde
  • 07-18-18

Extraordinary book, belittling narration

This is a wonderful and important book, as relevant as ever. Le Guin makes no attempt to disguise the social and political messages of this story, nor its clear parallels to our world. It is a brilliant use of multiple view points.
The narrator really interrupts this brilliance by using silly voices and accents. Very distracting, unnecessary, and detracts from the impact of this seminal work of contemporary literature. Audible Frontiers needs to improve its production values, and prevent narrators from making bad choices that detract from the reading experiences.

20 people found this helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-06-18

brilliant, well performed, failed by sound design

the words are not noise to be covered by other noise. scrap the sound design

9 people found this helpful

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  • jesjaspers
  • 03-08-19

Written in 1972 and still relevant today

As relevant today as ever and no doubt will be relevant in the centuries from now when Humans meet others. Full of ecological and ethnographic relavance. Great story well told Perhaps one of Le Guin's best

5 people found this helpful

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  • James Lomas
  • 02-07-19

Great short fable, really well narrated.

Before Dances With Wolves and Avatar there was The Word For World is Forest. A novella dealing with racism and human rights. The narrator does an excellent job with the 3 main characters.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Kathy
  • 02-27-21

.

4/5

This short but profound story gives raw and visceral insight into the harms of colonialism and the effects on both native and coloniser. Le Guin crafts the narrative with amazing skill. I really felt for the Athsheans and their plight and I absolutely hated Davidson!

The good:
- Intense and reflective plot which encourages parallels with our own history and the atrocities committed. For much of this book you could switch out the Athsheans and Terrains with indigenous people and European invaders.
- The Athsheans culture was unique and different to any I've read before. I would have loved to explore it further.
- Davidson was the most hateable character I've read in a long time. He is egotistical, racist, sexist, manipulative, narcissistic. There is not a redeeming feature for this character and his role in the narrative needed him to be just so.

What could have been better?:
- The characters felt a little shallow. Of the three characters whose points of view the reader is shown, Selver the Athshean was flat and not built up to the height told in the narrative, Lyubov was insightful but his sections were brief and Davidson was an epitome of a hateable nemesis.
- The short length meant that some of the interesting aspects of Athshean culture were not explored more fully. I would happily read a book just detailing their species and culture.
- The audiobook version I listened to had annoying music at the beginning and end which added nothing to the performance.

There is a lot to think about and apply from this book. If anyone is looking for reading material about colonialism, despite being sci-fi, this would be a good recommendation. I plan to read this book again with my children once they are older as I think there are some poignant themes and lessons to learn here.

3 people found this helpful

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  • R A Hattingh
  • 06-25-21

interesting

I always wondered where the movie Avatar's story had its origin, now I know🙂
Well performed, too short, we need a series on this Mm Le Guin please

2 people found this helpful

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  • Literally daisy
  • 06-21-21

timeless and dated

I almost quit reading this book a couple of times, the casual sexism, homophobia, and sexual violence were even more extreme for being secondary to the idea that these were weaponised in a campaign of racialised colonisation. I did listen to the end however and there was a satisfying and not over simplified conclusion to the story. the themes of the book are definitely still relevant today

2 people found this helpful

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  • NICK
  • 04-21-21

Humanity’s Inhumanity

This novel is about what we do; how we are an aggressive race which murders and destroys: living beings and environments.This is what puts Le Guin’s writing at the forefront of science fiction writing, in the company of Ray Bradbury and Arthur C. Clarke. Her father was an anthropologist and ethnologist, and it is this influence which makes her writing so credible and compelling. The Hainish, a race and our cousins from a far-distant Galaxy, were the progenitors not only of ourselves on Earth, but of other races throughout the Universe. This is the case for the forest- dwellers on a planet which humans are in the process of exploiting for timber with great cruelty to the slave- workers and destruction to the planet, named Forest by its inhabitants. That these small, green-furred people are also men and women who have taken a different cultural and developmental path from humans, is a fact roundly ignored by the Colonists; as too is their psychology in which Dreaming takes on a completely different aspect from our own brief dreams. They regard us as sick, and no wonder.
The backdrop of this book is of course the environmental catastrophe which we are now facing as well as the many genocides which have been committed on Planet Earth during the period of colonisation.
This is, however, more than a novel of ideas. The characters are compelling, from the indigenous man and his touching friendship with the human ethnographer, through to the psychopathic officer who precipitates the disasters which ensue from his cruelties. There is the fascination of native society, which leaves one feeling that their nature and customs are completely possible; and the ending of the story which provides much food for thought.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Tatiana / @TCLinrow
  • 12-18-20

A hauntingly beautiful story of dreams and madness

This story had me hooked from the first! The Athsheans were such a brilliantly conceived and wonderfully written people, and the Terrans the perfect example of humanities flaws.

What I especially liked was how much detail and consideration had gone into the world and culture of the Athsheans in such a short novel. The degree of world building was truly astounding.

This was the first book by Ursula K. Le Guin I've ever read, but she is straight up one of my favourite authors already.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jane B.
  • 10-08-20

Insightful

Written nearly 50 years ago, when will we listen. A story for future generations I think.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Jaiden Gwyn
  • 03-08-22

Justice done.

A brilliant story by Le Guin, one of the greatest authors of our time, and a narration that lived up to it.

Could have made it a little clearer in production when it changed perspectives, though. There were a few times I had to play catch up because of that.