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May 1, 2017 | by  | in Books |
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The Word for World is Forest — Ursula K. Le Guin

In nearly the same way that Michael Scott marched into his offices and loudly, assuredly, declared bankruptcy, so too did European colonists trot off to lands across deserts and seas, rifles in hand and a fascinating diversity of hats on head, plant a proud flag, and declare sovereignty; and so too do the “yumans”, upon arriving on Athshe, a lush, green planet budding with the forestry that Earth has long since been stripped of, declare their presence to the native alien population.

Science fiction is famous for its allegorical powers. Le Guin is careful to lay out the clash of races realistically, drawing from history as well as moulding the story of this new world within the lines that she has drawn around their distinct reality. So certain characters feel and sound familiar: Davidson, the boasting and brutal soldier, the militarised racial purist that grows increasingly blind to the horror of his own acts; Lyubov, the empathetic scientist, whose detachment in his anthropological pursuits becomes impossible; and Selver, indigenous leader and ex-slave, who feels the call to revolution against his oppressors, and the subsequent siren call to mimic their violence. But the key difference is that in this case, it is two species at odds, and the right path seems less clear.

I think it’s worthwhile reading Le Guin. Science fiction functions in ways that can take you by surprise, and it’s necessary as a human being to allow yourself to be challenged, to doubt yourself, and to pursue truth. As a master writer, Le Guin’s books are valuable to that end. The Word for World is Forest, specifically, is one of her more famous works. It’s cleanly written, and a short read, if that’s a concern, which, considering the girth of some spec-fic, I wouldn’t be surprised by. So go for it.

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