Lit review: The Word for World is Forest

So as you may be able to tell, I am currently taking a Science Fiction as Literature class. Hence the science fiction book reviews. I have omitted the short stories we have read, although some of them are fantastic. In any case, the eponymous book was our latest.

The Word for World is Forest is a book by Ursula Le Guin, best known for her Tales of Earthsea series. Having previously read the first three books of the Earthsea series, I was apprehensive to read this book. The first book of that series was excellent, the second mediocre, and the third downright awful.

That said, The Word for World is Forest was an excellent book. Le Guin seems to be more apt at writing science fiction than fantasy. The book explores topics of racism, sexism, drug use, and human nature. Predominantly, though, the book concerns the idea of non-violence and what would happen if a non-violent culture were enslaved and abused.

Really, the only gripe I have is with the portrayal of one of the main point of view characters. Captain Davidson is portrayed as an all-around bad person. He literally rapes, murders hundreds if not thousands of Athsheans singlehandedly (the planet is named Athshe), burns down forests, objectifies women, does drugs, betrays his comrades… it seems like the only thing he forgot to do is kick a puppy. Then again, he raped a 3 meter tall, non-violent human-creature, he refuses to consider human might I add, and in committing such a heinous act kills the victim. So I guess kicking a puppy is rather unnecessary… Here is the problem: when you make a villain so villainous that they are no longer plausibly human, especially if they are human, they become a comic character. Heck, not even the arguably worst human in history, Adolph Hitler, did all of those things.

All that said, I do find a small redemption in this as mentioned in the topics sentence prior. Davidson represents the evil nature of humanity. Likewise, there is an opposing character who represents the good nature of humanity. Then it is that the Athsheans come to represent humanity.

Overall, I really did enjoy the book despite that major gripe. It raises many thought-provoking questions and provides a wonderful created alien race. Oh, and a very quick read.

I give it an 8.1/10.

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