Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The Word for World is Forest

Ursula LeGuin The Word for World is Forest (1972)
I realise that James Cameron's Avatar borrows from a great variety of sources - Edgar Rice Burroughs, Dances with Wolves, and the Smurfs to name but three - but it really feels like a massive fucking chunk of it came from this novella, albeit with a few other bits bolted on so as to save the effects guy being stood around all day twiddling his thumbs and looking bored. It's a short novel, really more of a novella, which originally appeared in Harlan Ellison's Again, Dangerous Visions anthology. The story concerns a bunch of industrially motivated human colonists pissing off the natives of a largely arboreal world, and I would guess refers to the historical colonial treatment of native populations in general, particularly in North America and more recently the Amazon, with a sizeable chunk of Vietnam war thrown in. The little guys get treated like shit and so they fight back, and the book carries the kind of ecological message you would probably hope it would carry unless you're some sort of finance-based Republicrat Randian machine consciousness; and it carries the message well, without sermonising or reducing everything to black and white. Having been drawn from the LeGuin spigot, The Word for World is Forest is of course beautifully written in pastoral terms as the sort of rustically poetic folk saga she does so well. My only criticism, I suppose, is that you pretty much know how the story will turn out just from the title and the cover painting even before you've flipped the thing over to read the blurb on the reverse; so although highly readable, it's also kind of short and a little lacking in surprises. Then again, it was written as a long-ish short story and does it's job as such, so I'm not complaining.

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