Readers’ Advisory 1: The Word for World is Forest. Ursula K. Le Guin

Quick Facts

Author: Ursula K. Le Guin

Published 2010 Tor Books

189pp. 9780765324641. $11.99US, $14.99CAN

Science fiction

Available in print, eBook, and audiobook

Why I Read It

I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read one of the greats for this class. I read a short story by Le Guin, one of the Tales from Earthsea when I was younger. Her imagery is vivid and tone clear. I wanted to experience that again.

TLL’s Tag

The Athsheans used to be non-violent forest dwellers until the Terrans came and began cutting down their world.

The Rundown

Sometime in the far future of spaceships and colonizing other worlds, Terra is without trees and desperately in need of them. Athshe, a planet 54 years away, is covered with them. It is an ideal place to settle and begin harvesting. But this planet is already inhabited, by the Athsheans. Athsheans are non-violent, forest-dwelling lifeforms that operate in harmony with nature. The Terrans land with no regard for the Athsheans, conscripting them into “voluntary” labor forces, disrupting their natural rhythms, and generally lording over them. Selver, an Athshean who was freed by an anthropologist turned friend, leads a revenge attack against the camp run by the Terran who raped and killed his wife. This sets in motion a series of events bringing violence to the Athshean way of life, but, ultimately, ridding them of the Terrans.

Here’s what I think

Reading Le Guin is an experience. Sometimes, it is a quick, fun, fantastic experience. Other times, it is a long, drawn out affair. For a story that is barely 200 pages, it felt like forever reading. Not for frivolous reasons, though. With such a short length, Le Guin was able to fit a fully realized alien planet, the social structure of the inhabitants of that planet, and the political machinations of the would-be colonizers of the alien planet. It has much more substance than a lot of fantasy and science fiction of the new millennium. If, at times, the social commentary seemed a little heavy-handed, well, that is to be expected. Writing is a political act, whether one chooses to believe and acknowledge it or not.

Final decision

Classic and award-winning

5Q–Hard to imagine it being better written.

4P–Broad general or genre appeal.

Readalikes, courtesy of NoveList Plus


Nancy Kress

Sherry S. Tepper


The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Fortress in the Eye of Time, C. J. Cherryh

Hyperion, Dan Simmons

Appeal Factors

Dramatic, thought-provoking, bleak, leisurely paced

Book talk ideas

Davidson p.13

The Smith Camp massacre p.25-31

The new dream p.40-44

The conference p.66

Book discussion questions

1) What does it mean to seek facts rather than Truth?

2) What is Truth?

3) Why does Davidson hate the Athsheans so much?

4) What does it mean to be a god? What does it mean to be a god to the Athsheans?

5) Whose is the true reality, Davidson and his extreme, violent speciesism or Selver and his previously non-violent, forest dwelling?

Clues to the Future

Ursula K. Le Guin, Hainish Cycle, New Tahiti, Athshe, Athsheans, creechies, The Word for World is Forest, Lyubov, Selver, dream-time, colonialism, futuristic, alien planet, Captain Davidson

Awards and Lists

Hugo Award: Best Novella 1973

Nebula Award nominee

Locus Award nominee

Links to the Author, Interviews, and Reviews

Author website:

The Guardian National Book Award Interview:

The Author Hour Interview:

Time magazine review quote: “Le Guin writes with painstaking intelligence. Her characters are complex and haunting, and her writing is remarkable for its sinewy grace.”

The Boston Globe review quote: “Like all great writers of fiction, Ursula K. Le Guin creates imaginary worlds that restore us, hearts eased, to our own.”

The Atlantic review quote: “Le Guin is the ideal science fiction writer.”

SF Book Review:


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