Far in the future the humans of Earth have spread to the stars, but at great cost to Earths fragile ecosystem. For a world that is largely concrete and plastic, wood has more value than gold and the Terrans waste no time in establishing a logging colony and military base named "New Tahiti" on an idyllic tree covered planet whose small, green-furred, big-eyed inhabitants have a culture centered on lucid dreaming.
This new planet shares many similarities to earth, with some of the same species of plant and animal life, clearly seeded at some time in the distant past by the same process. With large oceans surrounding small but stable landmasses that are completely covered in trees, it seems a veritable goldmine to the largely male aggressive and armed people from Earth.
While humanities technology may have advanced over the centuries, it seems their society hasn't, clearing vast tracts of land, destroying the planets ecosystem while hunting and enslaving the indigenous life forms including those sentient beings who are treated little more than livestock. These intelligent natives are ill equipped to deal with this destruction of their society, a peaceful race who use a dream state in order to ask questions and find answers. It does however only take one seriously fed up native to ignite this powder-keg, and then it's a battle of millions against a few thousand.
This is one of those books that not only makes you feel bad for being human but in my case for being a man too, with themes of sexism, ecology, slavery, racism and other social issues and despite being written 35 years ago still resonates with the same intensity. You only have to look at the fact that we as a race are still reaping far more than we sew, destroying more that we build and assisting in the extinction of thousands of species.
Deforestation is just as much an issue today as it was in the seventies, and it's not just the amount of trees that are being chopped down but what they are replaced with, even the UK Forestry Commission has in the past been pretty short-sighted (to say the least) and complacent, happy to replace a bio-diverse ecosystem with wall to wall conifer trees, something they are finally making steps to amend.
The plot itself is compelling and doesn't ram these ideas down the throat like many of today's stories such as Avatar (which seems remarkably similar My Cameron) and A Turtles Tale (which was massively over the top preachy for a kids film). Told in the first person by three distinct and opposite narrators, we are treated to a nuanced and subtly complex story that has been spun by a master of storytelling. It is clear however where some of her influences lie, the Vietnam war being a major one.
The Word for World is Forest is one of those novels which was written before anyone felt the need to include additional content just to make the book bigger, as a result there is no wasted space and the whole story fit's nicely into 189 pages, meaning you can quite easily read it in just one sitting (at least if you read fast like I do).
A rich, tragic story that also manages to be uplifting at the same time, a very rewarding and provocative piece of classic fiction.
Written on Friday 23rd December 2011 by Antony.
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