Given Ursula Le Guin’s penchant for mixing real world social, political, and cultural concerns, it should come as no surprise that her voice could be heard on the Vietnam War. The Word for World is Forest, published in 1976, is some of Le Guin’s most overt commentary on war and colonization. A revision of her eponymous 1972 novella, the novel comments directly on the presence of major political powers in less-developed areas for profit, all in highly personal and well-told fashion.
The Word for World is Forest is set entirely on the planet Athshe. Humanity (called the Terrans) has arrived and set up mining, logging, and other resource-based enterprises, enslaving the indigenous to perform labor in the process. A smaller, greener, hairier version of humanity, the natives also sleep in a significantly different fashion. In fact sleeping little at all, they rather fall into a state of lucid dreaming at random periods of the day. Thinking them to be lazy and avoiding work, the humans, in particular a man named Davidson, routinely beat and otherwise abuse the Athsheans, forcing them to perform the labor whose profits are sent to Earth. It isn’t long, however, before the natives rebel against the humans, the resulting fight deciding the sentient fate of Athshe.