The Word for World is Forest — Ursula K. Le Guin

Good science fiction is measured not by its accuracy in predicting the future, but by its earnestness in portraying the greatest vices of its era. And Le Guin’s novella, released in 1972, excels in its depictions of the dying days of Colonialism. But, instead of dealing with places in the so-called Third World, or with the Vietnam war, the book deals with the conquest of another planet.

This planet, Athshe, has a few islands completely covered in forests, and is home to a humanoid race, which the invading humans call “creechies” and enslave, since they think they are incapable of intellect. However, the Ashtheans (as the locals call themselves), live in a complexly balanced society that unites the whole planet that is based on the principle of dreaming to confront and process an individual’s negative feelings. Most humans, however, are too stubborn to realize the existence of a complexity they don’t understand, and threaten the environmental and political balance of the local population for their own profit, without even realizing it.

It is an anti-colonialist book and a direct denunciation of foreign intervention, though one that has few grey undertones. Though there’s one character that bridges humans and Ashtheans — an anthtopologist who befriends and studies the locals — , most characters are set in their ways. There is the strong, macho army officer who thinks military victory is the only option against any eventuality, the bureaucrats who run the colony and couldn’t refuse an order if they try, and the soldiers that follow wherever they are told to follow.

Only Selver, a local character, evolves, and with him, his whole race evolves as well. But despite the humans’ plainness, they are written so well that it’s impossible not to take sides, and probably end up supporting the non-Terran (or non-Western) side of things.