Tuf Voyaging by George R. R. Martin
|Book Name:||Tuf Voyaging|
|Author:||George R. R. Martin|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Science Fiction / Short Stories / Anthology|
|Release Date:||January 29, 2013 (reprint)|
George R. R. Martin is best known for his high fantasy epic, A Song of Ice and Fire. Yet he is an endlessly inventive writer, and long before ASOIAF, he had written in several genres. One of his earlier works, Tuf Voyaging, is a science fiction series of novellas that has recently been re-released by Bantam Books. It was originally published by Baen back in 1986, and the novellas themselves were in Asimov’s and Analog at varying points between 1971 and 1986.
Tuf Voyaging follows the eponymous Haviland Tuf. Tuf is a fascinating character. He’s an absurdly tall, hyper-intelligent vegetarian with a fondness for cats and a disdain for idioms. He’s honest, and will keep his word, even as he knows others won’t keep theirs.
“I don’t know if there is such a thing as an incorruptible man, but if there is, you’re the one, Tuf. The last goddamned innocent. You were willing to lose the whole thing for her.” She pointed at Havoc. “For a cat.” – Loaves and Fishes
The first of these stories is The Plague Star, which is by far the most similar to readers familiar with A Song of Ice and Fire. It focuses on a group of people who want to mount an expedition to a long-lost seedship from the Old Earth Ecological Corps. Some want fame, or knowledge; others, money and power. Double-crossing and betrayals follow.
The seedship contains both microbiotic and macrobiotic cloning facilities. The microbes are used to spread disease on planets so they can be conquered without difficulty. Macrobiotic cloning allows the creation of any being from any world that the Earth’s Ecological Corps had taken samples from. The Ark, as the seedship is called, can create life of any kind—microbiotic, plant, or animal.
After he acquires the seedship, he needs it repaired, and in Loaves and Fishes heads to S’uthlam (the planet’s name is an anagram of Malthus, an early British scholar on population growth). S’uthlam is burdened with overpopulation and only a generation away from collapse. To make matters worse, their religion is focused on the importance of fertility, and thus abstinence and contraception are viewed as anti-life to most of the population. Tuf hires the S’uthlamese to fix his ship but cannot afford the cost of repairs, and the S’uthlamese government wants the Ark in order to save their planet.
The S’uthlamese dilemma becomes a through-line to the novel, as he returns there twice more in Second Helpings and Manna from Heaven in order to pay back his debt to them. While he manages to create additional food sources for them, that merely means they have even more children. The other stories—Guardians, A Beast for Norn, and Call Him Moses deal with him using the Ark to fix environmental problems to earn the money to pay back the S’uthlamese. Each time the problem stems from the people’s foolishness rather than a flawed environment. Environmentalism is a vital part of the book. A recurring theme is the importance of knowing the environment before attempting to change it. A section from Guardians focuses on this quite strongly:
“There was a world idyllic but for a single flaw—an insect the size of a dust mote. It was a harmless creature but it was everywhere…The folk of this world hated the tiny insect, which sometimes flew about in clouds so thick they obscured the sun…So a would-be ecological engineer…introduced another insect, larger, to prey on the living dust motes…Unfortunately there were some unforeseen side effects. The invader, having destroyed one form of life, moved on to other, more beneficial sorts. Many native insects became extinct. The local analogue of bird life, deprived of its customary prey and unable to digest the alien bug, also suffered grievously. Plants were not pollinated as before. Whole forests and jungles changed and withered…Such are the fruits of hasty action.” – Guardians
From the very beginning of the novel, we see numerous references to Judaeo-Christian religion. The seedship’s name is The Ark. The second story, about increasing the amount of food S’uthlam can produce, is called Loaves and Fishes. It becomes most evident in the sixth story, however. Call Him Moses is about a fraud using trickery into making people believe he has supernatural powers. Tuf calls his bluff by matching him, Biblical plague for Biblical plague, until he’s forced to concede defeat.
“Having come upon this ship called Ark, I began to find myself dogged at every step by gods, prophets, and demons. Noah and the flood, Moses and his plagues, loaves and fishes, manna, pillars of fire, wives of salt…and yet it must be said that my first act upon this ship, so many years ago, was to raise the dead.” – Manna From Heaven
Tuf Voyaging is much more light-hearted fare than A Song of Ice and Fire yet still filled with the same storytelling power. While it does have moments of violence or Machiavellian scheming, the greatest enemy in Tuf Voyaging is the inability of people to cooperate to survive. Haviland Tuf is a wonderful protagonist, multifaceted, intelligent, and unique. Tuf Voyaging should be as popular as Martin’s other works.