Thursday, February 15, 2007

Tuf Voyaging, George R. R. Martin

Title: Tuf Voyaging
Author: George R. R. Martin
Rating: OK

Tuf Voyaging is the story of Haviland Tuf, the captain and sole human (at least I think he's human) occupant of a giant starship. That ship is a relic from an ancient war, and it was a bio-warship. Tuf calls himself an ecological engineer and takes the ship to various places where he uses the ship's equipment in interesting ways. The novel collects the stories of some of those voyages.

Alas I think it could have been better. It was OK reading, and there are some fun bits here, but it didn't hold together for me.

One problem isn't the fault of the author or the prose. What Tuf Voyaging actually contains is a set of novellas, originally published between 1978 and 1985, mostly in Analog. In their original form, they might well have been more palatable. The repetition of certain things (character appearance, certain behavioral oddities, that cats have "a touch of psi", etc.) that bothered me in novel form makes sense when you realize that originally these stories were published at wide intervals. It was necessary to refresh the reader's mind about Tuf and his situation each time around.

But that's not the only issue I had. If it was, I'd have said it was a good book and gone on. In fact, I have three other issues with the material here.
  1. There is a problem with the text itself. Somehow, I found the writing to be less than ideal. In general, it was OK, but there were times when Tuf himself was speaking that it just felt wrong. I know the character is supposed to have a stilted speaking style, but it often felt like Martin wasn't letting Tuf say what he meant in places. And then on page 313 of 376 I found a concrete example of what it was that had been bothering me all along.
    "Reg Laithor asks me why," Haviland Tuf said to Dax, stroking the cat softly. "My motives are always imputed. People have no trust in this hard modern age, Dax" ...
    Did you spot the issue? The word "imputed" doesn't fit in there. Looking it up, it means "to attribute or ascribe" or "to estimate" but the query (from Laithor) isn't imputing anything... it's asking a question, and there is an implication that Tuf's motives may not be pure. If I'm correct, the word I suspect Martin should have put in there was "impugned", which means "to attack as false or questionable". In context, that makes more sense to me.

    I don't have other cases like that - where I noted words were actually wrong - but something about the prose in here struck me as odd all along, and when I found that example I felt justified in my sense of things.

    Martin's actual writing hasn't bothered me before - in the first couple Song of Ice and Fire books it seemed fine. I'm at a loss as to why this bugged me as much as it did, but that's the way it was.

  2. Character development, or the lack thereof. We never learn about Tuf's background. We do see him acquire the ship, but that's about it. We never learn anything more about him, his past, why he is the way he is, etc. Perhaps that is another fault of a novel composed of several separately published novellas, but it still bothered me. I kept wanting to ask "why" questions as I read, but no answers were ever given. And Tuf has some interesting personality quirks that could have made for great back story.

    Oh, and at some points I think Tuf's morals can be questioned, but that's never explained either. The problem with Tuf's morals being uncertain is that he's presented as a hero. Not a flawed hero or an anti-hero, but an honest, simple, hero. Without any back story to explain the oddities of his behavior, it rings false.

  3. My last issue has to do with the rather cavalier attitude Martin displays about ecological engineering. Tuf winds up introducing new species on all kinds of planets, and wiping out old ones without concern. Yes, supposedly Tuf runs a lot of computer simulations to figure out what is going to happen, but I didn't buy it. I can't say too much about any specific case without writing a spoiler review, but I could justify the concern with a passage or two from the book if I wanted to give story points away.

    The fundamental gripe is that even back when these tales were originally published, the dangers associated with introducing non-native species into an ecosystem were well known. There were then all kinds of examples of ways in which relatively harmless looking species became significant problems for the native species in an area. In Tuf's case, he's introducing wildly different species - from alien planets - into places with nothing to keep them in check. It's hard for me to like a hero who does that sort of thing. It's not - as a rule - a smart thing to do.

    I'm not saying that every story has to be ecologically pure or that heroes must be perfect in their behavior. Far from it. I just want explanations for behavior and some - possibly minimal - accounting of the impacts of the actions of the characters. Letting Tuf entirely off the hook didn't feel right.
Anyway, while I found the book mildly interesting, it was pretty fluffy in the end. If you're a science fiction and/or George R. R. Martin aficionado, you may want to read this. If not, you can probably give it a pass and not miss much.