by George R.R. Martin
Cover Artist: Patrick Knowles
Review by April Disney
Bantam Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345537997
Date: 29 January 2013 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Haviland Tuf is a mediocre merchant who finds himself through cleverness and circumstance in charge of the last working ship from old Earth's Ecological Engineering Corps. A throwback from the days of advanced genetic engineering, technology now almost entirely lost to the people among the stars, the ship gives Tuf the power to change the fate of billions.
Our hero goes on a wide variety of adventures in his new career. The brief glimpse given into these adventures includes awesome, three-dimensional worlds that come alive at the turn of a page.
Tuf's most difficult challenge is a population mostly enthralled by the politically active Church of Life Evolving, whose basic tenet is that the more humanity breeds, the closer they can get to outrunning entropy: in short, we become closer to godhood. The clever idea behind this religion is inherently flawed in a fairly obvious way. How do you feed, clothe, and house billions upon billions of people that continue to rapidly multiply? Eventually you have to get food from an outside source, but even that will only last a limited amount of time, given the rate of population growth on such a world. While Tuf deals with violent dictators and biological mysteries, the problem of how to solve the dilemma of the church is always at the back of his mind.
Martin has created a wonderful, three-dimensional persona in his main character. From the beginning, Tuf's quirky personality shines through in his love of cats (a rare thing in this universe), his aversion to being touched, and his smart, sarcastic attitude. As the story continues, it becomes clear that while Tuf is only an imperfect human, he is one of integrity, thoughtfulness, and kind but firm judgment.
Many of the side characters are perhaps over-stereotypical, but this only serves to make the short stories presented even more clever. In the contrast between Tuf and the leaders of the worlds he visits, the reader sees that nobody has all the answers. A person with the intelligence capacity of the hero with the resources he now has, can turn the tide against a wrong estimate or gross overindulgence. However, Tuf too has a large head (both figuratively and literally), and his interactions with the other people of this universe may tell us something about the lure of power and the difference our attitudes can make.
So how does Tuf work with both fairness and clear judgment? Part of the lesson to this work, I believe, is that he can't. All he can do is try to solve problems in a manner that is biologically responsible but conducive to his own ethics. Here and there he makes people angry, and yet he always manages to do right by them. It's not always what they want, but it's almost always what they need. Tuf has the de facto power of a god, but he retains the heart of a good man, showing us that power maybe does not have to corrupt. I daresay we can all learn something from Haviland Tuf.
The story of Haviland Tuf deserves to be more appreciated than it has been in the past. Martin's popularity has made this reprint possible, and it is a fantastic addition to any science fiction fan's library.