Literature / Tuf Voyaging

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Tuf Voyaging is an early work by George R.R. Martin of A Song of Ice and Fire fame, described by That Other Wiki as 'a darkly comic meditation on environmentalism and absolute power', which sounds about right. It stars the eponymous Haviland Tuf, a reclusive, phlegmatic, very eccentric chap with a great love of Spock Speak and a great distaste for pettiness. And he often finds his fellow man to be very, very petty. He wants nothing more than to fly around the universe in his Cool Starship, The Ark, with his beloved cats and to make an honest living plying his trade.

There's a problem. A couple, actually. The Ark is a thirty-kilometer long seedship of the ancient Ecological Engineering Corps, with the power to clone and genetically engineer everything from plants to animals to bacteria. Tuf's trade is in ecological engineering, reshaping the ecologies of entire planets as his clients ask (for a modest fee). And the universe is not a nice place.

The seven stories in Tuf Voyaging chart Haviland Tuf's growth from a bumbling Spanner in the Works to a fully-fledged chessmaster with a burgeoning god complex. The stories are as follows:

  • The Plague Star: Origin Story. A Jerk Ass professor and her colleague theorise that the legendary Plague Star is a lost seedship of the E.E.C, and hire three mercenaries and a down-on-his-luck merchant by the name of Haviland Tuf to take them to it. Events... develop and ultimately lead to Tuf being the only "legitimate" owner of the ship.
  • Loaves and Fishes: Tuf takes his newly-acquired prize to the technologically advanced planet of S'uthlam to get alterations made to the ancient ship. S'uthlam has a few problems of its own, though - the S'uthlamese breed like rabbits, and the planet is on the brink of famine.
  • Guardians: A water world is being torn apart by sea monsters who are evolving and adapting at an insane rate. A psychic kitten provides a solution.
  • Second Helpings: Tuf returns to S'uthlam to pay off the first half of his debt and finds things have gotten worse.
  • A Beast for Norn: A man from the gladiatorial fighting obsessed planet of Lyronica approaches Tuf for an animal that can reverse his faction's ailing fortunes.
  • Call Him Moses: A terrorist has brought a colony to its knees by recreating the Biblical plagues, and Tuf is called in to beat him at his own game.
  • Manna from Heaven: Once again, Tuf returns to S'uthlam to pay off the final part of his debt. Things are worse than ever there though, and the newly-elected Expansionist government has an entire solar system on the brink of war. Tuf has to solve the problem of S'uthlam once and for all, whether they like it or not.

This fix-up novel contains examples of:

  • A House Divided: The five people who hire Tuf for the expedition to the titular Plague Star aren't all that ethical, rational, or perhaps sane. As soon as they get there, everyone save Tuf starts screwing everyone else over trying to control it. Then the ship's countermeasures start activating, demonstrating exactly why it's called the "Plague Star." Tuf ends up the only survivor simply by being the only one trying to survive with minimal bloodshed.
  • Always a Bigger Fish: Subverted. Wild Card Rica Dawnstar has Tuf outgunned and at her mercy, and refuses to believe him when he tries to point out the T. rex creeping up behind her. It looks like this trope will kick in... then it turns out she was toying with Tuf, and had the Phlebotinium to control the T. rex all along.
  • Apocalyptic Log: The prologue to The Plague Star.
  • Appeal to Force: “What matters fairness, when one party has a gun and one does not? Brute violence rules everywhere, and intelligence and good intent are trampled upon.”
  • Artifact of Attraction: The Ark. Tuf ended up with it simply by being the only one not trying to kill his associates to claim it. Then he takes it to S'uthlam for repairs, where the government starts doing all they can to get ahold of it.
  • Artificial Gravity: Available via something called a "gravity grid". It's only installed in expensive top-line spacecraft, though, and less expensive craft make do with centrifugal rotation or nothing.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: "A Beast for Norn". The twelve Great Houses of the planet Lyronica use creatures native to their planet as combatants in gaming pits. Tuf disapproves of this cruelty to animals, so he sells each of the Houses an alien creature that annihilates the other Houses' creatures in combat. He charges an ever-increasing outrageous fee for each creature, makes sure that each one has a serious quirk that will make it impossible to use over the long term, and gives each House an extra creature (a seemingly harmless prey animal that breeds quickly) that devastates its ecosystem. As a result, all of the Houses end up on the brink of bankruptcy and with no animals to use in their fights.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Harass, inconvenience or worst of all, disgust Haviland Tuf at your own peril.
  • Bond Creature: The Ecological Engineering Corps bred telepathic cats that bonded with human handlers to counteract alien psi-weapons. In "Guardians" Tuf clones several to act as intermediaries between the planet's human colonists and the Starfish Alien natives, including Dax, his constant companion in chronologically later stories.
  • Bond One-Liner: From The Plague Star: "I had a gun, too."
  • Cats Are Magic: Tuf maintains that all cats have a measure of psi ability, Dax and his siblings/clones certainly do, as do the "cobalt panthers" he sells to House Norn.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Tuf lives by this trope... and ultimately deconstructs it by pointing out that "responsibility" doesn't just mean "ethical action" but "don't delegate hard decisions"; when S'uthlam summons him to design new food sources for the third time rather than stem their population growth, he gives them the best food source he can design... infused with a Sterility Plague.
    "I do indeed wield godlike powers and traffic in the life and death of worlds. Enjoying as I do these godlike abilities, can I rightfully decline the accompanying responsibility, the equally awesome burden of moral authority? I think not."
  • Chekhov's Gun: An especially literal example with the plasma cannon at the end of "The Plague Star".
  • The Chessmaster / Magnificent Bastard: Tuf starts off as a very clever man who others constantly underestimate. He plays off this advantage brilliantly, and by the end of the book evolves into a Magnificent Bastard, holding sway over the lives of billions by controlling whether or not a massive interstellar war will erupt.
  • Crapsack World: The setting is shared with another Martin novel, Dying of the Light (and a number of short stories), and the universe is a pretty chaotic place. Ever since the Human-Hrangan war and the devastation that followed the Hrangan's desperate Last Stand, Earth has been a closed-off planet, along with its most prosperous and advanced colonies, like Prometheus. There is no centralized government, leaving individual colonies to degenerate into near-barbaric feudal-like societies (with a few exceptions; Avalon, Baldur and Jameson's World are shown to be doing well for themselves in other stories), and the technologies behind genetic/ecological engineering and time manipulation are all but lost to everyone else, which makes the Ark a very sought-after treasure trove. Oh, and there were a bunch of AI rebellions at some point.
  • Crew of One: Tuf (if you don't count his pets as crew). One of the most extreme examples out there, in terms of ship size. After acquiring the ship, one of the first things he does is get drastic modifications made to the control systems, which were clearly designed to partition different responsibilities to different people.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Tuf's never averse to slipping a bit of snark in via his usual Spock Speak.
  • The Ditherer: Deconstructed. No matter how complex, sadistic or just plain hard a decision is, waiting too long to make it is the worst thing one can do.
    "Make no choice, and you have chosen. Failure to decide, because you lack the right, is itself a decision, First Councillor. In abstaining, you vote."
  • Dumb Is Good: From The Plague Star, "An intriguing notion, with much to recommend it," said Tuf. "Some might venture to suggest that it was unethical, true, but the true sophisticate retains a certain moral flexibility."
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs: Cloned T-Rex.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Meatbeasts are a carnivorous version; they're basically giant edible tumors. S'uthlam also has the technology to manufacture artificial food out of inedible organic materials like petroleum or plankton, although the taste is unimpressive.
  • Future Imperfect: It's not a big deal, but there are moments showing that history hasn't survived entirely intact.
  • Genius Bruiser: Tuf is north of seven feet tall; once, when he was attacked, he subdued his opponent by picking him up and dropping him.
  • Global Currency: "Standards", which Tuf usually insists on being paid in, seem to be some sort of interstellar currency of high value. Though there are local currencies like S'uthlam's "calories" (backed by local food) and the iron and gold coins used on Lyronica.
  • A God Am I: Having always had the power of a god through The Ark, Tuf slowly begins to wonder if he also has the responsibility and authority of one to boot. The question is left open, of course, and even his most questionable acts are borne out of generally good intentions.
  • Hates Being Touched: Haviland Tuf.
  • Hostile Terraforming: The Ark's original purpose, having originally been a warship. The old Empire's Ecological Engineering Corps used it to rain down plagues and bioweapons upon hostile worlds.
  • Karmic Death: After causing the death of Tuf's cat, Mushroom, Celise Waan bumps into a bunch of "hellkittens" - felines from a Death World. Who spit acid. She can't defend herself because she's infected with a debilitating plague. In fact, she got Mushroom killed by using it to test the air's safety, but her stupidity prevented her from realizing the air was not safe to breathe.
  • Kick the Dog: Celise Waan, the professor who hires Tuf, never got on with his cats. But cycling one out of the airlock into the Ark's disease-ridden air? Tuf later has to Mercy Kill the poor animal, prompting one of the only shows of emotion we ever get from him.
  • Living Lie Detector: Dax is psychic, and can alert Tuf when someone isn't being completely honest.
  • Look Behind You: Played with in "The Plague Star". When Tuf attempts to warn Rica Dawnstar that there's a ravenous T. rex sneaking up behind her, she tells him sternly that she's not going to fall for "the old there's-a-dinosaur-behind-you gambit" — even though it's making enough noise that she must know it's there. It turns out she's messing with Tuf, as she's perfectly aware that it's there, and she's actually controlling it.
  • Meaningful Name: Tuf is tough, and never let his attitude fool you.
  • Mile-Long Ship: The Ark is 30 kilometers, some 18.6 miles, in length.
  • Mini-Mecha: The Unquin battlesuit.
  • Multipurpose Monocultured Crop: Tuf creates several of these, particularly for S'uthlam, which is so overpopulated that it needs it. Finally, he presents them with "manna", a plant which grows anywhere, provides all the nutrition a human needs, and tastes different and wonderful every time. It also nips the root cause of S'uthlam's problems in the bud by inflicting a Sterility Plague.
  • Pardon My Klingon: Some of the characters on S'uthlam are prone to cussing up a storm, but because of cultural differences the things that count as cusswords on S'uthlam are quite inoffensive to the reader.
  • Planet of Hats: Done in rather more detail than usual with S'uthlam. Their tendency to pop out babies at a ridiculous rate is tied in to everything: their main religion, the Church of Life Evolving, believes mankind can find divinity through procreating and evolution, calling someone an "abortion" is a dire insult and even the planet's technological expertise is tied in to number of geniuses the large population ends up producing.
    • Also done in less depth with Lyronica, where everything revolves around the pit fighting.
  • Practical Currency: The S’uthlamese currency is literally the calorie. Period. Off-world money is only worth the food it will buy — either raw synthetic protein or expensive cultivated/imported crops. If you want something tastier than mush, you must not be very hungry.
  • Psychic Powers: Tuf maintains that all cats have a touch of psi, and in the later stories he is accompanied at all times by a cat that he has engineered to be actively psychic, which functions as a Living Lie Detector and an early warning system for people planning to attack him. Also there's the telepathic Starfish Aliens in "Guardians", and the eponymous critter in "A Beast for Norn" that gains an advantage in fights by reading the intentions of its opponent.
  • Replacement Goldfish: The first thing Tuf does with the god-like powers of the Ark at his disposal? Clone his dead cat.
  • Right-Hand Cat: A succession of cats take this role for Tuf over the course of the series. The later ones, as Tuf becomes more adept with the seedship's tools, have a variety of useful abilities built in.
  • Rule of Symbolism: Tuf eventually comes to realize this applies to his voyages upon the Ark.
    "I began as a trader, yet 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—I must needs have become acquainted with all."
  • Sapient Ship: subverted, where the biological engineering warship Tuf 'inherits' as the last surviving member of a freelance salvage team is specifically NOT sentient, though it could have been made so; there is brief mention of AI installed on other Earth warships which mutinied and/or started fighting each other.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: S'uthlam, with the "th" resisting inversion.
  • Science Hero: Tuf, who uses the Ark and his knowledge of ecological engineering to solve various worlds' problems... for a fee.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Tuf's usual mode of speaking. Hell, the merchant ship he flew before he had The Ark was named The Cornucopia of Excellent Goods At Low Prices.
  • Single-Biome Planet: Namor, an ocean world.
  • Space Amish: Moses and the Altruists.
  • Space Elevator: S'uthlam has one, connecting the orbital spaceport to the planet's surface. It's mentioned as a sign of the planet being highly advanced technologically.
  • Standard Time Units: The setting has standard years, weeks, hours, etc. The "standard" part is dropped some but not all of the time. S'uthlam also uses a local month (of unknown length). In addition, the text refers to a "standard kilometre" at one point, even though logically there should be no reason to have a non-standard kilometre.
  • Starbucks Skin Scale: Anittas in "The Plague Star" has "mocha-colored" skin.
  • Starfish Aliens: Are at the root of the problem in "Guardians". Almost literally, although to be precise they are perhaps more limpet than starfish. People eat them as delicacies because they're so alien that nobody expected them to be capable of feeling pain, much less communicating.
  • Sterility Plague: S'uthlam is so obsessed with having children that, in "Manna from Heaven", Tuf gets so sick of having to come back and design new food sources for third time that he engineers his new Multipurpose Monocultured Crop to irreversibly sterilize 95% of its consumers, simply because they will not curb their population explosion voluntarily.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: A cloned Tyrannosaurus rex plays a key role in "The Plague Star".
  • The Stoic: Haviland Tuf is expressionless in face and voice. In moments of high emotion, he might blink. He smiles exactly once in the entire book, and that's more for effect than an expression of genuine emotion.
  • Synthetic Plague: The seedships' primary purpose, along with larger living weapons. The Ark's prior crew set it to expose its virus cultures to radiation and rain down the resulting plagues on the Hrun planet they were near whenever its orbit brought them close together. And Tuf solves the S'uthlam's overpopulation problems permanently by putting a Sterility Plague in the third and final food supply he gives them.
  • Take the Wheel: Haviland Tuf has Tolly Mune take the wheel while he concentrates on calming his favorite cat and keeping it from leaping into trouble.
  • The Topic of Cancer: There's a "cancer creature/living tumor" example in the "Meatbeast" that Haviland Tuf proposes as a temporary solution to S'uthlam's overpopulation induced food shortage.
  • Who Would Want to Watch Us?: Upon his first return to S'uthlam, Tuf finds himself hailed as a hero and the subject of a hagiographic movie Very Loosely Based on a True Story. Bonus points; the movie was created by Tolly Mune, the Deuteragonist involved, who deliberately made up everything except the key events which were public record; "Tuf comes to S'uthlam to have his amazing seedship repaired, pays for the repairs with miraculous food technology, and is forced to escape with the help of the heroic Tolly Mune when the government tries to steal the ship." Mune even added a torrid romance between herself and Tuf to play on S'uthlamese obsession with breeding and boost her nascent political career.

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