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Literature / Tuf Voyaging


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 his fellow man. 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:

  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Bond One-Liner: From The Plague Star: "I had a gun, too."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Mini-Mecha: The Unquin battlesuit.
  • 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.
  • 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 has been 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 mention of other Earth warships with AI installed mutinying and/or 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 returning to a planet he saved from starvation, Tuf finds himself hailed as a hero and the subject of a hagiographic, highly inaccurate movie