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Literature / The Practice Effect

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"There was that word again... practice. Dennis was getting sick of it. He got a gnawing sensation whenever he heard it, as if his subconscious were trying to tell him something it had already figured out. Something another part of him was just as frantically rejecting."

The Practice Effect is a 1984 novel by David Brin.

The Zeivatron - a device that allows travel between parallel universes - is broken. The robots being sent to the other side are not returning. Dennis Nuel is chosen to go through and repair it from the other side.

Finding the Zeivatron sabotaged beyond repair he finds himself stranded on Tatir, a world not unlike like our own but with one major difference - with use any object becomes better, instead of wearing out. A flint knife gradually becomes a razor sharp knife, but if left alone reverts back to its original state.

With his knowledge on how to make things, Dennis finds himself forced to serve as the Big Bad's "wizard".

Tropes used in this book:

  • Absent Aliens: Dennis is surprised to find humans instead of the aliens he speculated about being there as he explored. Aliens are eventually brought up in the never-followed-up-on Sequel Hook, though.
  • After the End: Dennis initially assumes the people of Tatir went through some kind of global high-tech war that wiped out the advanced civilization and resulted in a Scavenger World, where old stuff is high-tech, and new stuff is crappy.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Played with.
    • Dennis is sent to the AI project, which had already been proven a "dead end" by 2024.
    • Then the robot is shown to become better at following and interpreting instructions as it is practiced up on the planet.
  • Alternate Techline: Because of the practice effect, the people aren't as advanced as they look.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The Practice Effect is actually very high tech.
  • Contemporary Caveman: Dennis assumes the inhabitants of Tatir are this relative to the technological level he sees, but they're actually not quite that primitive.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Dennis arrives just as war begins.
    • Brady arrives just as Hoss'k arrives to remove the metal from the Zeivatron
  • Earth All Along: It turns out Tatir is actually a colony of Earth, far in the future.
  • Evolving Weapon: All weapons are this trope in this book, because the more they are used, the better they become. The trope is also played with - when a weapon is not used, is reverts back to its original form.
  • Exposition Dump: At the end of the book, the reason for the practice effect existing and the history the planet is revealed in this way.
  • Foreshadowing: While no sequels dealing with them were ever written, there's a hint to the bad aliens early on in the book, with an image of a dragon with a creature called a "Blecker" in its mouth.
  • Hot on His Own Trail: The hero is stranded on an alien world (just how alien, he doesn't know), and only knows it's inhabited by intelligent tool users. At one point he finds a campsite and explores it in growing excitement. They have shoes! Shoes with tread patterns! Patterns just like (falls down looking at his own soles)... oh.
  • Kite Riding: This was how gliders were developed in the world.
  • Literal Metaphor: The Practice Effect literally means "practice makes perfect", while the corollary that improvements will revert during disuse follows the tenet "use it or lose it".
  • Medieval Stasis: Because of The Practice Effect, the development of new technology has been very slow.
  • My Own Grampa: The princess warns Dennis about this, but he says he has no children back on earth.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: The robot repeatedly informs Dennis that it is ready to make a full report on the culture of Tatir.
  • Punishment Detail: Dennis is reassigned to a dead-end AI project.
  • Pun-Based Title: Every chapter title is a pun, sometimes one dependent on translations.
  • Punny Name: The name of the planet, Tatir, is revealed in the chapter "Nom de Terre", which means "name of [the] earth" and is a play on "pomme de terre", which is French for potato.
  • Reality Warper: The laws of thermodynamics have been altered by the bioengineered Krenegee Beasts to cause the Practice Effect.
  • Sequel Hook: It is revealed near the end of the book that Tatir was infected by a bioplague placed there by an alien species, the "Blecker". No more sequels were written, though.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: It is unknown exactly what year of the 21st century the story takes place in, but it's intended to be nearish. It is noted in the book how physics was found to be a dead end by the year 2000 and AI was found to be a dead end by 2024.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: Dennis notes several metal veins ripe for the taking that are unused, foreshadowing the fact that few people actually manufacture things there.