Tuf Voyaging

I've been meaning to finally read George R. R. Martin's Tuf Voyaging ever since Bantam Books re-issued the book in trade paperback format in 2013. I had my first taste of Haviland Tuf when I read GRRM's collection Dreamsongs, Volume 2, and was intrigued enough to want to find out more about that character and his adventures in outer space.

However, as is often the case, other authors, novels, and series have gotten in the way over the years and Tuf Voyaging sat on my shelf, all but forgotten. Yet when the time came for me to pick up reading material to bring with me on my two-week hiking trip in the French Alps, I recalled that this book had been awaiting my attention for quite a while and I decided to bring it with me.

Here's the blurb:

Long before A Game of Thrones became an international phenomenon, #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin had taken his loyal readers across the cosmos. Now back in print after almost ten years, Tuf Voyaging is the story of quirky and endearing Haviland Tuf, an unlikely hero just trying to do right by the galaxy, one planet at a time.

Haviland Tuf is an honest space-trader who likes cats. So how is it that, in competition with the worst villains the universe has to offer, he’s become the proud owner of a seedship, the last remnant of Earth’s legendary Ecological Engineering Corps? Never mind; just be thankful that the most powerful weapon in human space is in good hands—hands which now have the godlike ability to control the genetic material of thousands of outlandish creatures.

Armed with this unique equipment, Tuf is set to tackle the problems that human settlers have created in colonizing far-flung worlds: hosts of hostile monsters, a population hooked on procreation, a dictator who unleashes plagues to get his own way . . . and in every case, the only thing that stands between the colonists and disaster is Tuf’s ingenuity—and his reputation as a man of integrity in a universe of rogues.

The problem with older science fiction works is that they don't always age well. This was a cause for concern, for the stories comprising this book were originally published between 1976 and 1986. The genre has evolved quite a bit these last few decades. The idea of an eccentric biogenetic engineer that moves from one world to the next in a giant spaceship, both solving and creating ecological problems along the way, may have been original thirty or forty years ago. But in 2017? Suffice to say that these stories didn't work as well as I had hoped. Not that Tuf Voyaging is a boring read. It kept me entertained while I was reading it, but these short fiction pieces definitely lack the unexpected, kick-you-in-the-balls when you least anticipate it, shock value moments and plotlines that have become the hallmark of GRRM's tales. Indeed, they're not something that stays with you once you're done reading and some of them are downright forgettable.

One of the main problems is that Haviland Tuf is not that compelling of a protagonist. Sure, it's kind of fun to follow the adventures of this quirky, fussy, extremely formal giant of a man. Pale and bald, vegetarian and cat-lover, Tuf sure is an oddball. Trouble is, it all gets old quite fast and Tuf is not endearing enough to carry this entire book on his shoulders. Hence, the more you read, the less enjoyable the stories get. The supporting cast is rather weak, and the spotlight remains on Haviland Tuf for the better part of the book. Tolly Mune showed some promise early on, but in the end she didn't live up to her potential. Another problem is that all of these short stories rely a lot on humor. To a certain extent, George R. R. Martin is responsible for heralding the grimdark era and he's never been known for his sense of humor. Overall, I felt that the comedic or comical aspects of Tuf's misadventures didn't always work all that well.

Interestingly enough, it was the two oldest stories that were the most interesting. Written in 1975 and revised in 1986, "A Beast for Norn" and "Call Him Moses" from 1978 were by far the best of the bunch. Initially published in 1981, "Guardians" is another engaging story. What was written afterward lacks the originality and the quality of their predecessors. "The Plague Star" recounts the tale of how Haviland Tuf came into possession of the Ark, a biowar seedship of the Ecological Engineering Corps from the ancient Federal Empire. What follows has come to be known as the S'uthlam triptych. Comprised of "Loaves and Fishes", "Second Helpings" and "Manna From Heaven", these stories were written so that GRRM could come up with enough material so that the first edition of Tuf Voyaging could be published by Baen in 1986.

The stories are arranged in chronological order, not in the order they were published. It makes perfect sense structurally, but it does make for an uneven read for the most part. As a vacation read for someone looking for lighter reading material, Tuf Voyaging did the job. Still, there is no denying that it is the weakest GRRM book I have sampled thus far. The author's impressive body of work set the bar rather high and Tuf Voyaging failed to live up to the lofty expectations generated by basically every other GRRM novels/novellas/short stories I've read.

Once upon a time, Martin signed a contract to write a second Tuf book which would have been titled Twice as Tuf or Tuf Landing. But then Wild Cards, Hollywood, and A Song of Ice and Fire came along and the project never materialized. Perhaps it's for the best, given how the first book has not aged well. GRRM said that it might still happen one of these days, when readers least expect it. Time will tell. . .

The final verdict: 7/10

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1 commentaires:

DontDriveAngry said...

"GRRM said that it might still happen one of these days, when readers least expect it."

- Good gravy, please don't give him any ideas!!