Title: Tuf Voyaging
Author: George R R Martin
Date Added: January 27, 2016
Date Started: January 5, 2017
Date Finished: January 17, 2017
Reading Duration: 12 days
Genre: Science Fiction
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.
Tuf Voyaging is a compilation of short stories and novellas concerning the adventures of ecological engineer and cat lover Haviland Tuf. It consists of seven stories: “The Plague Star,” “Loaves and Fishes,” “Guardians,” “Second Helpings,” “A Beast for Norn,” “Call Him Moses,” and “Manna from Heaven.” Four of the stories are standalone in respect to each other (save for concerning Tuf and his psionic cats), but three: “Loaves and Fishes,” ‘Second Helpings,” and “Manna from Heaven” are the S’uthlam Trilogy.
I read “Guardians” and “A Beast for Norn” in Martin’s larger story compendium Dreamsongs: Volume II, so if you’re interested in my take on them, you’ll find it here.
The first story of Tuf, “The Plague Star” is an origin of sorts. It explains how the once humble trader came to be in possession of the ancient seed ship known as the Ark, which, though a relic of a long forgotten war, is still an extremely powerful, highly coveted, and advanced piece of technology. It is also what the title of the first story literally refers to, and the only character in it with any redeeming qualities is Tuf himself.
Reading anything by Martin prior to Song is delving into clues about what his magnum opus is really about and how it may potentially end. “The Plague Star” brings up the question of justice, power, and property rights. Tuf vies with five others for control of an ancient seed ship, and in the end he has a stand off with the last remaining where before their final showdown, they discuss why either should claim the Ark. Tuf acquiesces that might does indeed make right, but intellectual prowess should also not be discounted. In the end, he manages to vanquish his foe though that and what could be considered luck. This brings up the argument of whether brains or brawn are the higher power. Though Tuf possessed both, he detests being touched or touching others and prefers to fall on the side of the former. It is the combination in the end that wins the day.
Martin utilizes this supposed binary in ASOIAF, having Varys pose to Tyrion a riddle:
“Oh, I think not,” Varys said, swirling the wine in his cup. “Power is a curious thing, my lord. Perchance you have considered the riddle I posed you that day in the inn?”
“It has crossed my mind a time or two,” Tyrion admitted. “The king, the priest, the rich man—who lives and who dies? Who will the swordsman obey? It’s a riddle without an answer, or rather, too many answers. All depends on the man with the sword.”
“And yet he is no one,” Varys said. “He has neither crown nor gold nor favor of the gods, only a piece of pointed steel.”
“That piece of steel is the power of life and death.”
“Just so… yet if it is the swordsmen who rule us in truth, who do we pretend our kings hold the power? Why should a strong man with a sword ever obey a child king like Joffrey, or a wine-sodden oaf like his father?”
“Because these child kings and drunken oafs can call other strong men, with other swords.”
“Then these other swordsmen have the true power. Or do they?” Varys smiled. “Some say knowledge is power. Some tell us that all power comes from the gods. Others say it derives from law. Yet that day on the steps of Baelor’s Sept, our godly High Septon and the lawful Queen Regent and your ever-so-knowledgeable servant were as powerless as any cobbler or cooper in the crowd. Who truly killed Eddard Stark, do you think? Joffrey, who gave the command? Ser Ilyn Payne, who swung the sword? Or… another?”
Tyrion cocked his head sideways. “Did you mean to answer your damned riddle, or only to make my head ache worse?”
Varys smiled. “Here, then. Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less.”
“So power is a mummer’s trick?”
“A shadow on the wall,” Varys murmured, “yet shadows can kill. And ofttimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow.”
Our very society is built upon this riddle of power, this “shadow on the wall,” but just like in the world of Ice and Fire, shadows harbor the power of those who cast them.
With the Ark Tuf has godlike control. He can engineer all manner of creatures, diseases and hybrids of the same. He uses said powers to offer his services to numerous worlds, but he’s not always aware when and in what capacity his abilities will be needed. The first trip to S’uthlam was to receive services of his own on the Ark in “Loaves and Fishes.” The S’uthlamese have a major population problem to the point their ecological resources cannot sustain the increasing numbers. Compounding this is the religious belief that population control is “anti-life,” so instead of controlling their numbers, they seek to increase their resources. Obviously, this entire mode of thinking is problematic, which Tuf immediately points out. Though Tolly Mune, the Portmaster agrees with him, she also knows her people and knows any suggestion about birth control will be met with vehemence (…).
This is classic outsider looking in as Tuf reiterates again and again that while he can engineer a solution, it will only stymie the issue, not resolve it, because the foundation of it is uncontrollable population growth. This theme is repeated in “Second Helpings,” and the conclusion “Manna from Heaven.” It is a perfect parallel to our own world’s population issues in addition to the naysayer’s stance on climate change. When Tuf attempts to speak about it in “Second Helpings,” he is castigated and accused of interference, which is ironic since he was paid to literally interfere in order to stave off mass starvation. Placing a bandage on the wound will only stymie the effects for a while. The foundation of the problem has to be resolved, and while the conclusion has Tuf literally playing god far worse than he does in “Call Him Moses,” it is a moral dilemma on whether or not what he did was just.
Is it worse to be a false prophet or to play God? In the latter case, the powers of deity exist in reality, and like the justice/power question presented in “The Plague Star,” the question persists of do godlike powers make one a god? Is that all that’s needed for apotheosis or is there something more fundamental and absolute needed for godhood? Tuf definitely pulls the A God Am I card in “Call Him Moses,” but he plays it even harder in “Manna from Heaven,” and arguably that image of a bald man stroking a cat is far more sinister than endearing, though I applaud Martin for shaking up this trope.
The adventures of Haviland Tuf are a mere snapshot of one impassive and (mostly) unaffected man. Martin writes these tales in a way that we assume much more has happened than what we’re seeing in between stories, but what we’re shown gives us the template for how Tuf operates. Nearly all of the offerings have a religious connotation in the title and (as fore mentioned) religious overtones in the story (I can’t even call them undertones because it’s pretty damn blatant). “Loaves and Fishes” and “Manna from Heaven,” the bookends to the S’uthlam trilogy refer to how Christ miraculously feeds a hungry crowd and how Moses through God feeds the Israelites respectively. Additional “Manna’s” title reveals a more complicated and potentially malevolent connotation than that.
All of Martin’s prior works feed into his current epic, and I believe at the end of Song there will be a terrible choice as there was at the end of “Manna from Heaven.” Tuf Voyaging is epic in how it presents point of view, the outside perspective. When one is removed from a situation, it is often easier to see how the issues can be resolved, but when one is too close to them, even when you’re on the opposite side (as Tolly Mune claims to be with her peoples’ beliefs on procreation), it can still be hard to make the tough decisions.