kittiwake: (stormclouds)
[personal profile] kittiwake
Gavving was fourteen years old, as measured by passings of the sun behind Voy. He had never been above Quinn Tuft until now.
The trunk went straight up, straight out from Voy. It seemed to go out forever, a vast brown wall that narrowed to a cylinder, to a dark line with a gentle westward curve to it, to a point at infinity—and the point was tipped with green. The far tuft.
A cloud of brown-tinged green dropped away below him, spreading out into the main body of the tuft. Looking east, with the wind whipping his long hair forward, Gavving could see the branch emerging from its green sheath as a half-klomter of bare wood: a slender fin.


This is a hard science fiction book about humans living in the gas torus surrounding a neutron star, and the diagrams at the beginning of the book are a great help to the reader in visualising the setting. A decaying gas giant orbits the neutron star, creating the Smoke Ring, a region of the gas torus that has a high enough concentration of air, water and other chemicals to support life. Humans have only lived there for the past 500 years, but have adapted well to their new environments, although in most of the tribes it is only the Scientist who knows much about their space-faring past. The AI that controlled the ship they arrived in is still waiting outside the smoke ring, and worrying about what has become of the descendants of the crew.

The unique environment has both benefits and limitations for the people who live in the smoke ring, and it is no utopia. The original composition of the ship's crew has led some of the tribes to practise slavery, and in both cases where a woman is approached by a man with a view to marriage, she immediately finds herself someone she prefers and marries him the very same day, so it seems that refusing to marry someone just because you don't want to is unacceptable. Unlike the 'birds' and most other creatures that inhabit the smoke ring, the humans do not have wings so they cannot leave the trees to go hunting. and they now live in isolated groups, some in low-gravity environments on the tufts at the ends of huge trees, and others in free-fall amidst floating jungles of foliage. They eat leaves and fungus growing on the trees, grow some crops and catch passing 'birds' for meat, using harpoons and bows. The tree-dwellers have evolved to be much taller and thinner than standard humans, and the few people who are still born with the old body-shape are seen as dwarfs, while the jungle dweller are even more elongated due to living in free-fall.

As the story begins, things are going badly for the the Quinn Tuft tribe, as the Dalton-Quinn tree has been knocked out of the fertile central region of the smoke ring after passing too close to the planet Gold, and the Quinn Tuft tribe's Scientist believes that the tree is dying. A group of tribe members considered persona non grata by the tribe's Chairman is sent on an expedition along the tree in search of food and water and end up going much further than they ever expected.

I have read this book before, over 20 years ago, but although I remembered the unique setting, with the low gravity and the trees, I didn't remember the plot at all, although certain events rang faint bells with me during this re-read. I've ordered a copy of the sequel, and I hope it will be equally fascinating.
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June 2012

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