Book - Tuf Voyaging

Tuf Voyaging

Nate McKenzie discovers there's more to George R R Martin than the Starks as he reads a collection of short stories about an albino called Haviland Tuf...

Fully ten years before George R.R. Martin published the fantasy genre phenomenon A Game of Thrones he took readers on an epic space journey through a series of short stories involving a very large, very hairless, cat loving albino called Haviland Tuf. The short stories conjoined in one compendium known as Tuf Voyaging.

An unsuccessful junk trader, Tuf takes on a job transporting a group of expeditioners who charter his ship, perfunctorily named The Cornucopia of Excellent Goods at Low Prices, in order to venture to what they refer to as the "plague star". As it turns out, the "star" is in fact a long-lost ancient ship the size of an entire world. The Ark, as it is know, has bio-technology that has been mythologised for many years; specifically, the ability to engineer any species that one can possibly fathom. Discovering the ship is both fortuitous and dangerous. The potential for good and evil uses of this type of technology is not lost on the group, nor Haviland himself.

Through a series of confrontations involving cloned and genetically modified bio-weapons (including things called Hellkittens, razor sharp "walking" spider webs and even a T-Rex) Haviland Tuf becomes sole owner of Ark.

Martin sets off on the journey in Tuf Voyaging quickly and does not let up. Being that it is originally a collection of short stories the prose is packed with action, sweeping the reader through the "Plague Star" on into "Loaves and Fishes" and through the rest of the chapters as quickly as any globe-hopping spy thriller from Ian Fleming or Robert Ludlum. Martin's deft skill with fantasy is as apparent in Tuf as it is in any of the Game of Thrones books. Possibly more so. In his episodic space travels, Haviland Tuf encounters worlds undiscovered whereas Game of Thrones borrows from existing elements of fantasy, medieval, and even historical narratives. From the jump, Tuf Voyaging has a unique feel. That feeling never waned for me either; neither did the thought that there were obvious lessons to be learned from the stories and Haviland Tuf's logical ideology.

In particular, Tuf's visit to a planet called S'uthlam stuck with me. S'uthlam, an advanced, brilliant, but overpopulated world with starving inhabitants continues to grow in population due to the race's religious beliefs that prevent the use of contraception. Haviland makes several attempts at different points in his journey to assist the citizens of S'uthlam but ultimately their fate is left in their hands. Obviously, that story resonates even in the current world socio-political climate but it does so without being cloying.

Haviland Tuf is, at the same time, vexing in his righteousness and accurate in his summations of situations. He is a character you will be fond of but not necessarily want as a close friend.

Martin's Tuf Voyaging is deep yet easy to read; broad but succinct. You get the feeling of being transported across all those many light years travelled in the Ark but it never drags on. I enjoyed the entire collection of stories as much as any Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly viewing. For those that don't read often but enjoy those types of stories this is a book that I would highly recommend.

As for those that are impatiently awaiting the release of The Winds of Winter, Tuf Voyaging might be a tasty morsel to stave of starvation and a nice reminder that there are other stories to be told. I know how rabid the acolytes of Westeros can be; but, Haviland Tuf offers a worthy escape if you're willing to substitute dragons for cloned telepathic cats, if even temporarily.

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