The crew of a seeder ramship finds an interesting anomaly: a gaseous torus around a decaying neutron star capable of supporting life. Hundreds of years later their descendants live as savages in this zero g environment.
It's Niven: bad characterization, weak plot, but a really cool idea. Good for anyone who likes to think about astrophysics and alien life forms.
I began re-reading this while waiting for a the rest of the Virga series to be returned by a friend and I wanted a free fall society fix. Well, I wasn't disappointed. I got the nifties out of it, and while the books aged well, they aren't as sophisticated as Schroeder's books and its noticeable.
Both of these books are technically part of Niven's state series (also seen in World Out of Time), and are about the star ship Discipline, its uploaded Checker and the descendants of its crew. They are also about one of the neatest ideas for a setting I've come across: the Smoke Ring. The remnants of a supernova and a gas giant, the Smoke Ring is a naturally occurring (though very statistically unlikely) free fall habitat. It has life, including the Integral trees - tidally stabilized giant trees (20 kilometers in length or more) that play host to the descendants mentioned above.
The Integral Trees is about the Quinn tribe and the end of its world. Its tree has come to close to the inner limits and is drying out. This drought is slowwly killing the tribe, so in a last ditch gesture they send a party to explore the other tuft of the tree. And hopefully kill off some unpopular mouths that need to be fed.
During their expedition they find strange new life, eat it and meet members of the other tribe. Who promptly try to kill them. About this time, the tree breaks up and the grand voyage begins.
From there we get to see a free fall jungle, a giant pond dweller called a Moby and civilization (of a sorts) called London Tree.
Throughout all this, we have interludes with the uploaded Checker, Sharls Davis Kendy. From these we get the back story about how humanity came to the Smoke Ring, how it likely came to be and a reason for these primitives to come in contact with with him.
Hopefully I haven't spoiled it too much (it is over 25 years old if I remember correctly), but its a lot of fun. Yeah, the characters are flat, but Niven delivers great sense of wonder and nice eyeball kicks.
The Smoke Ring is the sequel of 20 odd years later. In it, the survivors of the first book have had children, colonized a tree (Citizen's Tree) and things are looking pretty good.
Then survivors of a shipwreck come along ...
Not a spaceship, but a steam powered logging vessel that had some very bad luck. These are representatives of the Clump, another civilization in the Smoke Ring and it seems a bit more easygoing than London Tree was.
After some political maneuvering among the inhabitants of Citizen's Tree, an expedition is sent to the Clump to learn about them. During the trip to the Clump, we get a lot of "As you know Dave" exposition about how to make a steam rocket, log in the Smoke Ring and a bit about the culture of the Clump. On the upside, Niven shows much of this avoiding the sin of telling, not showing.
Once the expedition reaches the Clump, we get to see a lot. The Clump is a much more sophisticated civilization with money, more specialization and on and on. To my eyes, its neat.
Granted its ruled by the military, doesn't seem that big on human rights, but that could describe a lot of things. It reminded me of a good point overview of say Elizabethan England.
Now, this would have been just a travelogue from what I described so far. However, Niven introduces conflict with the fact the clump has a functioning computer left over from the settling of the Smoke Ring and Kendy (the major driver behind the expedition) wants it badly. So, from there we're on to a caper...
The Smoke Ring for me is a good book. Its got a great setting, characters that are more than cardboard (but admittedly not by much). I liked it more than Integral Trees.
This is the 1st of two books (the 2nd being "The Smoke Ring") by Larry Niven on life in a micro-gravity environment. The author postulates on how life and social interactions would develop among the survivors of a space exploration that settled within the gas torus around a neutron star. Within this environment are plants (generally very fragile except for the "integral trees" that the humans live on), animals (including birds of a kind that fly as a threesome, fish, and whales), and ponds that are essentially floating spheres of water. Human adaptions are notable (taller, thinner) except for the "dwarves" - humans of what would currently be considered normal stature.
I enjoyed this very much. Do note that it is more hard science (as is typical of Niven) than space opera.
"The Integral Trees" was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1984 and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1985.
This tale of a planet in which there is no gravity and people live in "integral trees" or "jungle clouds" consists of the very definition of very rich, hard scifi world building. Unfortunately the characterization is weak, and there is a distinct sense that the mistreatment of women depicted in the book is viewed by the author as an ideal and not something to critique. Recommended to fans of hard scifi for the rich world it builds.
In this novel, Niven presents a fully-fleshed culture of evolved humans who live without gravity in the gas cloud surrounding a neutron star. In this Smoke Ring, free-floating life forms flourish, and all of them, from fish to fowl, can fly...