George R. R. Martin’s 1986 Tuf Voyaging is, I believe, intended to be a fix-up of shorter pieces. It reads like a collection of stories, so that’s how I will review it. The central figure is Haviland Tuf, a minor trader to whom fate grants great power. With great power, as they say, comes even greater megalomania.
Animal harm warning.
The Plague Star • [Haviland Tuf] • (1985) • novella
Haviland Tuf, a small but honest interstellar trader, is hired by a mixed bag of adventurers to transport them to what they hope will be an instant fortune. As hoped, they find an ancient Ecological Engineering Corps ship, a huge vessel stocked with the lost arts of the long-vanished Federal Empire. The ship’s defences are still active and cripple Tuf’s ship. Tuf and some of his companions are betrayed and then left to die. Nonetheless, Tuf manages to safely dock with the EEC craft.
One by one all of the adventurers either kill each other or are killed by the biological defences of the ship. Tuf himself does not go out of his way to hurt his companions. Tuf is left in charge of a vastly powerful, although run-down, ship.
Some readers may have a problem with the fate of Mushroom, the cat who dies after being deliberately exposed to an unpleasant disease.
Strictly speaking, Tuf does something that leads to the death of one of the adventurers, but only in the sense of leading the person to a place where their death is very likely. It’s the difference between leading someone to a cliff and not stopping them as they topple over, and shooting them in the head. In any case, it’s self-defence.
This was written fairly late in the series and is perhaps the best of the stories. For one thing, it doesn’t contain a lecture about population growth.
Loaves and Fishes • [Haviland Tuf] • (1985) • novella
Tuf travels to S’uthlam, one of the more advanced worlds in human space. The population of S’uthlam is about thirty billion and rapidly growing, thanks to the local religion. In fact, S’uthlam is only decades away from a population crash. But since no crash has occurred in the past, the population is confident no crash will occur in their future. Unsurprisingly, Tuf’s Ark represents an irresistible temptation to the technocrats who run the planet; they try various means to legally separate Tuf from his ship. Who will win? The essentially faceless functionaries serving an idiotic, self-destructive system or the protagonist of a series with chronologically later episodes already in print, aided by Port Master Tolly Mune?
Readers may have noticed that S’uthlam is very nearly Malthus spelled backwards. Remember population bomb SF? It was a thing. This is an episodic population bomb series, in which the people of S’uthlam never, ever learn from experience. It is not a subtle example of the breed.
Guardians • [Haviland Tuf] • (1981) • novella
Ocean world Namor is plagued by an endless series of new pest-species. Tuf is hired to deal with the problem. Despite incessant interference from the Namorians he manages to discover the true cause of the problem. The solution hands the Namorians an entirely different challenge.
At the risk of spoilers, this almost felt like Deathworld fanfic.
Second Helpings • [Haviland Tuf] • (1985) • novelette
Tuf returns to S’uthlam and discovers that the locals have squandered the gifts he gave them. He had hoped that the gifts would extend the time before the inevitable Malthusian crisis. Ha!
Once again Tuf tries to help people who will not listen and will not learn.
A Beast for Norn • [Haviland Tuf] • novelette
Tuf steps in to destroy an odious sport, analogous to bullfighting or cockfighting, under the guise of supplying the sport with his own creations.
Minor, very minor.
Call Him Moses • [Haviland Tuf] • (1978) • novelette
Tuf squares off against a man who claims to be a prophet. Unfortunately for Moses, Tuf makes a fair case for his own divinity.
Manna from Heaven • [Haviland Tuf] • (1985) • novella
Tuf returns to S’uthlam for the final time, discovering that once again the locals have pissed away the gifts he gave them on his previous visit. War between S’uthlam and the less populous worlds near it seems likely; S’uthlam needs lebensraum. Tuf is determined to provide a final solution, despite the fact that his resources are limited to his cunning, his pet cats, and a moon-sized Ecological Engineering Corps vessel crammed to the gunnels with advanced biotechnology nobody on S’uthlam can match.
These stories generally lack much in the way of narrative tension. One can safely assume that Tuf will eventually win out. The interest comes from how. The older stories are particularly minor. Any story dealing with S’uthlam is heavy-handed in the extreme.
I am sure nobody will be surprised to learn that I have serious problems with the S’uthlam setting. S’uthlam has a population only a few multiples of our current one; it also features giant buildings (arcologies?). Martin assumes that it will be woefully overcrowded, perhaps because he never calculated the floor-space per person. Or perhaps this is just genre convention.
Anybody familiar with the population-bomb genre (how to manage breeder hordes) can make a pretty good guess as to how Tuf will deal with his trading pals. As this sort of thing goes, he’s fairly humane. Rather than murdering most of the population, he commits mass violation of personal autonomy. Malthusian apocalypse tales generally lean towards mass graves.
On the plus side, this is better written than Harrison’s Make Room, Make Room (a low bar, I admit) and the collection has a definite arc (even though the stories were not originally written and published in the collection order). Tuf’s descent into megalomania seems natural and consistent. Which is a trick I’ve seen other authors try and fail to carry off.