Friday, February 7, 2014

Tuf Voyaging

I wanted to say something about one of my favorite webcartoonists' recently completed space opera, but in comparing its dark humor to a convenient Science Fiction example I find a need to establish that point of reference. So it's Martin today, Baldwin tomorrow.

Tuf Voyaging is not a novel per se. It is a collection of short stories written in a similar style featuring the same title hero. Through his long career before starting the sprawling fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire which thanks to HBO interference has slowed to a crawl in favor of adaptation, George R.R. Martin wrote precious few novels. Aside from a couple of slim novellas like Dying of the Light or Fevre Dream, he was mostly known for morally ambiguous SciFi short stories, hard-hitting vignettes of wanton destruction like The Sandkings.

That's where the collection conflated as Tuf Voyaging starts, with the crew of a salvage vessel greedily and callously eliminating each other as they scramble for possession of a devastatingly powerful warship. Think of it as Survivor with plagues and monsters. From there, the stories get less directly violent but more morally charged, showcasing Haviland Tuf's maybe-rational, maybe-callous, pleasingly trenchant problem-solving abilities. Though much of the stories' initial lure for readers hinges on the image of Tuf himself (the book's Wikipedia entry accurately if superficially describes him as "an exceptionally tall, bald, very pale, overweight, phlegmatic, vegetarian, cat-loving but otherwise solitary space trader") they ultimately remain memorable for Tuf's grimly comical difficulties in aiding the self-destructive.

Whether you're left with a sour taste or a warm feeling of satisfaction at the end of the collection I should think largely depends on whether you agree or disagree with Tuf's draconian beneficence in Manna from Heaven and the example of S'uthlam is a case-in-point for Science Fiction's role as a court jester, a safe, publicly derided yet subversive venue for those progressive ideas too dangerous to be spoken of as nonfiction.

Many of Tyrion Lannister's lines in A Song of Ice and Fire betray Martin's own constant awareness of this sad reality, and Tuf is the no-bullshit representation of Martin's style which you're not likely to find on cable television. Stannis Baratheon is little more than Haviland Tuf's somewhat diminished reincarnation.

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