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by George R.R. Martin
Published by Baen Books, 1986
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Suggested by: Greg Slade
Haviland Tuf has a reputation of being "the galaxy's only perfectly fair and honest businessman." You might think that makes him ripe for the plucking, and when he comes into possession of an unimaginably valuable seedship of the Ecological Engineering Corps from Old Earth, you might expect that a fool and his seedship would soon be parted. But people who set out to con Tuf keep ending up losing in the bargain. This is the premise of Tuf Voyaging, which is not actually a novel, but rather a collection of short stories, most of which were published in Analog.
Several of the stories are great fun. For instance, the opening story, called "The Plague Star", has a similar kind of humour as is found in the Pink Panther movies. Like Inspector Clouseau, Tuf wins in the end, not because he outplans his opponents, but because they all destroy themselves while he is otherwise occupied. However, by the very nature of a story collection, the situation varies from story to story. Sometimes, Tuf is the innocent who cannot be harmed, and sometimes, he conniving and underhanded himself. There is also an element of mystery in a couple of the stories, as Tuf figures out the source of the problems besetting his clients.
There are some Biblical allusions scattered through a couple of the stories, (such as "Loaves and Fishes", and explicit Biblical references in "Call Him Moses" (which is one of my favourites.) However, some Christians may have a problem with this collection, as there is a running theme of criticising any reluctance to use birth control. There is a fictional depiction of a Malthusian nightmare, with a planet's population growing exponentially, and outstripping all attempts to ensure an adequate food supply. (This was, in fact, a prominent theme in the science fiction of earlier years, but as people have come to discover the demographic shift, which results in a drop in the birth rate below replacement levels once a given society gains a certain level of prosperity, overpopulation scenarios have become much less common. I was quite surprised to see that Martin was still banging that drum as late as the mid-80s.) I must also report that the last story, in particular, has a fairly high proportion of cuss words.
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