Home > Genre, scifi > Book Review: The Integral Trees by Larry Niven (Series, #1)

Book Review: The Integral Trees by Larry Niven (Series, #1)

Person floating in front of trees.Summary:
Humans settled on a planet far from Earth after mutinying from their spaceship.  Generations later, their descendants have formed various tribes and cities ranging in civilization from tribal to bronze age level of technology.  What makes the planet unique is its lack of gravity.  Most people live in “integral trees” or in “jungle clouds” with varying amounts of pull (gravity) due to the presence of the tree.  In this peek at their existence, we follow a bunch of intrepid people who survive when their tree dies only to find themselves marooned in the sky, along with the flying animals, pools of water, flying fish, and more.

This book is the definition of classic hard scifi.  The world is complex, alien, and unique.  It manages to simultaneously be barbaric and technologically advanced in some ways.  Everything is as alien from our own lives as we could possibly imagine, from what the people eat to how their cultures are to how people interact.

It takes a bit to get into the book.  At first the concept of the planet and how people live on it is overwhelming.  But Niven introduces things slowly, so by the time you’re reading about a jungle cloud with people with prehensile toes, it’s easy to imagine and doesn’t slow you down at all in the story.  Yet simultaneously it is obvious from looking back to the beginning of the book that Niven always has a clear understanding of how his world works, even if it’s not entirely clear to the reader yet.  This is the definition of good writing, and especially good scifi.

The characters have a tendency to be a bit one-dimensional and flat.  This is possibly due to all of the attention being paid to the world the story is set in.  However, the story still would be improved with more three-dimensional characters.  One character in particular goes from a female warrior to a married woman to a concubine and seems to take it all a bit too much in stride for someone who started out as a woman warrior.  It felt a bit as if Niven was changing the characters to fit the situation rather than seeing how the characters he had already developed actually would react.

There is definitely a bit of  a tinge of male fantasy to the whole story.  Even the jungle cloud women who participate equally in their society end up being sister wives to one guy.  Personally, I thought given the way women were treated in the story that it must have come out in the 1950s or 1960s, but a quick check shows it came out in 1984.  That’s a bit….disturbing.  While it’s certainly logical that some cultural things will not be ideal on a foreign planet such as this, the status of women in the novel reads less as a commentary and more as something the author would very much like the world to look like.

Overall, this is an enjoyable hard scifi novel with a rich setting, weak characters, and questionable mores.  I recommend it to lovers of hard scifi, but most others probably would not enjoy it.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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