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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.

Review:
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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Imminent Arrivals and TBR

Since I didn’t quite manage to finish my current read on the bus this morning (I literally had to stop in the middle of the climax.  I HATE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS), I thought I’d do something a little bit different today.  As you all know, I use PaperBackSwap for acquiring a lot of my books.  It lets you sort your wishlist by estimated time to fulfillment, so I thought I’d share with you guys the books that are estimated to be mine shortly.

Woman in the woods.First up, I’ve been waiting for this book forever: The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan.  All I really know about it is it’s a post-apocalyptic zombie story with a girl/woman/female-okay! at the center of the plot.  I love all things zombie.  Love.  They’re grotesque and fabulous and really fit my dark sense of humor to a T.  This is one of those books that will jump to the top of the TBR pile when it arrives.

Black and white image of women.Next is The Groupby Mary McCarthy.  This got added to my wishlist after reading Nymeth‘s review of it.  It’s about eight female Vassar graduates in the 1930s and the struggles they faced as women at that time.  I’m a sucker for stories about the struggles women face due simply to the fact that we’re women, and the early 1900s are a favorite time period of historical fiction for me.

Giant moon over snowy earth.Third is yet another post-apocalyptic book: Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.  I can only explain my post-apocalypse obsession by pointing at my fundamentalist Christian upbringing.  Or maybe I just enjoyed the apocalypse sermons because I secretly love tales of suffering.  Take your pick.  Anywho, this one is in journal form, a format I came to love through those Dear America books back when I was in middle school.  This particular apocalypse takes the form of an asteroid hitting the moon, moving it closer to the Earth and giving us some fun Arctic weather.  I’ve heard good titterings from my fellow librarians on this one.

Ok, so I also have books in my TBR pile, so I’m going to show you guys 3 random books from there.  If there’s one you sorely want reviewed soon, tell me now!

Person in a tree.I stumbled upon The Integral Trees by Larry Niven on PaperBackSwap’s customized homepage (it shows me recently added scifi, horror, and memoirs).  The cover caught my attention, so I checked out the description.  It’s supposed to be about a planet where humans evolved to live without gravity and live among the trees.  All other life forms also live among the trees, including the fish.  Honestly, it reminded me a lot of Wii Mario Galaxy, so there you have it.

Torn page in a notebook.A pretty recent arrival, I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells features an untrustworthy narrator with sociopathic tendencies who spends the book trying to convince us and himself that he’s not a serial killer.  Kind of reminds me of Dexter-lite.  I was really stoked for this the whole time it was on my wishlist, but I haven’t touched it since it arrived.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe I’d enjoy it more if it was called, Yeah, I’m a Serial Killer, Deal With It, Bitch.  As is, it just seems like the author was afraid to take it to the edge that Dexter is at.  Prove me wrong, people!

Cartoon of a woman sitting on a tombstone.Finally, there’s Undead and Unwed by MaryJanice Davidson.  Yes, it’s yet another paranormal romance series, and I have yet to finish the two that I’m on (Demon Slayer and Sookie), but well this one seems a lot more like Shopaholic, plus it’s not in the south, which is a huge plus.  I mean, really, why must all tongue-in-cheek paranormal romance take place in the south, whereas the dull I’m-a-huge-bitch-because-I-was-wounded-as-a-child-LOOK-AT-MY-TATTOOS paranormal romance take place in the north?  Sooo dull.  So, yeah, I have high hopes for this series.

That’s it!  Please tell me what you think, my lovely readers!