The Integral Trees (1984) by Larry Niven

TheIntegralTrees1

Not about a crucified Peter Pan.

Question: If an integral tree falls in a gas torus space jungle, and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Answer: Your question is invalid. The tree might waver a bit, but air resistance would restabilize the structure, though it might shift nearer to its neutron star, causing a drought, which might result in the starvation of its inner-tuft inhabitants. Duh.

The last time I reviewed a Larry Niven book, I noticed that his penchant for Hard Science detail impacted not only the setting, for which he is so famous, but also the social structure of his two depicted cultures. The humans are dealt like playing cards: “The Captain,” “The Scottish Engineer,” “The Plucky Female” (effff). The alien culture is built into an all too familiar hierarchy: White on top, Brown on bottom, with little suggestion of struggle or complexity within the system.

I’m sure this is all very satisfying to Hard SF fans who like to fit characters into their proper toolbox compartments, but it’s called “soft science” for a reason. Hard edges are neither plausible nor compelling when dealing with people.

With 1984’s Integral Trees, (which I liked all right and I’ll get to that eventually), we see a continuation of the Hard SF habit influencing other areas of typically, er, soft portrayal. The following is uncut, but with my interjections. I repeat, nothing is missing from the following excerpt: Continue reading

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