The Integral Trees - Larry Niven image
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).

Oh, what to say about The Integral Trees? The concept may have seemed strange and original back in ’85, but to the mind of this genre-burnt geek, familiar with the works it (presumably) helped inspire, it felt comfortable, cosy and tame.

There’s a gas ring around a neutron star full of free-fall life forms, with stranded humans living a floating Peter-Pan hunter-gatherer lifestyle amid the alien eco-system with their cultural memories of civilised planets little more than myths of legends...

It’s a story about gradually broadening horizons: our little tribe of survivors live in/on/around a zero-g space tree. Their tree is their world. Then – OMG! – they’re tossed off the tree and discover more humans living on other trees! Dare to dream; their might even be humans outside the gas ring – oh wait, there’s a spaceship! Whoa, what a mindfrack!

I’m not going to call this a great book. None of the characters are particularly vivid or memorable. The story isn’t revolutionary or daring. There’s nowt in the way of a thematic suckerpunch.

Applicable words to describe this book are:

I recommend this to fans of Asimov and/or Varley – for me this fell halfway between the style of the latter Foundation books and Titan. I’ve heard that Pohl would make this ménage à trois a full on four-way, but I haven’t read any of his work yet to make that statement with much certainty.

The Hugo that year went to Neuromancer, and you have to say the better book won in that showdown! But I’m glad that Locus gave it to The Integral Trees, because otherwise this novel could easily have been forgotten over the years and it’s one that I recommended unreservedly as a thoroughly enjoyable little read. Great for a fling – but maybe not one to settle-down with, y’know?

I’m pretty sure I’ll cycle back around at some point to read A World Out of Time and Ringworld – I enjoyed touching base with his Nivenness and as soon as the opportunity arises I’d be happy to dig a little deeper into his catalogue.