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Destiny's Road by Larry Niven

Destiny's Road (edition 1998)

by Larry Niven

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1,177136,846 (3.25)19
Title:Destiny's Road
Authors:Larry Niven
Info:Tor Science Fiction (1998), Mass Market Paperback, 448 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:alien world, space ships, quest

Work details

Destiny's Road by Larry Niven

  1. 10
    The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven (sc4s2cg)
    sc4s2cg: In my own humble opinion, these two books are Mr. Niven's best works. Fascinating reads, both of them.
  2. 00
    Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven (HenriMoreaux)

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Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
This was an interesting world to delve into. The main character is from a colony on a new world, and as far as he knows it is the only colony. His life seems on track until a surprise event forces him to leave his town and he starts to find out more about his world. He is smart, and curious, and this drives his adventure. It is an interesting book to read because the main character - the voice of the story - is so ignorant of his surroundings that the reader is often left in the dark since the character hasn't quite figured this out yet. I enjoyed following his adventure and discovering his world along with him.
  GretchenLynn | Feb 8, 2017 |
All in all, a decent book. There are some interesting ideas in world-building - otterfolk, the Wind, the control experiment. I didn't appreciate as much some of the narrative choices, particularly the nature of how the secret about the Cavorite was revealed, along with what all was going on. It felt underwhelming; part of this was the nature of what was revealed, and part was how it was revealed and how the main character reacted to it. But even so, it made for an interesting story in an interesting world. ( )
  teknognome | Nov 14, 2016 |
Strange planet - check
Mystery path or road - check
Unknown history of settlement or town - check
Crime or altercation resulting in sudden banishment from home - check

Destiny's Road has all your classic elements for a quest slash adventure romp. Set on the alien planet of Destiny the book follows a young man who flees from his home with more questions than answers.

The tale of adventure across the planetscape and slow uncovering of secrets and distortions was well paced and I certainly enjoyed the unexpected events as they unfolded. They were far enough out of field that they're unexpected but not so far that they're silly or break the your immersion in the story.

It's good futuristic scifi tale, felt the ending could have been better however I can see what the author was trying to do there. ( )
  HenriMoreaux | Aug 22, 2016 |
The novel is set several hundred years in the future, on an Earth-like planet named Destiny, along a length of fused bedrock known as the Road.

The Road was created to enable humans to survive on the planet, as its native life is not nutritious to Earth life – and vice versa. By sterilizing a peninsula with the ship's fusion engines and seeding the cleansed ground with Earth plant life, along with the burials of dead colonists (colloquially known as lifegivers, as they were always buried with a tree as a headstone), a self-sustaining near-analogue of Earth's ecosystem was created. At first, the colony prospered. Native viruses and bacteria are unable to infect colonists; disease is nonexistent and wounds cannot become infected, resulting in longer lifespans. Sea life quickly recovered and is consumed by the colonists as a "diet" food, as their digestive systems are unable to metabolize it into fat.

But the key word in near-analogue turned out to be near. The planet's biosphere is almost completely absent of potassium. A diet lacking in potassium causes decreased intelligence in humans, which can be permanent if it is not remedied quickly – especially if this occurs during childhood. If one is denied it for too long, death always results. The reason for this lack is thus: potassium is as lethal to Destiny life as arsenic is to Earth life, and eons earlier, a form of sea life evolved the ability to concentrate potassium as a defense against predation. However, when sea life dies, its remains are deposited on the ocean floor. Ultimately, most of the element was thus leached out of the planet's ecosystem, concentrating it there. After that, volcanic activity was the only process that reintroduced potassium into the ecosystem.

Having thus discovered the lack of potassium in Destiny's biosphere, the crew of the Cavorite landing craft took the ship to search for a volcano from which to harvest potassium. However, Destiny is a far, far older planet than Earth, and is much less tectonically active: They could find only a single major volcano. But on that volcano - the future site of the Windfarm - they had an astounding stroke of luck. They found speckles, an indigenous plant that had adapted to concentrate potassium as a defence against predation, making complex extraction of the element unnecessary.

Even so, upon the ship's return to Spiral Town, they found they were too late. Everyone had succumbed to devastating cases of potassium deficiency; all had suffered severe mental retardation, and a great many were dead. The human gene pool on Destiny had been dangerously small from the beginning - more than half of the colonists had died from hibernation-related complications during the trip to the planet, and now more had died of potassium deficiency. The colony would now inbreed itself to extinction unless drastic measures were taken.

The crew decided to use their new-found monopoly on potassium (which the novel discusses as an example of a hydraulic empire) to coerce the colonists into a new social order: they began traveling from town to town as mysterious and well-armed merchants, trading speckles for various goods and services - including sexual favors. Colonial women were impregnated by male merchants, and colonial men impregnated female merchants. By subjecting themselves to constant genetic scrutiny (to the point of charting their genealogies like horses), the merchants were thus able to eventually return the colony's gene pool to relative stability. By then, the merchants had become accustomed to the new social order, or to be more precise, their position at the top of it. What had been visualized as a temporary measure then became permanent.

[edit] Plot summary
At the start of the novel, the main character, Jemmy (he changes his name several times over the course of the novel) is around age 10. The novel then proceeds to skip through time in the various sections of the book including his teenage and young adult years, ending when he is in his forties. At first, he lives in his birthplace, Spiral Town, at one end of the Road – no one there knows what lies beyond a short distance down the Road.

Jemmy's adventures begin as a late adolescent when he kills a merchant in self-defense and is forced to flee Spiral Town. He winds up a distance down the road in a fishing community where he changes his name and appearance, and becomes a cook. He marries into the population. When a different caravan comes through town from Spiral Town, they arrange with the village elders to hire Jemmy as a chef. He proceeds on the caravan to the Neck, the isthmus which joins the peninsula to the mainland from which the caravans come. No locals, like Jemmy, are permitted on the mainland.

At the Neck, Jemmy is told he must return to his town on the next caravan – the same one he fled Spiral Town from. He instead flees by sea. Taking refuge on an artifact left over from the time of Landing, he floats around the peninsula to a point beyond the Neck. There, in a storm, he goes ashore and is found by prisoners at the Windfarm – sentenced prisoners who farm speckles. All speckles come from the area and are rendered infertile by irradiation; the monopoly is rigorously maintained.

The others use clothing that Jemmy has salvaged to plot an escape, led by the violent Andrew. They break out and evade pursuit. Andrew has planned all along to kill Jemmy, but Jemmy literally gets the drop on him and kills him in self-defense. Jemmy leaves the other prisoners, taking money they have found and a supply of speckles, and flees once again.

Twenty years later, Jemmy is a pit chef at a beach resort along the Road. His wife is burned in an accident and he is forced to leave his place – a place, as it turns out, of hiding. He finally reaches his lifetime's goal of seeing the other end of the Road, and Destiny Town. There, he is able to access the Cavorite's computer library and learn the true history of Destiny, a discovery which hardens him.

After his wife dies, Jemmy takes his father-in-law's widow Harlow back to the site of the prisoners' hideout, where he had planted fertile speckles. They still survive, and he takes some, sharing the secret with Harlow. They then return to the beach resort, of which Jemmy, by his wife's death, is now part owner. The two contrive to join a caravan, and Jeremy returns as a merchant, unknown to his former townsfolk, to Spiral Town.

During the trip, Jemmy makes his attempt to break the speckles monopoly - in the past, the merchants have murdered entire towns for disobedience by withholding speckles, and any major disruption in the speckle trade would kill every human on Destiny. All along the Road, he distributes gumdrop candy covered with dyed speckle seeds to children. After distributing the candy, he sows speckle seeds in potassium-rich areas such as manure piles and graveyards. The next time the merchants try to withhold speckles, they will be in for a surprise.

Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Destiny's_Road"
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I haven't really read Larry Niven much, not even Ringworld, and I wanted to give him a try. Destiny's Road is a story of a colony from Earth to a planet called Destiny, over 200 years after its establishment. The story is a mystery really, as we follow Jemmy Bloocher as he travels from Spiral Town, a hick city that is the original landing spot of the colony but that is totally dependent on the Caravans that come twice a year from a mysterious other place, about which the merchants will not speak. The key element the Caravans carry are Speckles, the only source of potassium on the planet, without which everyone's mind will turn to mush.
Jemmy is forced to leave Spiral Town after killing one of the merchants, and has to change his identity. We follow his travels as he strives to learn the parts of the planet's history that is kept secret from Spiral Town and the other villages on "The Crab", the strip of land they farm and cannot leave.
I wanted to try Niven alone after reading 2 books he wrote with Gregory Benford, which frustrated me because, while the story was cool, the writing was difficult to follow. I hoped that I could get the cool story with better writing.
But alas, not this time. I like that Niven creates a world with what I presume is plausible science (also true of the Benford books), but he just isn't good at explaining this stuff to the lay person. By the end of the book, some things became clearer, but I guess I don't want to work that hard to understand what's going on. And while the mystery is great, and unfolds nicely, Jemmy's travels are odd, disjointed, and random with too many characters who aren't adequately fleshed out.
I need to try Ringworld.
Oh, one more thing: would it really have killed him to put a map of Destiny somewhere in the book? I guess he didn't want to include it at the front, since details of the colony were part of the mystery. But I would have liked to see a map somewhere in the second half of the book, so I could visualize the layout better. ( )
  DanTarlin | May 1, 2015 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Larry Nivenprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carol Russo DesignCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whelan, MichaelCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0812511069, Mass Market Paperback)

Humanity tried to conquer the stars and failed. Then it was time to try again, on Destiny. But even as the new colony was taking hold, the settlers were in revolt against one another. While some stayed on the new planet with what equipment they could keep, others fled back to the stars. Now the settlements are falling into decay, and the old technology is breaking down. Spiraltown is better off than most, and Jeremy Bloocher is lucky that he will someday head the family farm there. But there is trouble, Jeremy must flee, and neither he nor Destiny will ever be the same.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:31 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Like Earth, the space colony of Destiny has its trading caravans, except on Destiny they don't deal in spices but speckles, an ingredient necessary for mental health. The hero is a member of a caravan and as the novel follows his adventures it describes the colony's unusual culture.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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