Larry Niven / Author Tor Books $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-85
When young Jemmy Bloocher kills a caravan laborer in self-defense, he's forced to flee his sleepy, decaying hometown of Spiral Town and travel down the Road to find a new place for himself on the colony world called Destiny. Spiral Town was the original landing site of the colony. Some 250 years ago, the landing craft Cavorite set out from there to sow the planet with Earth-life. Mysteriously, the ship never returned, but as it traveled it left a path of melted rock that became the Road. The secretive caravans that now travel the Road are nearly all-powerful because, along with other trade goods, they sell the food additives known as ""speckles,"" without which colonists degenerate into severe mental retardation. On his odyssey, Jemmy joins a caravan under an assumed name. Over the years he becomes a skilled chef, marries three times, spends time in prison and discovers the secrets behind both speckles and the disappearance of the Cavorite. In this novel set in the same universe as The Legacy of Heorot (1987) and Beowulf's Children (1995), Niven describes a believable alien world very much like Earth but with subtle, occasionally deadly differences. Jemmy is a likable protagonist, although Niven's somewhat detached narrative voice at times distances the reader from the important events in his life. This isn't the kind of high-concept, hard SF that Niven is capable of at his best, but it is an enjoyable piece of work. (June) FYI: Niven has won five Hugo Awards and one Nebula Award.
Reviewed on: 06/02/1997