Destiny's Road

( 13 )

Overview

Wide and smooth, the Road was seared into planet Destiny's rocky surface by the fusion drive of the powered landing craft, Cavorite. The Cavorite deserted the original interstellar colonists, stranding them without hope of contacting Earth.

Now, descendants of those pioneers have many questions about the Road, but no settler who has gone down it has ever returned. For Jemmy Bloocher, a young farm boy, the questions burn too hot—and he sets out ...

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Overview

Wide and smooth, the Road was seared into planet Destiny's rocky surface by the fusion drive of the powered landing craft, Cavorite. The Cavorite deserted the original interstellar colonists, stranding them without hope of contacting Earth.

Now, descendants of those pioneers have many questions about the Road, but no settler who has gone down it has ever returned. For Jemmy Bloocher, a young farm boy, the questions burn too hot—and he sets out to uncover the many mysteries of Destiny's Road.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A writer of supreme talent."—Tom Clancy

"By god, the man really can sing."--Locus

"Niven's sure hand with details opens the story up in unexpected direction...I hope the inevitable sequel maintains this admirable balance."—The New York Times

Kirkus Reviews
Hugo and Nebula Awardwinner Niven's latest (The Ringworld Throne, 1996, etc.) is set on planet Destiny, where the mothership Argo vanished into space, leaving the colonists with only two fusion-powered landers. Spiral Town was built along a rock-melt Road created by the heat of Columbiad's exhaust; the ship then settled permanently in Spiral Town, providing power. The other lander, Cavorite, extended the Road down the peninsula known as the Crab towards the distant mainland; it never returned. Now, hundreds of years later, all that links Spiral Town and its gradually failing technology with distant settlements are the trader caravans whose wagons, drawn by native chugs, bring goods and the essential dietary supplement, "speckles." After young Jemmy Bloocher accidentally kills a caravan labor "yutz," he flees along the Road; eventually, always curious about Cavorite's fate, he joins a different caravan as a chef. But when the caravan reaches the end of the peninsula, he finds that only traders are permitted to cross to the mainland—and aboard the return caravan are traders who would recognize him. After some amazing adventures, he reaches the mainland and settles alongside Cavorite in Destiny Town, which has retained advanced technology. As part of an experiment, Spiral Town has been deliberately isolated and kept dependent on the speckles brought by the traders. So Jemmy steals some fertile speckles—the seeds of a native plant—joins a caravan, and plants the speckles all along the Road back to Spiral Town.

A fascinating and skillfully detailed alien ecology, along with solid characters and some intriguing problems for them to tackle: Niven in top form.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780812511062
  • Publisher: Doherty, Tom Associates, LLC
  • Publication date: 5/15/1998
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 433
  • Sales rank: 790,328
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 11.06 (h) x 1.17 (d)

Meet the Author

Larry Niven is the award-winning author of the Ringworld series, along with many other science fiction masterpieces, and fantasy novels including the Magic Goes Away series. His Beowulf's Children, co-authored with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes, was a New York Times bestseller. He has received the Nebula Award, five Hugos, four Locus Awards, two Ditmars, the Prometheus, and the Robert A. Heinlein Award, among other honors. He lives in Chatsworth, California.

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Read an Excerpt

1

The Caravan

We have experience of the earlier interstellar colony, Camelot. Considerable information reached Earth from Camelot, describing both mistakes and success, before communication stopped. Destiny is our second try. Destiny will succeed.

—Naren Singh,

Secretary-General,

United Nations, 2427 a.d.

2722 a.d., Spiral Town

Junior at fourteen had grown tall enough to reach the highest cupboard. She stretched up on tiptoe, found the speckles shaker by feel, and brought it down. Then she saw what was happening to the bacon. She shouted, "Jemjemjemmy!"

Jemmy's eleven-year-old mind was all in the world beyond the window.

Junior snatched up a pot holder and moved the pan off the burner. The bacon wasn't burned, not yet, not quite.

"Sorry," Jemmy said without turning. "Junior, there's a caravan coming."

"You never saw a caravan." Junior looked through the long window, northeastward. "Dust. Maybe it's the caravan. Here, turn this."

Jemmy finished cooking the bacon. Junior shook salt and speckles on the eggs, sparingly, and returned the shaker to the cupboard. Brenda, who should have been stirring the eggs, and Thonny and Greegry and Ronny were all crowded along the long window—the Bloocher family's major treasure, one sheet of glass a meter tall, three meters from side to side—to watch what was, after all, only a dust plume.

• • •

They ate bread and scrambled hen's eggs and orange juice. Brenda, who was ten, fed Jane, who was four months old. Mom and Dad had been up for hours doing farmwork. Mom was eating poached platyfish eggs. Platyfish were Destiny life; their bodies didn't make fat. Mom was trying to lose weight.

Jemmy wolfed his breakfast, for all the good that did. The rest of the children were finished too. The younger kids squirmed like their chairs were on fire; but you couldn't ask Mom and Dad to hurry. They weren't exactly dawdling, but the kids' urgency amused them.

The long window was behind Jemmy. If he turned his back on the rest of the family, Dad would snap at him.

Junior emptied her coffee mug with no sign of haste, very adult, and set it down. "Mom, can you handle Jane and Ronny?"

Seven-year-old Ronny gaped in shock. Before he could scream, Mom said, "I'll take care of the baby, dear, but you take Ronny with you. He has to do his schoolwork."

Ronny relaxed, though his eyes remained wary. Junior stood. Her voice became a drill sergeant's. "We set?"

Brenda, Thonny, Greegry, Ronny, and Jemmy surged toward the door. There was a pileup in the lock while they sorted out their coats and caps, and then they cycled through in two clusters, out of the house, streaming toward the Road. Junior followed.

• • •

The younger three were half-running, but Junior with her long legs kept up with them. She wasn't trying to catch Jemmy, who at eleven had no dignity to protect.

The sun wasn't above the mountains yet, but Quicksilver was, a bright spark dim in daylight.

The line of elms was as old as Bloocher House. They were twenty-five meters from the front of the house, the last barrier between Bloocher Farm and the Road. To Jemmy they seemed to partition earth and sky. He ran between two elms and was first to reach the Road.

To the right the Road curved gradually toward Spiral Town. Left, northwest, it ran straight into the unknown. That way lay Warkan Farm, where four mid-teens stood in pairs to watch the dust plume come near.

The Warkan children had been schooled at Bloocher House, as had their parents before them. Then, when Jemmy was six, the Bloocher household computer died. For the next week or two Dad was silent and dangerous. Jemmy came to understand that a major social disaster had taken place.

For five years now, Jemmy and his siblings and all of the Warkan children had trooped three houses around the Road's curve to use the Hann computer.

The dust plume no longer hid what was coming toward Spiral Town. There were big carts pulled by what must be chugs. Jemmy saw more than one cart, hard to tell how many. Children from farther up the Road were running alongside. Their voices carried a long way, but it was too far to make out words.

His siblings had filtered between the trees. They lined the Road, waiting. Jemmy looked toward the Warkan kids; looked back at Junior; saw her shake her head. He said, "Aw, Junior. What about class?"

"Wait," Junior said.

Of course there had been no serious thought of rushing to class. Not with a caravan coming! They'd make up missed classes afterward. Computer programs would wait, and a human teacher was rarely needed.

Children began to separate at Junior's age. Boys spoke only to boys, girls to girls. Jemmy knew that much. Maybe he'd understand why, when he was older. Now he only knew that Junior would speak to him only to give orders. He missed his big sister, and Junior hadn't even gone anywhere.

If Junior went to join the Warkan girls, the Warkan boys would stare at her and rack their brains thinking of some excuse to talk to her. So Jemmy almost understood why the whole family simply waited by the elms while the wagons came near.

The wagons had flat roofs twice as high as a grown man's head. They moved at walking speed. You could hear the children who ran alongside carrying on shouted conversations with the merchants. There were deeper voices too: adults were negotiating with merchants in the wagons.

When the caravan reached the Warkan farm, the Warkans joined them, boys and girls together, it didn't matter. A few minutes later the troop had reached the Bloocher children.

It was Jemmy's first close view of a chug.

The beasts were small and compact. They forged ahead at a steady walking pace, twenty to a cart. They stood as high as Jemmy's short ribs. Their shells were the ocher of beach sand. Their wrinkled leather bellies were pale. Their beaks looked like wire cutters, dangerous, and each head was crowned by a flat cap of ocher shell. They showed no awareness of the world around them.

The wagons stood on tall wheels. Their sides dropped open to form shelves, and merchants grinned down from inside.

Jemmy let the first two wagons pass him by. Junior had already forgotten him; the rest of the children went with her, though Thonny looked back once. No eyes were on him when he reached out to stroke one of the chugs. The act seemed headily dangerous. The shell was paper-smooth.

The chug swiveled one eye to see him.

It was hard to tell who was what among the merchants, because of their odd manner of dress. As far as Jemmy could tell, there were about two men for every woman. They enjoyed talking to children. A man and woman driving the third cart smiled down at him, and Jemmy walked alongside. He asked, "Can't you make them go faster?"

"Don't want to," the man said. "We buy and sell all along the Road. Why make the customers chase us?"

A golden-haired woman with a trace of a limp, Mom's age but dumpier, passed money up to a dark-skinned merchant on the twelfth and last cart. That was Ilyria Warkan. The merchant reached way down to hand her a speckles pouch.

It was transparent, big as a head of lettuce, with a child's handful of bright yellow dust in the corner. You never saw these pouches unless a merchant was selling speckles.

Jemmy ran his hand down a chug's flank. The skin was dry and papery. Belatedly he asked, "Do they bite?"

"No. They've got good noses, the chugs. They can smell you're Earthlife, and they won't eat that. Might bite you if you were a fisher."

The merchants seemed to like children, but nobody ever saw a child with the caravan. Did they keep their children hidden? Nobody knew.

The Road was beginning to curve. More children joined the caravan: Rachel Harness and her mother, Jael; and Gwillam Doakes, a burly boy Jemmy's age; and the very clannish Holmes girls. No more adults came, unless you counted Jael Harness, who hadn't got enough speckles as a child and was therefore a little simple. Jemmy could see people walking away, far down the straight arm of the Road.

The merchant woman caught him looking, and laughed. "Too many people now." Her words were just a bit skewed, with music in her voice. "Serious customers, they see the dust, they come to meet us. Give them more time to deal. Now we get no more till the hub. How far to the hub?"

"Twenty minutes…no, wait, you can't take cross streets. They're too narrow." The caravan would just have to go round and round, following the curve as the Road spiraled toward Civic Hall. "More like an hour and a half. You could get there faster without the wagons."

"No point," the merchant woman said. "I would miss the cemetery too, wouldn't I?"

"Don't go in there," Jemmy said reflexively.

"Oh, but I must! I've heard about the Spiral Town cemetery all my life. We follow the Road around by almost a turn? It's all Earthlife, they say."

"That's right," Jemmy said. "Spooky. Destiny life won't grow where the dead lie."

The merchant said, "I've never seen a place that was nothing but Earthlife."

She was strange and wonderful, swathed in layers of bright colors. It was a game, getting her to keep talking. Jemmy asked, "Have you seen City Hall? There's painted walls, really bright. Acrylic, Dad says."

She smiled indulgently. He knew: She'd been there.

He asked, "Where do speckles come from?"

"Don't know. Hundreds of klicks up the Road when we buy 'em."

Hundreds of klicks…kilometers. "Where did they come from before the Road was here?"

She frowned down at him. "Before the Road…?"

"Sure. We learn about it in school, how James and Daryl Twerdahl and the rest took off in Cavorite and left the Road behind them. But that was eight years after Landing Day. So…?"

The man was listening too. The woman said, "News to me, boy. The Road's always been here."

Jemmy would have accepted that, accepted her ignorance, if he hadn't seen the man's lips twitch in a smile. In his mind, for that instant, it was as if the world had betrayed him.

Then seven-year-old Ronny was beside him, saying, "I'm tired, Jemmy."

"Okay, kid. Junjunjunior—"

One wagon ahead, Junior stopped walking. So did Thonny and Brenda, and the Warkan girls that Junior had been talking to, and the Warkan boys, all without consulting each other. Sandy Warkan said, "Twerdahl Street's just ahead. We can stop for a squeeze of juice at Guilda's and wait for the caravan to come round again."

"School," Junior reminded them.

"Can wait."

• • •

The Road itself was magical.

Bloocher Farm was soft soil and living things and entropy. Plants grew from little to big, grew dry and withered, changed and died. Animals acted strangely, and presently gave birth to children like themselves. Tools rusted or broke down or rotted or ceased working for reasons of their own.

Closer to the hub, you saw less of life and more of entropy. The houses were old, losing their hard edges. New buildings were conspicuous, jarring. At night there were lines of city lights with gaps in them. Things that didn't work were as prevalent here as among the farms, but, you noticed them more: they were closer together.

But the Road was hard and flat and not like anything else in the world. The Road was eternal.

The Road was a fantastic toy. Things rolled easily on its flat surface. Here, just short of Twerdahl Street and half a klick southeast of Bloocher Farm, was a favored dip used by the high-school kids. Sandy and Hal Warkan had showed Jemmy how to sweep the Road to get a really flat surface, so that balls or wheels could be rolled back and forth over the dip. They'd go forever.

No time for that today. They turned off at Twerdahl Street, and some of the merchants waved good-bye.

Rachel Harness chattered to Junior, pulling her mother along. Rachel's mother Jael seemed to listen, but answered rarely, and when she spoke her words had nothing to do with what she'd heard. Jemmy liked Jael Harness, but Junior and Brenda found her a little queer.

Children who didn't get enough speckles grew up like that.

But Rachel was a bright, active girl, Junior's age, who treated her mother like a younger sister. Neighbors had helped to raise her, but speckles were expensive. Rachel must have had a steady source of speckles since her birth.

One wondered. Who was Rachel's father?

The Harness farm was to the right, and that was where Rachel was pointing, Junior looking and nodding. Jemmy couldn't hear them, but he looked. A silver bulge in the weeds…it was Killer!

The Council had sicced Varmint Killer on the Harness farm!

The old machine wasn't doing anything. Just sitting. Weeds and vegetation that had been crops ran riot here. It wasn't all Earthlife. Odd colors, odd shapes grew in wedge patterns, wider toward the southwest, toward the sea.

More than two hundred years ago, the great fusion-powered landers had hovered above Crab Island and burned the land sterile. This land was to serve Earthlife only. But the life of Destiny continued to try to retake the Crab.

Weeds tended to cluster, reaching tentatively from an occupied base, as if they did not like the fertilizer that made Earthlife grow. Black touched with bronze and yellow-green; branches that divided, divided, divided, until every tip was a thousand needles too fine to see. One could rip up an encroachment of Destiny weeds with a few passes of a tractor. One day the Harnesses' neighbors would do that.

But Destiny's animals were another matter. They lived among Destiny's encroaching plants, and some were dangerous. These were Killer's prey.

Killer squatted in the wild corn, a silver bulge the size and shape of a chug pulled in on itself. The children watched and waited. Older children bullied the youngers onto Warkah Farm's long porch, where Destiny creatures weren't likely to be hiding.

One would not want a child to come between Varmint Killer and its prey.

They waited, waited…

Ssizzz!

Even looking, you might not see it. Jemmy just caught it: the line flicking out like a slender tongue, snapping back; a drop of blood drooling down beneath the little hatch cover.

Junior's hand was on his arm. He obeyed, remained seated, but looked. Something thrashed in the weeds. Killer's tongue lashed out again.

The caravan and the crowd were trickling away slowly but steadily, off down Twerdahl Street. The Bloocher family gathered itself. Junior called, "Sanity check. If we skip Guilda's now, we can get through school time and still beat the caravan to Guilda's. Vote!"

Reality sometimes called for hard choices. They looked at each other.…

Copyright © 1997 by Larry Niven

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Interviews & Essays

First Contacts recently had the opportunity to ask Niven where he got his crazy ideas for stories from.

Larry Niven replied: Yes, I finally figured it out! It isn't a little shop in Poughkeepsie, though many do deal with them.

It's the same reason I can't remember your name, or face, or where we met. My brain has a lousy retrieval system. Data does surface, but there's no reason to think it'll be the data I went looking for.

I got 99.9 percent on the California high school system's math aptitude test. What made college so difficult was my daydreaming in math and physics and chemistry class. Something would spark an idea -- Newton's second law, say -- and off I'd go, following the implication that the most efficient heat engines would be built on Pluto. I dozed and daydreamed in psych class too, but that got me an A. What they were teaching was fiction without internal consistency. Dreaming helps codify such stuff. Where was I? The point is, my brain will chase a datum through pathways no sane mind would even consider, and come out matching data that never belonged together in the same book, nor even library.

So. Any student of mythology might consider that Jack and the Beanstalk, Yggdrasil the Norse world-tree, and Jacob's ladder all belong in the same box, every one of them a tower to heaven. Many physics teachers and every (real) science fiction writer will understand the concept of an orbital tower -- a tether with its of mass in a 24-hour 'Clarke' orbit -- sometimes called a 'Beanstalk.' Such a thing is stronger than any material we know; but the materials we can postulate are based on carbon. Plants are good at manipulating carbon. Thus, any madman might dream that an orbital tower could be a real plant. And the easiest place to build (or grow and cultivate) an orbital tower is at Mars, with its low gravity and high spin. But what kind of madman would add in the legend of Phaeton?

And that is the novel I finished Tuesday. It might be published as Rainbow Mars, but don't count on that.
—Larry Niven

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 15, 2011

    Terrible

    It reminded of me of some of Heinlein's work where the story just drags on and on and gradually loses any interesting qualities it may have had in the beginning. Oh, except for the casual sex that aging SF authors wish was the norm. BORING. LAME. When you have no more ideas, stop writing.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2007

    Can't stop

    I have read this book probably about 10 times now. I do not know what it is about this book but I have to pick it up and read it every few months. I highly recommend this to anyone, yet I know this book is not for everyone. Give it a try though, chances are you will not be disappointed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2005

    Cooking, Eating And Sex

    This book is terrible..im a little over halfway thru this book and i'm still waiting for something interesting to happen.There are some parts that seem to be going somewhere but eventually all the main character ('Tim' Jemmy' or 'Andrew Dowd' depending on where you are in the story)manages to do is cook, eat and have sex with the local women of whatever town he happens to be in. I dont see much hope in this story keeping my attention very much longer but stranger things have happened.The best thing about this book is the cover art. Nothing personal against the author but I was hoping for something that was worth my trip to Barnes & Noble in a snow storm.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2004

    Highly Entertaining. When will there be a sequel?

    This is the first Larry Niven book I read. I was on a trip to Keystone, Colorado and even on vacation surrounded by the Rocky Mountains, I couldn't put the book down. I finished it in record time. Since then, I've read other Larry Niven books, including the Ring World series, but Destiny's Road is still my favorite.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 5, 2000

    Niven is back

    Good to see a pure Niven work again. Building off the 'Heorot' works, Niven has put his own unique vision into the speculation of the development of the first human colonies and the basis is a stunningly simple premise: at the very basic cellular building block level, we are not evolutionarily equipped to live on other worlds. Good work here and good science.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2000

    Better the second time around

    Destiny's Road, on the first read, is confusing and hard to follow in places. This book is one of those that opens up and reveals itself on a second read. It would have been much better as a series. It jumps quite a few years into the protagonist's future in order to wrap up the story and in doing so leaves the reader with a feeling of having missed something. These faults pale when compared against the whole and if one is a fan of science-fiction this is a wonderful novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2000

    One of the Best!

    This is one of the best books I've read, and I've read it several times over for the pure enjoyment! For interesting planets and brave new worlds, this book has got it going on! For readers who found the '200-year man cruises the universe with nubile young chicks' of Niven's earlier novels a bit hackneyed, I recommend you give Niven another try. Niven's themes have come of age! The main character, Jemmy, is ... um ... impressive. And wait till you meet Harlow!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 25, 1999

    Highly recommend

    Superb reading...great story!

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