I’ve always mixed Lary Niven’s Destiny’s Road with Helm by Steven Gould, for no other reason than that they both deal with long-established, somewhat regressed, starship colonies, have young, male protagonists, were published around the same time, have a similar heft, and have yellowish covers. That’s quite a bit, actually. In any case, having just re-read Helm, I thought I’d do the same for Destiny’s Road, to see if I can finally separate them in memory (or, just as likely, mix them even more).
Niven has hold of a good idea here, and an engaging (if somewhat wish-fulfilling) character. He’s clearly thought out its mechanics, and makes clear his desire to write about a ‘hydraulic empire’ (as in, ‘who controls the water controls the empire’). He admits that he delivered the book years late, and the further it goes along, the more clear it is just why – the first half of the book proceeds nicely and fairly logically (though with no real attempt to explain the protagonist’s motivation for following Cavorite’s road. The second half, however, seems to have slipped by the editor unnoticed – it’s a twisting muddle of missing context, unexplained decisions, leaps of faith, and sketched out characters. While Niven could have made it work at this length, it’s clear that this book is the result of slashing cuts with no regard for logic or even much continuity. It’s not hard to follow the overall plot, but doing so requires a willful disregard for any hope of connecting individual threads, and, unfortunately, of a strong interest in the protagonist.
It’s a great story trapped in a half-baked manuscript. And I really do mean half-baked. If this had been edited carefully, this could have been a great book. As it is, it’s more the sketch of the book that could have been. I doubt too many people remember Destiny’s Road, and that’s why. It’s a shame, because its promise deserves better.