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Destiny's Road by Larry Niven
Published by Tor Books
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Destiny's Road is the story of a young man coming of age on a colony world with a devestating secret. Destiny was humanity's second attempt at colonizing a world outside the Sol system, after the first failed disastrously. However, Destiny also hangs by a slender margin, made all the more slim by the mysterious disappearance of the mothership and then of the second shuttle, the Cavorite.
The ecology of this world isn't quite right for human beings. There is something missing in the regular diet, which has to be made up with "speckles," a condiment which is delivered to the isolated towns of the Crab Peninsula by the mysterious merchant caravans. The danger of not receiving them on a regular basis is plain for everyone to see. A child deprived of speckles during critical developmental periods never quite grows up and remains permanently simple-minded. An adult will regress to imbecility, but may recover if given the supplement once again. Or may not.
Because of this the traders have a tremendous hold over the villagers, and they know it. During one visit, one of them tries to take advantage of a mentally disabled young woman. When Jemmy Bloocher steps in to prevent her molestation, he ends up killing the girl's assailant. Suddenly he is a wanted man, for the Traders will never accept that one of their own could have been at fault.
For the first time in his life Jemmy leaves isolated Spiral Town at the end of the Road. He discovers a nearby town and assumes the identity of a recently deceased neighbor in order to remain there. However, his longing to know more about his world will not be stilled, and he is eventually persuaded to sign on as a "yutz," one of the hired men who accompany the merchant caravans but are not counted as part of them.
This gives him an opportunity to see much more of his world than he had ever dreamed possible. He discovers that humanity shares this world with another sophant race, but that contact with these Otterfolk is very risky. However, that only arouses his burning desire to do so. He also longs all the more to find out just what happened to the Cavorite
It is strictly forbidden for any native of the Crab Peninsula to cross the Neck to the mainland, on pain of death. Yet taking the return caravan back to his adopted home may be just as deadly, because it is made up of people who saw him kill the man who tried to molest his neighbor.
In desperation Jemmy flees, stealing a can of speckles to protect him from the ravages of mental decay. After a lengthy run he discovers a way around the Neck, where he falls into a form of slavery, escapes and then discovers that there are even worse, more insidious forms of slavery. In doing so he also discovers the key to his people's freedom, if he has the wits and the courage to use it.
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This review was posted June 2, 1999
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