Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 450
After Earth ceases to rotate, plant life—much of it mobile and carnivorous—flourishes on the sunny side. Humans have devolved and live in small tribes amid gigantic forest branches. Hothouse follows the adventures of Gren and others as they cross land and sea from the fecund tropics to the barren twilight region.
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When Lily-yo, the leader of young Grens matriarchal tribe, comes to believe that she is past her prime, she makes the traditional choice to “Go Up,” along with the other elders. On the topmost leaves of the jungle, mammoth spiderlike plants spin webs between Earth and the Moon. Attached to such “traversers,” the elders are carried like pollen spores off to an “afterlife” that is in fact on the Moon, which now has an atmosphere and transplanted life-forms. The humans, exposed to radiation, develop leathery wings and become flymen who go back to Earth to bring younger humans to the “True World.”
Tribal youths have trouble developing the discipline and wisdom for survival. The rebellious Gren is banished and is joined by Poyly, who loves him. An intelligent fungus called a morel falls on Grens head, merges its brain with his, and decides that it can use humans to conquer the planet for its own kind. Gren remains at the mercy of the clinging morel, which can torture him and make him threaten others.
Joined by Yattmur, a young woman from another tribe, Gren and Poyly escape the Siren-like Black Mouth and meet a tribe of half-humans, called Fishers or tummy-bellies, who are attached umbilically to large plants. Prodded by the morel, Gren cuts the cords of several, though they neither want freedom nor can flourish independently, and he seizes a fishing boat. Eventually Poyly is killed, Gren mates with Yattmur, and the boat takes them to an island where the cliffs literally have eyes. A cave tempts Gren toward mystic oblivion.
After further adventures, the voyagers find themselves in a cold twilight world inhabited by baboonlike sharp-furs. Yattmur bears Grens child but rightly fears that the morel wants to attach itself to the baby, Laren. Into their midst comes an intelligent dolphin, the Sodal Ye, borne by a male slave and guided by two “Arabler” women. Vain and full of apocalyptic warnings about the suns coming nova, the sodal tells Yattmur how to free Gren from the morel and offers to lead the group to a warmer climate. The tummy-bellies stay with the sharp-furs, who kill them. The morel manages to seize the sodal, and Lily-yo once again encounters Gren. As the novel ends, the morel plans to pilot a traverser to the stars, with Lily-yos group, while Gren, Yattmur, and Laren return to the forest.