Social Concerns / Themes
The Integral Trees combines two of Niven's favorite themes: the need for freedom, and the necessity for exploration and discovery. The heroes, outcasts of the Quinn tribe, are descendants of space travelers who mutinied against the totalitarian authority of Earth and settled on Smoke Ring, an asteroid belt with its own atmosphere that circles a neutron star. The people of the Smoke Ring live in varying degrees of savagery, inhabiting floating jungles or gigantic flying trees shaped like integral signs. The novel is structured as a series of escapes, revolts, or exiles which are also voyages of discovery. Through this plot structure, Niven suggests that although freedom brings danger, it also brings an excitement that makes life worth living.
The novel presents a frequent theme in Niven's fiction, the double-edged nature of science and technology. The people of London Tree use the superior technology they have preserved from their ancestors to enslave their neighbors. Sharls Davis Kendy, a former Checker for the State, now a human machine, plans to reestablish his control over the Smoke Ring dwellers by means of the almost magical powers that he can offer to any would-be dictators. Niven neither shrinks from, the dangers inherent in scientific progress nor retreats into technophobia. His characters manage to snatch the Promethean flame without burning their fingers, in keeping with his basically optimistic philosophy.