Like much of Niven’s work, the story is heavily influenced by the setting: a gas torus, a ring of air around a neutron star. The gas giant Goldblatt’s World (abbreviated “Gold”) orbits this star just outside its Roche sphere. Thus, Gold’s gravity is insufficient to hold its atmosphere, which is pulled loose into an independent orbit around Voy. This orbiting air forms a ring known as the Gas Torus. The Gas Torus is huge — one million kilometers thick — but most of it is too thin to be habitable. The central part of the Gas Torus, where the air is thicker, is known as the Smoke Ring. The Smoke Ring supports a wide variety of life.
There is no “ground” in the Smoke Ring; it is a world consisting entirely of sky. Thus, most animals can fly, even the fish. Furthermore, since the Smoke Ring is in orbit, it is in free fall — there is no “up” or “down”…
First publiched in Analog in 1983.
Nominated for Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1984.