In the '90s, I read a book that about a world where things improve when being used.

In the book, people on Earth have some kind of device that remotely scans the universe, looking for worlds/civilizations. They find one and send a one-man mission there through some kind of teleporter. The man gets stranded in the world.

When exploring the world, he finds a human, medieval-looking civilization. The people seemingly have some remarkable technology. On the other hand, he finds the people lack any technological skills or knowledge. Over the time he realizes that they did not build the technology. On this world, things improve when being used. So the people start with stone age-grade tools, and by intensively using them, the tools improve. Conversely, when the tools are abandoned, they degrade over time. For example the people start with an axe from stick and piece of stone. Or they make window glass by taking a piece of quartz and staring at it long enough for it to become a transparent glass sheet. Some common people make stuff this way for living for rich people/aristocracy.

I believe at the end of the book, the explorer realizes that this mechanism of the world is somehow related to the kind of birds that live there. Also he realizes that he is not only on a distant planet, but also in the future. The planet was inhabited by explorers/refugees from Earth who wanted to live a different and isolated way (possibly without technology, but I've forgotten the details). They struggled to survive, so the rest of the humanity helped them by sending genetically engineered birds that changed the world mechanics as described.

Can anyone identify the book from this description? Thanks.


1 Answer 1


Sounds like The Practice Effect by David Brin. See if this link rings any bells.

A scientist by the name of Dennis Nuel is working at, and attending, an institute of scientific research and pioneering work into the fictional scientific field of "Zievatronics", the manipulation of Time and Space. After the death of his mentor, however, he is taken off the project and another professor takes over.

After a time, the device that has been created to move through space and time, known as the "Zievatron" encounters operational problems and is fixed to the co-ordinates of a world that appears to be very similar to our Earth in most respects, and Dennis is re-recruited to help fix it. He volunteers to be sent to the other world in order to fix the other part of the Zievatron. On arriving to this planet, he finds the Zievatron dismantled and critical parts of it missing. Of the three surveillance robots sent through to this planet, he finds two have also been broken apart. After a while, he finds the last robot, intact and still functioning, and uses it to view any recorded images that might help him identify what it was that happened to the Zievatron.

In this world, instead of objects wearing out as you use them, they improve. This is referred to as the Practice Effect.


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