You Are What You Read

Reviews of books as I read them. This is basically a (web)log of books I've read.

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Location: Lawrenceville, Georgia, United States

I am a DBA/database analyst by day, full time father on evenings and weekends.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


Earthclan contains two great David Brin novels: Startide Rising and The Uplift War. The world is hundreds of years in our future, where man has joined galactic civilization with seemingly hundreds of species and clans vying for power. To gain influence, all species engage in the practice of uplift, the process of endowing pre-sentient species with full sentience. The practice is so ingrained that many of the galactics believe that humans could not have evolved to intelligence on their own and must have had a secret patron race.

Startide Rising tells the story of the crew of the Streaker, the first space ship run by neo-dolphins, a race the humans have uplifted. Some of the crew are humans sent to keep an eye on the client race. The crew has made a discovery of ancient ships which attracted the attention of other galactic races eager to manipulate the find to push a fanatic agenda. The ship ends up stranded under the ocean of a minor planet, with the galactics fighting a battle in space for control of the Streaker.

The crew faces challenges getting the ship out of the water and away from the planet. They know that they would get blasted if they just fly away. One of the men comes up with a plan involving one of the fallen alien ships. On an island, some of the crew make a discovery of pre-sentient beings, which would be a benefit to humans if they can claim them as client species. Meanwhile, there is dissension on the ship along racial lines. Certain neo-dolphins of one of the species believe themselves superior. Captain Creideiki is seriously injured when one of his crew lays a trap for him. The crew is separated an unable to communicate when the new captain forbids any transmission. Finally, some of the humans and dolphins catch wind that there is trouble and manage to make it back to the ship, bringing the situation under control. The rebellious crew are given a small ship and sent to the island to wait for the Streaker to get away. Finally the ship takes off, evades the enemy attacks, and escapes from the system.

I enjoyed this book. It had a good mix of action, suspense, and psychology. There is a lot of detail about the different species battling for control of the humans. The neo-dolphins, while having distinct personalities, all display traits of their species, namely playfulness. There is an interesting relationship between the human crew and the dolphin officers, since the neo-dolphins as a race are clients to the humans. The story illustrates some of the problems with uplift, since some of the neo-dolphins are susceptible to reverting to a pre-sentient state, or in the case of the mutineers, succumbing to baser instincts such as violence. In the end, the humans and neo-dolphins come together to escape.

The Uplift War tells a parallel story about a world called Garth, a colony of humans and neo-chimpanzees. The planet is invaded by the bird-like Gubru, a belligerent race aligned against the Terrans. While all the humans are isolated on islands or in hiding, the neo-chimps are left in charge of the main port city of Hellenia. Robert, the human son of the mayor, escapes to the wild with his friend Athaclena, the daughter of the Tymbrimi ambassador. The Tymbrimi are a race closely allied with the Terrans, often playful and full of tricks.

Robert and Athaclena set up a sort of resistance to the occupation. Fiben, a neo-chimp pilot, helps them but ends up being captured in Hellenia. There, he and a female chimp named Gailet are groomed to become spokes-chimps so that they can be coerced into choosing the Gubru as their new patrons in an uplife ceremony, thus stealing prestige from the humans. But Fiben manages to escape and make it back to Robert.

The Tymbrimi ambassador leaves a false hope behind for the Gubru as a trick, and as a result they waste time and resources looking for Garthlings, creatures of myth that supposedly survived the previous devastation of the planet. We watch the Gubru leaders fight for superiority in a game where the ultimate prize is the molt and turning into a queen. Finally the uplift ceremony is held, and to the pleasure of the Tymbrimi and many others, a great surprise is revealed.

I thought that this book was a little slow in the middle after a great start, but it quickly picked up and became quite engaging. The part where the Gubru force Fiben and Gailet to become speakers for the race is intriguing and suspenseful. Fiben is by far the most developed character in the story. In many ways he is a prototypical member of his species. He is proud to be able to speak and think, but is conflicted about his past and his fellow chimps who are not as capable as he. He is capable and smart and a natural leader, but also self-effacing and not arrogant.

Together, these two stories provide complementary views of uplift and the society around it. Both the neo-dolphins and the neo-chimps have certain skills and certain drawbacks. The races of the galaxies are varied, and most are portrayed as cutthroat. The stories are fun, entertaining, and intellectually stimulating. Together they are a B+, with a slight preference for the first, Startide Rising. While I am not immediately reading the next books in the series, I am keeping them in mind for future reads.


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