Startide Rising by Brin, David, 1983

Startide Rising by Brin, David - Book cover from Amazon.co.uk

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At one point it time I was torn by David Brin. Books like Startide Rising, Earth and The Postman were well written, pretty interesting and literary, but they were just too overloaded with ideas for me to enjoy. Years now after reading those books, Ive made my mind up about Brin, and I don't think I'll be reading much more by him. Today's book, Startide Rising is an interesting high concept war/battle piece about the discovery of the motherload of ancient, forgotten technology. It is unfortunately so overwritten and dense with secondary and tertiary ideas and themes that it just cannot be enjoyed as it should have been. Three out of five stars.

I find the concept behind Brin's Startide Rising (and all of the Uplift sequence of books) to be fascinating. Sometime in the far past a race, called the Progenitors, developed technology to forcibly evolve animal races to intelligence. In the millions of years since, many many races have been evolved, and an empire spanning five galaxies has been established. In this galaxy there are no known races that have evolved intelligence on their own. The Progenitors have disappeared from the scene and attained a mythic status. Everyone in the empire has been uplifted by someone else: All save humans, that is. In this universe those who are uplifted become the subjects, or client race, of those who uplifted them. This lasts for hundreds of thousands of years, after which they are freed from their bonds to pursue their own goals. Earth was discovered a short time before the action of this book, and humans were found to be without a client race. Most suspect that some race uplifted humans out of altruism, but the point is debated at great length in the book. As a result humans and their client races are greatly distrusted, and are treated as immature and unworthy of knowledge in the way that newly uplifted races are treated. Earth is given what is believed to be an inferior link to the galactic library, and are snubbed by the more powerful races who have less limited access to knowledge and resources. Whatever the reason for our intelligence, the presence of a non-slave world creates great problems for the rest of the empire. Every other race seems to fear the precedent humans are setting, and hostilities seethe very near the surface. Complicating that is our uplifting of chimps and dolphins without the usual period of slavery.

The focus of the plot of this book is on the discovery of a mothball fleet of Progenitor spacecraft as well as a corpse of a Progenitor which were found in deep space by the Earth ship Streaker, crewed by humans, dolphins and one chimp. The entire empire has been searching for the Progenitor home world and lost technology for eons, and it is presumed that whomever finds it first will become the masters of the universe. Incredulously, the Streaker sends an uncoded message home to Earth about the discovery, which is intercepted by every sentient species in the five galaxies. Everyone moves to capture the Streaker, which becomes marooned on a world called Kithrup. The Streaker sets down, damaged, while tensions build in orbit and a full out war starts over the right to descend to the planet and take the prize. This alone would be more than enough for one book, but Brin went a little overboard with his ideas. He introduced a semi-sentient race on Kithrup who were believed to be the devolved Progenitor race, deeply developed interracial politics and war above in orbit, injected a mutiny subplot on board the Streaker, and sent out not less than three expeditions for resources and knowledge on Kithrup with multiple rescue missions which caused the drama-heavy abandonment of some sailors. Simply put, it was overload, and the book suffered for it. On top of that, Brin seems incapable of clarity or getting to the point. The book is grossly overwritten, in addition to being overplotted.

But I must say, it seems to me that Im pretty much the only person who doesn't like this book. In preparing to write this review I researched the title. I see that it won a Hugo, a Nebula, and a Locus Award, and turns up on many critical and popular "top of the genre" lists, including lists by my favorite critics and reviewers. Aldiss, Clute, Pringle, Itzkoff, Dozois, and many others frequently sing the praise of this book,and frequently compare Brin to Greg Bear, the other major hard SF writer of the 1980's. I just don't understand it, and I don't think that Brin is in the same class as Bear. For those of you who are interested, its the second book in Brin's First Uplift Sequence, coming after Sundiver and before The Uplift War. Recommended only for Space Opera enthusiasts, although I will acknowledge that it goes much deeper than the usual Space Opera.

Copyright 2008, Gregory Tidwell

Reviewed by GTT · Rating Rating of 3 star(s)

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