Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: The Uplift War by David Brin

The Uplift War by David Brin
Published: Phantasia Press & Bantam Spectra (1986)
Series: Book 3 of the Uplift Saga
Awards Won: Hugo and Locus SF Awards
Awards Nominated: Nebula Award

The Book:

“It is commonly believed that all sentience arises through ‘uplift’, where an older patron race shepherds an intelligent sub-sentient client species into galactic civilization.  Through a long period of subservience, the new species is shaped into a worthy new addition to the galaxy.  The line of uplift extends backward to the mythical Progenitors.   Humanity, however, had the audacity to be sentient with no patron at all!  The origin of humanity’s sentience is still under debate, but since they had already started uplifting chimpanzees and dolphins, they are grudgingly admitted to galactic society as a patron race.

Now the humans, the chims, and the fins are stretching out to other planets.  Most of the worlds they are allowed to colonize are other people’s messes, and Garth is no different.  Garth’s ecosystem was devastated by a badly behaved young sentient species, and now the resident humans and chims are working to help the planet heal. They will not be left peacefully to their task, though. Instigated by distant events, a violent avian alien race known as the Gubru are coming to conquer and occupy Garth.  A small group of humans and their chim clients must find a way to rebel against the occupation of the powerful Gubru, while complying with the rules of galactic society.  Any misstep could have disastrous consequences for more than one species!” ~Allie

I read the first two novels of Brin’s first Uplift Trilogy before starting this blog.  Though the three novels are in chronological order, they each feature completely different stories, characters, and places.  I read them in order, but I don’t think it’s necessary to do so.  Sundiver sufficiently hooked me on Brin’s universe and style to continue with the trilogy.  Startide Rising was a highly entertaining story of the first dolphin-crewed spaceship, and with The Uplift War, it seems that Brin’s novels just keep getting even more impressive!    

My Thoughts:

The Uplift War ranks as one of the best novels I’ve read this year, and may well be among the best novels I’ve ever read.  Brin’s masterful storytelling ability raises a relatively familiar kind of science fiction story into a novel that is truly memorable.  Brin juggles several viewpoint characters, their various subplots, and tons of world-building information, but the story never loses its coherency.  There’s also a fair amount of humor, and Brin isn’t afraid to point out things that may be ridiculous. All of these things were woven expertly together to make a delightful whole, and the pace kept up a continually high level of excitement.  Altogether, it was a novel that I was always reluctant to set down, and eager to resume reading.   

Some aspects of Brin’s story are nothing new in the genre of science fiction, but he uses these clichés incredibly well.  For example, there’s no shortage of stories about small resistance forces fighting powerful alien military occupations.  However, the situation in The Uplift War is much more clearly thought through than usual.  The actions taken by both sides make sense, given their information and circumstances, and the situation is shown from all viewpoints.  Another cliché tackled is a cross-species romance, which is portrayed much more realistically than I have come to expect.  Even though two people of different species may deeply care about one another, there are some insurmountable biological incompatibilities. Brin never failed to follow through with the implications of the situations he presented, which resulted in a universe that seemed plausible and internally consistent.     

 Out of all the world-building information worked into The Uplift War, I particularly enjoyed Brin’s portrayal of the cultures and psychologies of different species.  One major alien culture is the Gubru, the avian species that occupies Garth.  To put things simply, their invasion force is built around a triad of leaders who represent military force, economics, and religion.  The formation of their policy is bound up with the power struggle, gendering, and mating of these three leaders. Other alien cultures include the adaptable, humorous Tymbrimi, and the stern, humorless Thennanin.  For the species closer to home, I also enjoyed the portrayal of the neo-chimpanzees.  I am no expert on chimpanzees but I was intrigued by how Brin combined chimpanzee behavior with sentience to create a distinctly non-human culture.  I loved the level of detail in Brin’s universe, and I especially loved how all of the information he provided was relevant and necessary to the story.

In addition to my love for the universe and the story, I also loved the well-developed characters.  I think my personal favorite would have to be Athaclena, the Tymbrimi ambassador’s daughter.  Athaclena is considered to be an oddly serious and introverted young Tymbrimi.  She must rise to many challenges after the Gubru invasion, while she is still struggling to understand her own people and the sentient species of Earth.  The neo-chimpanzee Fiben Bolger was another truly wonderful character.  He doesn’t consider himself to be ‘highly evolved’, but his intelligence, strength and resourcefulness drive a large part of the plot.  Of course, there are many other characters, and they were all as different from one another as they were memorable.  I almost regret having finished the novel, because now I know that I will only encounter them again if I choose to re-read it.

My Rating: 5/5

The Uplift War is a wonderfully entertaining novel, and my favorite of the first Uplift trilogy.  It is the third novel, but I don’t think it is necessary to read the first two novels to enjoy this one.  I loved pretty much everything about this novel, from the details of the setting, to the characters, to the exciting story.  Brin uses some popular science fiction clichés, but he makes them work through his remarkable storytelling ability.  Though there were a lot of subplots, everything in the novel fit together perfectly, and pretty much all of the characters and pieces of world-building information were important to the central story.  Overall, this was fun, adventurous sci-fi with a complex and interesting universe.  I’ll probably continue with the second Uplift trilogy, which begins with Brightness Reef.  


  1. I agree on pretty much every count. It is interesting to hear this is possibly the best of the year for you. I really loved it too and was always anxious to pick it back up. Fiben made me so happy I could hardly stand it sometimes. I hadn't even started thinking about the second trilogy but you know, I'll probably get around to it someday too. Glad you liked this one!

    1. I'm glad you liked it, too! It was such a fun book to read. I remember you quoting the section with Fiben, the fence, and the thunderstorm on your blog... he sure had some great scenes :).