Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Startide Rising by David Brin (Uplift #2) Reviewed by Rob Bedford

I've read two novels by David Brin, The Postman and Existence (which was the best SF novel I read last year).  For years I'd been wanting to read his Uplift novels and I finally got around to diving into that series recently.  Here's what I thought of Startide Rising the second installment, but the novel many consider a fine starting point for this series.

Mass Market Paperback, 480 Pages 
Bantam Spectra 1983, revised by the author 1993 
Review Copy purchased  

The starship Streaker seeks haven on planet Kithrup, which is primarily covered in water. Among its crew are humans, uplifted intelligent dolphins and an uplifted chimp. Above the planet Kithrup, alien civilizations are fighting a space battle to determine who will have access to the wonders of the secret Macguffin onboard the Streaker.  That Macguffin could lead to greater knowledge of the Progenitor race, the race who first practiced the uplift process on other species.

The aliens above are known as Galactics, civilizations that have achieved greater intelligence and pace travel thousands and thousands of years before humans gained intelligence.  Though Startide Rising is technically the second book in David Brin’s acclaimed and popular Uplift saga, it is considered by many to be the true launch of the series and a double winner having been awarded both the Nebula and Hugo Award. Uplift is the process by which a species is raised to higher intelligence and given a patron race to which they are indentured.

Brin tells the story through many point of view characters, with about half of those characters uplifted dolphins (of the 100 plus dolphins aboard Streaker). For these characters, Brin developed a haiku-like speech pattern for their native tongue. The spaceship, Streaker, contains water tanks to provide a natural environment for the dolphins, and the dolphins have exoskeletons they can wear that allow them greater mobility and abilities to communicate with their human allies. In addition to the dolphins, there are of course chapters from the point-of-view of some of the humans, the aforementioned chimp, as well as chapters showing the perspective of the Galactics and the more omniscient pov of the ship Streaker as a whole.

Brin’s imagination in this novel is amazing and his rigorous scientific discipline allows for very believable postulations of technology the characters use and humanity’s place in the greater galactic civilization. The interaction, communications, and politics between the earth-born races aboard the Streaker were played out fairly convincingly.  For example, The Streaker is the first starship to be captained by a dolphin, so a great deal of pressure is on the captain Creideiki, as well as the other dolphins, to prove themselves to the humans as fully capable of the responsibility of managing a space mission without the proverbial ‘training wheels.’  In addition to proving themselves, so to speak, the dolphins must deal with internal strife of their own when

The human characters deal with their own inadequacies and frustrations, as well as some romance.  The lone chimp comes across a bit gruff and selfish. When Brin provides insight into the Galactics, the sense of entitlement and disdain towards humanity these ancient aliens feel comes across quite well. 

My primary problem with this novel was the structure itself.  Strike that, maybe not the structure of the rotating narratives, but the brevity with which much of the points-of-view are given as the novel progresses. Some of the chapters span only one to three pages of the mass market paperback edition and for my reading sensibilities, reading momentum never truly built over the course of the novel.  Just as I was settling into one of the chapters/points-of-view, the chapter ended and Brin jumped to another character.

Startide Rising, despite my issues, impressed a great deal.  It is a science fiction novel that tells a story in the grand tradition of the genre, with science and humanity’s (and that of the Earth for that matter) destiny among the stars at the forefront.

Brin has written six total novels in this series, the immediate follow-up to Startide Rising is The Uplift War, which was then followed by another trilogy.


The novel is available in Mass Market Paperback from Bantam Spectra in the US and as part of an omnibus in the UK (Uplift: The Complete Original Trilogy) from Orbit.

© 2013 Rob H. Bedford


  1. Thanks, Rob. Been a few years since I've read any of the Uplift novels.

  2. Not sure when/if I get to the next ones. Existence employed a similar narrative structure but for whatever reason it didn't niggle at me as much.

    Thanks for the signal boost, too.