Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The (second) Uplift Trilogy: Review

Alright, so you may have surmised from my last post that I really enjoyed reading Brin's second Uplift trilogy.  Brightness Reef (1995), Infinity's Shore (1996) and Heaven's Reach (1998) contain so many thought-provoking ideas wrapped up in an exciting plot, how could I not rate it highly?  [This is yet another example of how I need half steps in my rating system--I would give it 4.5 hamsters if I had a suitable graphic!]

First off--do you need to have read the previous Uplift novels to make sense of the story in this series?  The answer is definitely not as the essential details (particularly the events of Startide Rising [1983]) are revealed as remembrances of the characters.  But, on the other hand,  it certainly couldn't hurt.  I read the first Uplift books many years ago and had only a vague remembrance of the plot, and I did just fine.  The better question is why haven't you read them yet anyway?

The story opens on Jijo, a backwoods planet that has been declared fallow by the galactic Institute of Migration so that its ecosystem might have time to recover after use by its former inhabitants.  Here we find a society forged by members of six species (of which humans are one) who have independently colonized the planet for different reasons but with the same intent--to drop out of galactic society.  Unauthorized use of the planet is, of course, highly illegal in the eyes of galactic law.  As a result, the colonists have forsaken galactic technology and strive to leave no mark upon Jijo that might give them away from space. These circumstances have led to the development of a uniquely Jijoan religion based around the hope of regressing to a pre-sentient state by fostering a more primitive lifestyle.  If this state can be achieved, perhaps the Jijoans will be discovered by a new patron species and uplifted to a more perfect state.  This concept permeates every aspect of Jijoan culture.

Despite a somewhat fractious pass, the sooner species have forged peaceful bonds, united in their striving for redemption in the form of devolution.  This fairly idyllic life is shattered when a starship descends to the planet surface in the middle of an annual gathering of the six species.  It is soon discovered that these newcomers are not agents of the galactic government, but are, instead, criminals looking to raid fallow planets for species that may be ready for the uplift process.  This revelation sparks a fierce debate among different Jijoan factions, and the first half of the trilogy deals with the upheaval caused by the conflict.

Unbeknownst to just about everyone on the planet, two other spaceships have also arrived on Jijo.  The Streaker, from Earth and crewed by uplifted dolphins, has been on the run from most of the galaxy for several years following a spectacular discovery with implications for the identity of the revered Progenitors (detailed in Startide Rising).  The second ship, from the feared Jophur clan, has arrived in pursuit of the Streaker.  Streaker's predicament slowly transitions to the fore of the plot and drives the action for the remainder of series when a group of Jijoans are caught up in the trouble and forced to leave the planet.  It turns out that the Streaker has a pivotal role to play in deciding the fate of not only humankind but that of galactic civilization at large!

The characterization of the dolphins aboard Streaker is definitely one of the high points of the novels.  They are imbued with just the right blend of playfulness and intelligence.  This often comes across in the haiku verse (named trinary) that the neofins use to communicate with one another aboard the Streaker.  Also enjoyable was our first experience with hydrogen breathers, the second major order of life in the galaxy.  The idea of a wholly separate division of life above the species level really grabbed me when I read the first Uplift books, and I was hoping it would get explored further in this trilogy!

I'm not sure that I've done the novels justice above, but I hope it comes across that I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy for both its bold ideas and wonderful writing.  This will teach me to combine three reviews into one next time I read a trilogy...it turns out to be harder than I thought!

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