Saturday, December 2, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: David Brin's Startide Rising


One of my favorite space operas of all time is David Brin's Startide Rising. Why is it so great? I'll let Alan Brown on the excellent Tor.com site explain in his retro-review of the book. 
Everyone loves dolphins. And chimps. And everyone loves spaceships. And adventures. So, in the mid-1980s, when David Brin put dolphins, chimps, and humans in spaceships, and dropped them into the middle of a rip-snorting adventure, I (and a lot of other people) immediately jumped on board. And what a wonderful ride it was…. Few books written in the 1980s did as good a job as Brin’s work of recreating the good old “sense of wonder” that I remember from my youth….
In Brin’s future history, as humans begin to reach beyond Earth, they also begin to experiment with other species on the planet to encourage them to sapience. This includes dolphins and chimpanzees. Mankind then finds that the stars are filled with sentient races, races whose histories sometimes stretch back billions of years. The human race, however, represents an immediate mystery to these Galactic aliens. Throughout history, senior patron races have been ‘uplifting’ other races to sapience, and those junior races then serve them through a kind of indenture system. This is similar to what humans have been doing with dolphins and chimpanzees, although while the humans try to treat their junior races as equals, some Galactics treat the junior races as little more than slaves. While uplifting other species confers the humans status as a patron race, there is no sign that the human race has a patron of its own. This makes humans a ‘wolfling’ race, and without patrons, the humans are at a disadvantage in the chaotic civilization that spans the stars….Many races rely upon the Library, a gigantic collection of ancient knowledge, rather than engaging in scientific research or experimentation. There are legends of a race called the Progenitors, who first developed the process of uplifting, but little is known about them....
Partnering with dolphins and chimpanzees, humans are reaching out to the stars, and rather than depending on the Library, they are using research ships to explore the universe and verify the information they have been given. And there is some reason to believe that not all the information is accurate, or has been corrupted with malicious intent. The humans resist simply using existing technologies developed by others, and have made some new discoveries thanks to their efforts—which marks them as either creative innovators, or disruptors of the status quo, depending on the perspective of the races that are observing them.
Streaker, one of Earth’s research vessels, is a mix of Galactic and human technologies, modified with some interesting adaptations in order to best serve its various crewmembers. While dolphins normally live in water and breath air, because of the difficulties posed by keeping air and water separated in zero gravity, many compartments are filled with a highly oxygenated water that can be ‘breathed’ by the dolphins. And while gravity control is possible, the humans have also designed the ship with internal centrifugal wheels that can simulate gravity in a more low-tech manner. The ship is armed, as are most vessels in the anarchic Five Galaxies, but is not a military vessel.
So it's quite a setting and, as the reviewer suggests, a "rip-snorting adventure". Get your sense of wonder ready and give it a try. 

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