Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Uplift War by David Brin

I do not read the way you are probably supposed to. I think this is abundantly clear by now. I sometimes read the back few pages only a short way into a book. I read three books at once.

I don't always start at the beginning of a series.

Sometimes I do, if I think it's important to do so, but if it doesn't look particularly urgent that I start with book #1, I don't worry about it too much. On the other hand, I wasn't trying to start with the third book in this series - I ordered it from the library fairly carelessly, thinking it was the first.

Once I got it home, I realized it was the third book of a trilogy, but decided to go ahead and read it anyway. Where I found the second book of the second trilogy (the only other Uplift book I've read) baffling, this was much more accessible. It is, as a friend here on Goodreads put it in the comments, Space Chickens Attack the Planet of the Apes.

And it's really good.

Galactic civilization is balanced on a knife's edge. Power is gained by becoming patrons, gaining client races, uplifting them to sentience and starfaring, and having them as more or less indentured servants over hundreds of thousands of years. But then humans came on the scenes, "wolflings," who apparently bootstrapped themselves up into sentience, a feat thought to be impossible.

Not only that, but almost as soon as these inexperienced, unpredictable players made their entrance on the scene, they had the temerity to uplift two client species of their own - chimpanzees and dolphins. Some Galactics support them. Many more want them gone, eradicated, or at least safely ensconced in a client relationship to one of the patron races.

And then the dolphins discover something out there in the stars. I don't know what - maybe it's in the other books? No matter, the very news is enough to entice the Gubru to attack the human-controlled planet of Garth. The Gubru are birds, neuter until they form a triad, and, through a careful dance of power and manipulation, achieve both gender and the status of queen and princes. Each of the triad sent to Garth belongs to a caste - the military, the religious, and the bureaucratic. They jockey for position in the ensuing invasion, and successfully sequester virtually every human on the planet.

But those chimps? They don't matter - the Gubru don't believe they've been successfully uplifted. Until a resistance starts....

The Uplift War manages to juggle issues of startling complexity without ever being dense. The chapters switch to focus on different characters, Gubru, human, and chimp, and the contrasts are well-done and intriguing.

And along the way, he manages to sprinkle some interesting meditations on servitude, on the effects of being indentured on identity, and on gender. Brin frequently has things to say about gender, very quietly, and I love picking them out.

This is a story where Tarzan lives in the Garth jungle, where Cheetah is just as smart as Tarzan, and where everything is, in the end, decided by a practical joke. The races Brin creates are varied and intriguing, and the story both serious and thoroughly entertaining.

Booklinks:

I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

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