I have skipped probably the best volume out of the six in this series—Startide Rising, c. 1983—but I read it 30 years ago and there's just too many books I haven't read, like this one. And Brin also seems to have matured as a writer in the four years between these two works, honing his craft by publishing 3 other novels of non-Uplift content. I remember Startide as a romp, in the full sense of the word. It's a galactic swashbuckler with a frenzied pace and a light, more facetious manner. The Uplift War takes itself a little more seriously; it opens its eyes with a darker, somewhat more cynical vision.
Startide Rising concludes with Earth's second, uplifted client race—those pesky uber-Dolphins—discovering a mothball fleet of eons-old starships in some godforsaken corner of space. Buried in this celestial graveyard is apparently a bonafide Secret of the Universe—which is futurespeak for something to do with The Progenitors—because senior races of of the intergalactic civilization called the Five Galaxies are frantically seeking out starship Streaker and its neo-dolphin crew. Thousands of light years away, the planet Garth is a colony of Earth, where neo-chimps with their human patrons are attempting to restore its ecology after a gun-loving species murdered off all the predators. One of the quirky, bad-natured races—the Gubru—decides to take Garth hostage as a bargaining chip for what Streaker has found.
The novel quickly hydra-heads its 3rd-person point of view between the involved factors of the conflict: the nasty Gurbru on their preening perches imagined like African Grays on steroids and with opposable thumbs; the Tymbrimi ambassador Uthacalthing, with his wry sense of humor and perchance for surprise; his daughter Athaclena, sent into the hills to Red Dawn-it with Robert Oneagle, son of the planetary coordinator; Fiben Bolger a Sad-Sack soldier of the planet's militia for a neo-chimp eyes-'n'-ears on the battleground.
Once Gurbru talons are firmly on the ground and all the humans are Auschwitzed—except for Robert let-me-prove-myself Oneagle—the novel nosedives into incarceration protocol, resistance patriotism, and Bedtime-For-Bonzo cuteness from the brainy chimps. And, since characters remain firmly caricatures, I found myself investigating other literary techniques for import. Since I don't know when author Brin conceived this novel, I can only turn to the decade's history for meaning in possible parallels to Garth's ecological decimation, friendly, Patron-like behavior in reconstruction, then invasion by angry birds:
Naw, nothing there. It's the world as pretty-much-usual. Status quo hates outsiders, outsiders hate status quo, some people always cheat other people when they can, we'd rather be entertained than learned. Misfortune loses tutelage when it's exploited as fodder for strictly entertainment. Economics becomes the Bataan Death March as it takes the place of human emotion. It'll goosestep you right into thinking a property line is more important than a relationship with your neighbor.
Garth—the planet, remember?—is a blank slate. Like the reader, it is being imposed upon by characters with deadly differences in their cultural baggage. The real defilement here is Garth being raped then treated like currency by another "superior" species. Humans are seen as having the acumen to go past protocol and eons-old dogma to right a wrong. Sensitivity to all living things, but more important here is advocacy for the American Dream in all its underdogged glory: we Uplift because with more opportunity Freedom and Equality are always chosen, not client-species slavery. And—he winks with that "ah shucks" conspiratorial half-grin—we savor our self image as bothersome-yet-effective, ingenious-but-unwashed Rebels winning with ideas over physical might.
David Brin is a veritable Pandora's Box of inventiveness; that's his strongest suit, the what if? But what did we learn when we all went through that nascent Rite of Passage called Drugs? And that's it—Brin overdoses me on ideas that are just too good. His worlds are brimming with whole civilizations based on concept; galaxies that are outlines. His characters are great representatives of peculiar, fabulous, and inspired populations; they are easily-read billboards in a complex and exemplary-built universe.
I guess I wanted less cowbell with this one.
Dead at page 287/638.