David Brin, 1987
Hugo Winner - 1988
Premise: The inhabitants of the colony on the damaged planet of Garth know they are in danger. They don’t know why Galactic strife is focused on the species of Earth, but humans, chimps, and alien diplomats prepare to defend their colony from a larger societal struggle they barely understand.
Startide Rising, but this is a completely separate story taking place very far away from the prior book. The events of the prior book have an impact on this one, but there is no need to read this series in order or in its entirety to comprehend the story.
To recap the setting, these books take place in a future in which the sentient species of Earth (humans plus the genetically modified neo-chimps and neo-dolphins) have recently joined a greater galactic civilization. One of the major principles of this civilization is uplift. A recognized species can “uplift” a pre-sentient species into a spacefaring race, which then enters into indentured servitude to the older patron race until they become fully fledged members of galactic society. Humans are a bit of a scandal because they burst onto the scene apparently without a patron race.
The Uplift War has a lot of the same positive elements as Startide Rising, in different proportions. The portrayal of various Galactic races is more nuanced, as there are major characters of non-earthling species. The Gubru who attack the colony have a fascinating theory of government based on a three-part balance, and it affects everything about their lives, even their sexualities. I loved learning about the empathic, playful Tymbrimi who are sympathetic toward the humans even when they don’t understand them.
The neo-chimps play a much larger role in this book, and I really liked getting more about how they struggle with their place as a young race - what do they keep from their more “primitive” days? What would it be like to look at living members of your species who were at a very different level of sapience, and how much say would you want to have in how your species changed in the next generation?
The story is full of adventure and action, but the star of the book is really the world-building and the character growth. It’s an interesting thought experiment mixed with an environmentalist message. The author’s note at the end states the question outright: “Perhaps we are the first to talk and think and build and aspire, but we may not be the last...Some day we may be judged by just how well we served, when alone we were Earth’s caretakers.”
4 Stars - A Very Good Book