Startide Rising

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startiderising.jpg

David Brin

GENRES:
Epic Sci-Fi, Space Adventure, Alien

SUMMARY:
Startide Rising takes place in a universe in which sentient but primitive races are regularly sought out for genetic enhancement by more advanced races, a process called Uplift. In return for Uplifting, the less advanced race is indentured to their patron race for thousands of years, ensuring that the process is anything but altruistic. Humans are one of the most recent space-faring races on the scene, and their lack of an obvious Uplift patron makes them despised targets among most other galactic races. Humans are also distrusted because they refused to indenture dolphins and chimpanzees, two races with whom they recently Uplifted and now seem to peacefully co-exist.

After discovering the remains of the ancient and legendary race that spawned all intelligent life in the galaxy, the primarily dolphin crew of the Streaker find themselves hiding on a vacant waterworld called Kithrup while a battle about their discovery rages in space above them. Interspersed with vignettes of the battling alien races, Startide Rising follows multiple characters as they try to escape the planet, avoid the battle, unravel Kithrup's mysterious history, and resolve (or encourage) a mutiny.

RESPONSE:
Startide Rising was one of the most satisfying sci-fi novels I've read in quite awhile. It had everything I look for in good science fiction - a very entertaining story, well-developed characters, unique and interesting ideas, and smart writing and stuff.

This novel is set almost exclusively on a single planet and, compared to other space epics, it therefore conveys a sense of immediacy and urgency. At the same time, it also has the rare and almost contradictory distinction of providing an epic sense of time and the evolution of dozens of civilisations. Despite the fact that I knew Startide Rising is considered a modern classic, when I first realised that most of the action takes place on Kithrup and involved the crew simply hiding from the more advanced races, I thought the book was going to feel claustrophobic, tedious, and even a bit boring. Far from it. This is an action-packed page turner with colourful characters, only some of whom are human. The intrigue and mysteries keep growing throughout the book and really make the story unique and interesting. The large number of plot lines and characters are a huge credit to Brin's story-telling ability , particulary considering the flow of the story was consistent and never seemed overly complex.

Another thing that concerned me prior to reading the book was the inclusion of dolphins as main characters. Many marine biologists including myself often scoff at the popularity of cute and charismatic dophins (while secretly being jealous that we instead work with sponges or worms). My mother, however, first got me this book when I was a teenager due to the dolphins on the cover. I never got around to reading it and only just picked it up again in a second-hand bookshop last year. Although the human characters were easier to identify with (almost certainly deliberate on Brin's part), I loved the dolphins in this book. They weren't just human personalities in a streamlined body; the dolphin race had its own characteristics, some of which were quite different to humans while others were all too obviously similar. The logistics of dealing with a dolphin crew on a spaceship were elegantly handled and never seemed forced. Startide Rising made me love these animals all over again (possibly because in the novel they came with robotic arms and wise haiku advice).

David Brin is considered a hard sci-fi author, but unlike other novels in this sub-genre, I found Startide Rising incredibly easy to read and follow. That's not to say this isn't an intelligent story. But rather than focus on detailed explanations of the science and technology, Brin simply uses them to propel the plot. This means the novel constantly has a forward momentum that I find a lot of hard sci-fi lacks due to interruptions caused by comparatively complex explanations of physics.

POINT BLANK:
Wet, wild and wonderful. This is an intelligent page-turner filled with epic action, intrigue, and some very unique ideas! Startide Rising should appeal to a wide audience.