David Brin’s The Uplift Series (1980 – 1998)
Hooray for David Brin! For without him we would have been deprived of one of the great Science-Fiction series of the last thirty years. Beginning in 1980 with the short novel ‘Sundiver’ and a rather familiar tale of alien intervention into the affairs of Earth by a vast multi-species galactic civilization, what could have been staid and unoriginal has grown through the sheer power of good writing and storytelling into a wonderful, and wondrous, series of related novels that are virtual exponents of how to write good SF.
The basic premise of the stories, a Galactic civilization whose oldest member races help ‘uplift’ less civilized or younger races into Galactic society, the younger species thereby becoming their clients in an age-old pecking order, is a rather old one in the SF genre with many derivatives. But never has it been so well or so joyously written as with Brin. His unique (sort of) twist on the familiar trope has the people of Earth, after their early entry into polite Galactic society by friendly extraterrestrial powers, beginning their own process of ‘uplift’ on their own clients, in this case apes and dolphins, through a program of genetic engineering and technology. So we frequently have talking apes (and dolphins) along with human characters but in a surprisingly believable and non-cutesy way (no mean achievement for an American writer). If you’re thinking a literary ‘Planet of the Apes’ think again for these stories are well beyond that. Into the blend is added a host of alien species and figures some of whom are at times more believable than some of their human counterparts
Indeed it is character, and narrative, that puts Brin head and shoulders above most writers in the SF field. Yes, of course, he has his failings, and some of his other works are lacking the indefinable power of the Uplift novels, but he remains a remarkably consistent writer, notable for the spirit of humanity that weaves its way throughout most of the stories. In the Uplift books even the most alien of characters are rendered engagingly human-like and a real moral centre, so frequently lacking from other works in the SF genre, makes the series somehow all the more believable and all the easier to identify with.
Undoubtedly the best of the whole sequence is the ‘Uplift Storm Trilogy’ which also finishes it. Here is found Brin’s imagination, skill and overall vision at its most productive and the turning of the last page of the last book on the Uplift universe leaves a real sense of loss and regret. The Uplift novels began rather predictably but have since grown enormously (as has their author) and are undoubted ‘must-reads’ for any fan of not just Sci-Fi, but damn good –Sci-Fi.
The first of the Uplift Stories is ‘Sundiver’, and though the weakest of the series it quickly sets up what is to follow. It can be found here. The very much better ‘Startide Rising’ is when the series really began to come into its own, so it is no surprise that it was the winner of numerous literary awards and it can be found here. The next book in the series is another multiple award winner, ‘The Uplift War’, and is available here. Finally the three novels of the ‘Uplift Storm Trilogy’ that finish the series and are undoubtedly the greatest examples of the whole sequence and Brin’s works in general: ‘Brightness Reef’, found here, ‘Infinity’s Shore’, found here, and ‘Heaven’s Reach’, found here.