Tuesday, February 10, 2015

1984 Hugo Winner: Startide Rising

David Brin
Completed 4/22/2013, reviewed 4/22/2013, edited 2/10/2015
3  stars

This is a fun book.  It is feels like it comes out of the tradition of Star Wars storytelling, a space opera, or a space western.  Complete with talking dolphins and chimps, and cartoonish aliens, it is an easy read and full of action.

This is the first book of the Uplift series I’ve read.  I was initially concerned about not reading the first book of the series, but subsequently found that its predecessor is not necessarily needed to enjoy this book.  There is a lot that happens before the beginning of the book, but it is not actually described in “Sundiver,” the first book.  “Startide’s” opening chapter sufficiently preps you for the rest of the story.

There are several interesting themes surrounding Uplift which are very interesting, specifically as it is applied to humans.  There are the ideas of helping sub-sentient species to sentience without enslaving them for 100,000 years, as is the normally agreed repayment for the “service,” and being caretakers of the planets which humans colonize and find species for uplifting.  These themes provide a backdrop to the plot, but help to explain the conflict with the aliens, and between the humans and those they uplift, namely the dolphins and chimps.

At first, I was a little annoyed by the language of the dolphins.  It sounded childish and cartoony.  The poetry/haiku of their language also seemed strained.  Lastly, I was easily confused by their names.  I didn’t feel like their characters were as developed as the humans.

Halfway through the book, I realized how essential the poetry was to convey feelings as well as information.  I found myself having accepted dolphin’s language and the characterization and differentiation of the dolphin’s became much more clear.  After finishing the book, it was suggested by another reviewer that the simplicity of the language may have a correlation to the recentness of the uplift of the dolphins, and that their genetic manipulation is still in progress.

I have found that while I like action in a book, I don’t like too much technical or hard science fiction action.  “Startide” had a lot of this and I found it occasionally hard to follow.  However, in general the action was engaging and often found myself having a tough time putting the book down.

I had a tough time deciding between three stars or four out of five.  I settled on three, which means good, but not great, because I generally need a lot more depth in a space opera to push it to four stars.  But I highly recommend this book.  It’s fun and satisfying, and more importantly, drops you warmed up for its excellent successor, “The Uplift War.”


  1. I just skimmed your review as I plan on reading this at some point. Just picked up a copy last week that I found in a used bookstore in pristine shape. I'm actually reading its sequel, The Uplift War, right now as part of a science fiction book club and am loving it. Makes me wonder why it took me so long to read Brin. Oh, yeah...it's all those other books piled up. :)

    1. Hey Carl, I found "The Uplift War" much more enjoyable and engrossing than "Startide Rising". I really need to read more Brin too, but my TBR pile for this year is already enormous, even though I've scaled back on my WWE challenges.