Dolphins in space! Whee!
Startide Rising is the second volume in David Brin's Uplift Saga. The premise behind this world, this universe is that every known race in the galaxy that has been able to travel to the stars and across space has been "uplifted" by a patron race. No race, except the mythical Progenitors has been able to uplift (or "bootstrap") themselves. Every race...except humanity. This puts humanity in an odd position in the universe. With no patron, they are not a client race and so even though humanity has been space bourne for a relatively short period of time (client races may remain in servititude for a hundred thousand years or more), they are beholden to no race...this makes humanity unique, hated, and potentially dangerous. Humanity has uplifted chimps, dolphins, and as of this book are working on dogs.
The premise of this particular Uplift novel is that the first flight "manned" by a primarily dolphin crew and captain stumble across a billions of years old wreckage of ancient space ships. This discovery has set off an interstellar war among some of the oldest and most powerful "Galactics". Very few of these Galactics have warm fuzzy feelings for humans. The ship, Streaker, takes refuge on the planet of Kithrup to repair the ship and to buy time to figure out how to get home alive and share their discovery with Earth. Kithrup holds galactic secrets of its own.
I understand this novel won either the Hugo or Nebula Awards (SFF's Big Two literary prizes). Startide Rising is very well written and is quite original. Dolphins in space? The concept of Uplift and the history of the universe hinted at in the novel is outstanding. But I was not engaged by the novel. I don't believe it is the mostly dolphin protagonists and the story being told from their perspectives (mostly, Brin uses a multiple narrator format), but rather for such a big novel, not a whole lot actually happens. What occurs has huge implications for the series and this particular universe, because what the crew learns about Kithrup and the discovered fleet would change the very nature of how the Universe is perceived, but Brin was not able to sell me on the story. Everything around the periphery of the story: Fantastic. The story itself about the dolphins being on Kithrup and trying to repair the ship, investigate, and get back home...it felt a little empty.
This is most disappointing for me because when I read Sundiver ten years ago, I loved it. When I re-read Sundiver a couple of years ago, I still enjoyed it far more than Startide Rising. From what I have been able to tell, David Brin is an ideas writer. The storytelling can be just good enough and the ideas about the world or our future or whatever Brin is writing about can carry the story farther than the storytelling. It did with Earth. It didn't carry quite far enough with Startide Rising.