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Friday, October 28, 2005

cover of Startide Rising

The problem with some science fiction books is that they sound a little silly if you try to describe them, especially to someone who doesn't generally read the genre. This is one of those books. It is about a spaceship piloted by sentient dolphins, with a few humans and a chimp along for the ride. The spaceship Streaker is on the run from several different species of aliens, because they found a mysterious group of ancient spaceships which may be the fabled Progenitors. The earthlings find refuge on a metallic mostly-water world named Kithrup, while the battle over them rages on overhead-- and they continue to find more mysteries as they work to repair their ship and plot a way to escape.

In my experience, any book that wins both the Hugo and the Nebula awards is well worth reading-- and this one certainly bears that out. The characters are all so well-fleshed out, including the dolphins and the aliens. Brin has given the dolphins their own mythology, philosophy, and language-- a lovely whistled, poetic language that Brin renders as haiku. The various dolphin names are lovely and seem so appropriate, and the different dolphins show a range of characters-- including the most human dolphin (who ends up as a traitor), and the captain, who is a genius and the most clearly dolphin-like of them. There are also some problems of racism among the dolphins, since certain experimental dolphins with a slightly different DNA make-up are part of the crew, including one dolphin of mysterious heritage who wreaks havoc before the story is over. Even the many alien antagonists are all portrayed as incredibly foreign and different-- not just in their physiology, but in their attitudes and belief-systems.

This book gives a glimpse into an entire society. Brin has imagined a galactic society where races of aliens find and "uplift" to sentience the races that evolve to levels of basic intelligence. Humanity is the odd creature here, having developed without a patron (or perhaps abandoned centuries ago), and lifted themselves up by their proverbial bootstraps to become a space-faring culture. This gives humanity a unique perspective on galactic culture and resources. Brin's vision of this society is thorough and complete, and this is evident in the fact that the many discoveries the starship Streaker happens upon have literally cosmic significance.

This wonderful novel gives a glimpse of a possible future when we might explore the stars and collaborate with other sentient species-- perhaps even ones with whom we currently share our planet. It is also a thought-provoking work about what it means to be sentient, and what kind of responsibility that entails.

Title:Startide Rising
Author:David Brin
Date published:1983
Genre:Science Fiction
Number of pages:460
Notes:Repeat reading.


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