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  1. #1
    Tasty or your money back! Moderator fluffy bunny's Avatar
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    October BOTM: Startide Rising by David Brin

    So what did you all think of this book?

    It's been sometime since I read through the uplift saga, but Brin's aliens do make a lasting impression. I'm only up to part 3 of Startide Rising on the reread. I still feel that it's good, but not quite as good as the hype makes it out to be.


    I'll write more when I finish. Over to you

  2. #2
    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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    I love Brin's Aliens!!!

    However, they are shown off better in "Sundiver" and "Uplift War" (the latter a personal favorite of mine), so I won't go on and on about them here.

    I thought the dolphins were particularly well done, especially the captain. I thought that the POV of the captain after he was injured was really beautiful and poignant.

    The plot occasionally dragged, but overall it was well-paced, I thought.

    I liked the little trinary haiku bits. I thought that was quite clever.

    Random thoughts I'm afraid; I suppose I'll be more coherent after I get over this blasted head cold... Give me a few days.

  3. #3
    Awesome !
    I like Brin a lot, I think he writes a kind of Sci-Fi that has the necessary depth to it without becoming too far-fetched or ridiculous.
    I thought startide rising was the best one in the Uplift series , also i really dig the whole uplift concept and liked the way the dolphins turned out.
    A great read would be starting off with Startide Rising, followed by the second uplift series (Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach).
    The Uplift War is a cool book as well, but it reads rather as a standalone ; i didn't think Sundiver was all that great, although maybe i should just read it again to see if i'd appreciate it more now after reading the others

  4. #4
    Seeker of Stuff Moderator Kamakhya's Avatar
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    Thanks FB for starting the thread. I just got home from work and was going to, when I saw I didn't need to!

    I didn't get a chance to re-read this yet, but I have fond memories of it. I do think Startide Rising is the best of the series.

    I loved the whole concept of "uplifting". I thought it was original and fun. I agree that the trinary language of Dophins was brilliant.

    Over the course of the series, Brin does a wonderful job of describing his universe and the creatures that inhabit it.

    If I get a chance, I might try and dig out my copy and re-read it before the end of the month.

  5. #5
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    My reading of The Dolphins of Kithrup as a short story in Analog in 1983 was the first time that I'd really noticed David Brin. However I loved it, and was so pleased when it was developed in the novel, Startide Rising. It is one of my favourites. I enjoyed it more than The Uplift War, though I did enjoy that a lot, and have gone back to it on a couple of occasions.

    Space opera with depth. Loved the dolphins (interesting to see Anne McCaffrey's similar idea in The Dolphins of Pern) but really liked the ideas of galactic uplift, with its varied alien races, intrigue and politicking - this was in the days before Babylon 5 after all! Though there was a scientific background, it was a book that tried to emphasise personal (and often alien and contradictary) viewpoints, and character, and it was these that struck a chord with me.

    Perhaps a little dated now, but still recommended.

    I also have to say that despite a couple of tries, I haven't finished the second uplift series - found them dull, though I have been told they get better. By this point I think I preferred Vernor Vinge's Darkness in the Sky.
    Hobbit
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  6. #6
    Tasty or your money back! Moderator fluffy bunny's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hobbit
    Perhaps a little dated now, but still recommended.
    I'm just interested. In what ways would you consider this book dated?

  7. #7
    Administrator Administrator Hobbit's Avatar
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    I'm really thinking about the style of writing rather than the content.

    There was a lot of Sf in the 1980's that was like this, though this is a very good example. I think if you compare it with, say Peter Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds or Iain M Banks then you will find Sf now has a more accelerated pace and more of a (dare I say it) MTV/Matrix-style or even ER-style cut-and paste-approach. Nothing particularly wrong with either, but different.

    Hobbit
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  8. #8
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    I suppose if I had read this when I was younger I might have enjoyed it more. But now it really read like a juvenile story, in the worst sort of way, and it put me off. I didn’t hate it completely, there were some good things, but overall I was not impressed.

    Perhaps it was having read such a sophisticated book last month for the group, and perhaps recently reading a mystery that was a stinker, but seemed to suffer from the same problems didn't help.

    I read Amber Room which was a mystery about what really happened to the Amber Room. It had a normal main character and her husband, but the rest of the characters were the worst sort of evil, decadent, amoral, predatory, wine-drinking, couture-wearing, mistress-keeping Europeans. They were in short the worst clichéd characters that you encounter in a mystery/thriller/spy story where you have larger than life characters who indulge in all the forbidden fruits and secret whims that most people are too poor and too prudent to engage in. Think James Bond villains on steroids.

    What does this have to do with Startide Rising ? Brin's aliens were exactly the same. In genre speak they were all channeling Ming the Merciless. They were all evil, and they were stupid, worse they were presented as official representatives and following the precepts of their race and the galactic civilization -- leading to the conclusion that to last billions and billions of years your race has to be homicidal and brain-dead.

    Leaders killed subordinates in fits of pique, scattering body parts all over the deck. They sacrificed spacecrafts in small numbers and in entire wings. All with no thought but to win. Nobody objects, there are no unbiased or judicial mechanisms to redress wrongs or keep a proper balance. It defies belief that they would spend blood and treasure with no thought for the consequences: how they will be replaced, and the impact of the loss on the future of the people and their own place in the power structure. It doesn't even need to be an objection based on altruism, morals or fairness, simple economics will tell you not to act so wastefully with people and objects that take time to replace and then train. They were the worst sort of clichéd evil space monsters - and this series is supposed to be about a galactic civilization.

    I can't even begin to see why anyone would have put a bunch of dolphins in space. They have no hands, and feet, and would seem to be totally useless for anything needing fine motor skills. They would be extremely fragile because of their lack of dexterity and mobility and their environmental needs.

    Besides heat, and protection from radiation humans only need air, that is only 3 critical factors to worry about. Dolphins need air and lots of water, that’s 2 more critical factors. Then they not only send them into space, but combine them in the same ship with the human and the chimp - so that if there is a systems failure they will all be likely to die. And because they share the same spaces the ship can't really be designed to the strengths or needs of either species. The whole thing strikes me the same way as putting a screen door on a submarine.

    The story on the ship with the humans/chimp/dolphins was hardly any better. It was very clumsy with the clichéd evil human scientist who thinks his research is more important than any silly notion of ethics.

    I thought the dolphin conspiracy was not done well nor was it believable. I found the whole thread to be rather boring and clunky. It felt like an artificial addition to ramp up the suspense. Dolphins in the wild form a pod, they either are or become family. The dolphins in the ship should have followed the same social pattern, but that natural attribute was totally ignored.

    The idea that the dolphin captain was thinking of making his squeeze second in command was given lip service, so he didn't look stupid for ignoring the danger and causing the mess, but it was never seriously worked into the story. He never worries that the humans would think it nepotism to promote the female he is sleeping with - yet he spends time worrying about 'secret plans', and what the humans think and do.

    I also thought the monomaniacal chimp scientist who only cares about his research and is willing to actually destroy things to achieve his results was another one dimensional stereotypical character.

    I did like three of the humans, and several of the dolphins as characters. The boy left on the island and his dolphin pal who finally died were well developed, as was the captain’s mate, and the man and the woman who were linked by heart and mind. I Can’t say I like any of the dolphin names much, and don’t remember most of them. I thought the best part of the book was towards the end when the party had been split up and the foolish conspiracy had ended. When they were all rushing to do their part, sometimes by sacrificing themselves, to insure that some escaped the planet and survived.

    I liked that the world was made of water, but wished it had been developed more, still not sure it is believable that there were no big predators. I liked that the world was a metal world, and the mounds and the final part about life at the core of the planet, but thought it was too little too late.

    In the end I have no interest in what has happened to the Streaker, but do wonder about whether the second group gets off the planet and makes it some place safe.

    I found the haikus annoying. I thought the idea of 3 languages was neat as a concept but in reality the need to find the right language to communicate in during a crisis would be another dangerous disadvantage to survival. I thought the Whale Dream was interesting, but poorly developed. I was also interested in the Library and the idea, started in Sundiver and continued here that different clients get different facts and truths. The alien computer was interesting but perhaps too passive. I loved when it said that it was there to watch them suffer, not help them, but realistically if they were destroyed it would be too and so not be able to complete its mission. I also thought the idea of the abandoned fleet and the strange alien corpse was cool. I would have liked to have seen these items more prominent in the story rather than the clumsy conspiracy.

    I too liked the idea of Uplift until I thought about what it really meant. It is simply colonialism and racism dressed up and taken to outer space. In the past Europeans used the same excuses and arguments against ‘natives’. That they weren’t really full members of the race, that they weren’t intelligent, or civilized without the refinement and tutelage that a long period of exposure to our more mature learning and civilization would give them. Many also added that they needed to have their souls saved and learn about the true god at the expense of their culture. All of this was used to justify slavery, and destructions of their culture and appropriation of their land and property. Those same sentiments are on display by the alien species in the Uplift trilogy. Even those aliens who are seen as helpful and benign follow the same practices and beliefs – they simply offer a more gentle form of slavery to their clients.

    Humans also seem to practice it on the chimps and dolphins while trying to give them the most autonomy, but still not equality or freedom. None of the human characters really seems to deal with this issue in any depth in the first 3 books. There is little discussion about animal versus sophont and where and when to draw the line, and if after the line is crossed can another race meddle even if it is the race that uplifted them and for the benefit of the newly uplifted ? So while humans felt bad about it and tried to be as gentle as possible they were still following the rules of the galactics. I have no idea what Brin was trying to say, other than a strong message about saving the biosphere.

    In terms of the first 3 books I think that the Uplift War is my favorite. It is much more mature in terms of writing and character development. The aliens also seem to be more thoughtful and well balanced and as races more reasonably motivated.

  9. #9
    Tasty or your money back! Moderator fluffy bunny's Avatar
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    I was a bit iffy on the 'dolphin conspiracy' myself. As for putting dolphins into space, I did read somewhere that since they live their life in three dimensions (as a pose to humans who don't consider up and down so much), they are probably better suited to manovering in three dimensional space.

    simple economics will tell you not to act so wastefully with people and objects that take time to replace and then train.
    I thought that they were fighting for something akin to the ultimate prize, though it would have been nice to have further clarification within the book. I do see your point though.

  10. #10
    BookWyrm Archren's Avatar
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    FicusFan-

    I totally understand that there are things in the book that obviously don't work for you. However, I'd just like to counter a few bits of your critique.

    Leaders killed subordinates in fits of pique, scattering body parts all over the deck. They sacrificed spacecrafts in small numbers and in entire wings. All with no thought but to win. Nobody objects, there are no unbiased or judicial mechanisms to redress wrongs or keep a proper balance. It defies belief that they would spend blood and treasure with no thought for the consequences: how they will be replaced, and the impact of the loss on the future of the people and their own place in the power structure. It doesn't even need to be an objection based on altruism, morals or fairness, simple economics will tell you not to act so wastefully with people and objects that take time to replace and then train.

    This is much less true for a species that has a very high breeding rate than for one like ours that has very few children. Much like Octopi have hundreds of offspring at a time and then leave them to fend for themselves until one or two make to adulthood, a species like that would care much less about any individual, finding most of them to be expendable. However, when you consider training and investments like that... you're probably right on that one. Except that in human history, many peoples have "spent blood and treasure with no thought to the consequences." Over and over again. Why should aliens be any more rational than ourselves? Except Vulcans. They rule!

    In genre speak they were all channeling Ming the Merciless. They were all evil, and they were stupid, worse they were presented as official representatives and following the precepts of their race and the galactic civilization -- leading to the conclusion that to last billions and billions of years your race has to be homicidal and brain-dead.... I too liked the idea of Uplift until I thought about what it really meant. It is simply colonialism and racism dressed up and taken to outer space. In the past Europeans used the same excuses and arguments against ‘natives’. That they weren’t really full members of the race, that they weren’t intelligent, or civilized without the refinement and tutelage that a long period of exposure to our more mature learning and civilization would give them.

    I think that modeling the galactic civilization like this was the point. It was supposed to be very similar to European colonialism and to show the abuses of same. And he is showing that that type of set up will come apart at the seams for exactly the reasons you mention, much like European colonialism came to an end in the years surrounding World War II. Also, he is drawing precise parallels between the treatment of aboriginal cultures on Earth and the treatment of Uplifted species in his universe: in the rhetoric of the best of intentions ("Uplift," "the white man's burden", "nobless oblige"), massive abuses occur. This is a message that also has some relevance to current events, and in fact has occured at all times in human history. So, where you see unsubtle rip-offs, I see cultural commentary. Just two different sides of the same coin, I imagine.

    Anyway, I suspect that you probably wouldn't like the second triology any better. It's even more unwieldly, I have to say. However, it does show the more complete unraveling of a hide-bound homocidal civilization unable to adapt to changing circumstances. And that alien corpse plot really comes to fruition there. (Anyway, I still love Brin's aliens! Especially the jophur in the second trilogy. Amazing stuff there. )
    Last edited by Archren; October 3rd, 2004 at 05:05 PM.

  11. #11
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by fluffy bunny
    I was a bit iffy on the 'dolphin conspiracy' myself. As for putting dolphins into space, I did read somewhere that since they live their life in three dimensions (as a pose to humans who don't consider up and down so much), they are probably better suited to manovering in three dimensional space.

    I thought that they were fighting for something akin to the ultimate prize, though it would have been nice to have further clarification within the book. I do see your point though.
    I have also heard that about dolphins, but I think the results of that would be either a completely dolphin crew - so that the ship could be completely adapted to them. They could manipulate things with their eye movements, or whistles or something rather than wearing fake arms; or if we still think of them as animals, then a dolphin brain - without the clumsy body, would be attached to the ship's systems in some manner to help with flight and navigation. I think I even read a story about some brain used like that, probably not dolphin but a human who had special skills in that area.

    I think what they were competing for was the location of the fleet, which they all somehow thought would give them 'possesion' of their progenitors. They thought the progenitors had great physical and moral power and it would somehow transfer to the people who found them. As if the progenitors, if they were there and could be awakened/re-animated would then belong to the race that found them. Or perhaps it was really just their artifacts they were looking for -- sort of a giant pirates in space story.

    I agree they weren't acting rationally, but my problem was they weren't the dregs or renegades of their civilizations, but seemingly their main representatives and there were no voices of reason and no control over their rapacity. It was just very one sided and frankly unrealistic in races and civilizations that have somehow lasted and grown for billions of years.

  12. #12
    Anitaverse Refugee FicusFan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Archren
    FicusFan-

    I totally understand that there are things in the book that obviously don't work for you. However, I'd just like to counter a few bits of your critique.

    Leaders killed subordinates in fits of pique, scattering body parts all over the deck. They sacrificed spacecrafts in small numbers and in entire wings. All with no thought but to win. Nobody objects, there are no unbiased or judicial mechanisms to redress wrongs or keep a proper balance. It defies belief that they would spend blood and treasure with no thought for the consequences: how they will be replaced, and the impact of the loss on the future of the people and their own place in the power structure. It doesn't even need to be an objection based on altruism, morals or fairness, simple economics will tell you not to act so wastefully with people and objects that take time to replace and then train.

    This is much less true for a species that has a very high breeding rate than for one like ours that has very few children. Much like Octopi have hundreds of offspring at a time and then leave them to fend for themselves until one or two make to adulthood, a species like that would care much less about any individual, finding most of them to be expendable. However, when you consider training and investments like that... you're probably right on that one. Except that in human history, many peoples have "spent blood and treasure with no thought to the consequences." Over and over again. Why should aliens be any more rational than ourselves? Except Vulcans. They rule!
    I understand about spreading a lot of offspring and not caring about them -- but those in space were not the many young who had little value, they were the few who survived to adulthood. Having few surviving adults is often the result, among the higher species, of that type of reproduction. The adults are possibly more valuable because there is such a high mortality rate in reproduction. But it wasn't just replacing them it was the rearing and training of them, in both time and energy used to do so, and the experience level of those lost. The ships and other durable goods represent time, money, and the use of raw materials which may be limited or dangerous to gather and work. I just think that there were much bigger consequences to the seeminly easy acts they were engaging in, that the story didn't admit to let alone deal with.

    In terms of human cultures that have recklessly spent blood and treasure - sure, but most of them aren't around anymore. Some have been wiped out completely, and others have given way to perhaps wiser and more frugal descendents. When backed into a corner and faced with extinction or total war, you will go all out, but even if you win the echoes and consequences will ripple down the culture for decades or perhaps centuries after. And it isn't something you do just to pick up a few baubles or come out on top of your rivals. If you use it that way you usually will not be strong enough to hold what you win. I think its called a phyrric victory. So the idea that these really old races engaged in that type of behavior - seemingly as SOP did not work for me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Archren

    In genre speak they were all channeling Ming the Merciless. They were all evil, and they were stupid, worse they were presented as official representatives and following the precepts of their race and the galactic civilization -- leading to the conclusion that to last billions and billions of years your race has to be homicidal and brain-dead....

    I too liked the idea of Uplift until I thought about what it really meant. It is simply colonialism and racism dressed up and taken to outer space. In the past Europeans used the same excuses and arguments against ‘natives’. That they weren’t really full members of the race, that they weren’t intelligent, or civilized without the refinement and tutelage that a long period of exposure to our more mature learning and civilization would give them.

    I think that modeling the galactic civilization like this was the point. It was supposed to be very similar to European colonialism and to show the abuses of same. And he is showing that that type of set up will come apart at the seams for exactly the reasons you mention, much like European colonialism came to an end in the years surrounding World War II. Also, he is drawing precise parallels between the treatment of aboriginal cultures on Earth and the treatment of Uplifted species in his universe: in the rhetoric of the best of intentions ("Uplift," "the white man's burden", "nobless oblige"), massive abuses occur. This is a message that also has some relevance to current events, and in fact has occured at all times in human history. So, where you see unsubtle rip-offs, I see cultural commentary. Just two different sides of the same coin, I imagine.
    You are probably right that it is cultural commentary, but I always have problems when important issues are presented in such a one sided manner. Then it is very easy for it to pass at face value as just a bunch of swash-buckling aliens and humans in a great scavenger/treasure hunt. I just find it a waste of a teachable moment, where a good author can make readers think about more than an action-adventure story set in space, without ruining the story.

    Quote Originally Posted by Archren

    Anyway, I suspect that you probably wouldn't like the second triology any better. It's even more unwieldly, I have to say. However, it does show the more complete unraveling of a hide-bound homocidal civilization unable to adapt to changing circumstances. And that alien corpse plot really comes to fruition there. (Anyway, I still love Brin's aliens! Especially the jophur in the second trilogy. Amazing stuff there. )
    Actually my first book in the Uplift Saga was Brightness Reef which I loved. I thought some of the aliens there were also wack jobs, but not all of them were the same in terms of manner and motivation. I felt it was a deeper more realistic look at some of them and perhaps closer to more realistic alien cultures.

  13. #13
    I read this book a few years ago and loved it. I had passed it over for years while browsing through the bookstore (because of the cover - who needs to read some book about dolphins - I did not even read the cover notes). I read it because it won the Hugo and now it is in my top 10 scifi books.

    Side note - I liked Uplift War but could not get into Brightness Reef.

  14. #14
    Seeker of Stuff Moderator Kamakhya's Avatar
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    I just finished re-reading the book today. I don't generally like re-reading books, but it has been some time since I last read it.

    It was nice to be able to pay more attention to some of the details and still be engaged in the story.

    I think the subplot of the Stenos vs. the Bottlenosed was to explore the boundaries and obligations of uplifting. Much like the Karrank% were horribly abused, the addition of Shark, Stenos and human genes into the mix caused some pretty disasterous outcomes.

    As for the battle over the Streaker, I had no problem believing the ferosity. They believed that the wolfings had the secret to the Progenitors. Aeons had produced a religious and mythological base for fanatic behavior. Brin did say that they were the races in the universe that were "fanatics" and, by inference, that they were plenty of other races out there that weren't. What is the loss of a few dozen ships when you not only control multiple worlds and races, but the prize may be "eternal salvation". I think this was a commentary of religion as much as colonialism.

    Trinary haiku was just cool. I wasn't as into the logic lessons, nor was I thrilled with the Dophins "reverting" under stress. It had a patronizing feeling and not too realistic to me.

    I liked the dolphon ship. It struck me as humans doing whatever was necessary to liberate dolphins. Sure, it might be problematic, but it was the "right" thing to do, particularly since they were good pilots.

  15. #15
    Registered User Colonel Worf's Avatar
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    I'm reading Sundiver by coincidence. I doubt I'll get around to Startide Rising any time soon. I don't have as much time to read anymore.

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