Genre: science fiction
Length: 340 pages
Setting: near future, Earth and Mercury
Interest: It’s the first book in the Uplift series. I read the series long ago, and I’ve decided to revisit some of my favorite books and series. This year, I’m trying to reread all of Brin’s Uplift books (it was brought to mind by reading Existence).
Summary: Humanity is going through a major upheaval. They’ve just been discovered by the Galactics, but they don’t quite fit into the hierarchy of that society. (Humans don’t seem to have an older Patron race that raised them to sentience. Luckily, humanity had uplifted chimps and dolphins, giving them Client races, or we would have been claimed by some race as an orphan.) There’s some research being done on the Sun, and our main character, Jacob, is called in to help with a mystery. The more staid Galactics, like the Pila and their Clients, the Pring, think humanity shouldn’t bother doing its own research. All the answers to all the questions are to be found in the Galactic Library, so our efforts should go to putting in a branch of the Library. Other Galactics, like the Kanten, are trying to support the wolfling Human race to merge Galactic knowledge with homegrown ingenuity. The researchers on Mercury found two creatures inhabiting the Sun, one of which exhibits some degree of intelligence. The Galactic Library is strangely silent on sun-dwelling creatures, which is the source of the mystery. At times, the intelligent creature takes on an anthropomorphic shape and makes threatening gestures. Turns out, the anthropomorphic version was a hoax perpetrated by the Pring, Culla, trying to humiliate the Pila. Jacob figures out Culla’s secret on a dive into the Sun. Unfortunately, Culla’s willing to kill himself along with the whole crew to keep the hoax alive. There’s a battle within the sun-diving vessel that eventually kills Culla, and only some impressive piloting (and advances in medical technology) saves the crew.
Final thoughts: I find the universe this series is set in to be fascinating. It does emphasize the specialness of humanity (all the other sentient races since the Progenitors have been modified by a Patron race for sentience, but humans seem to have done it on their own). The book also addresses how to marry the amazing Galactic knowledge with what humans understand, without losing the spark and curiosity that makes humans special. If all the questions have been answered, why bother asking any more questions? But, turns out, being lazy will turn on you just as hard in the future as it does now.
Another part of the story that captures my attention is the uplifting process. We come into the process in the middle. Chimps and dolphins have some level of speech and tool use prowess, but changes are continuing to be made. Usually you only see the beginning or end of a major scientific advancement, not the messy middle. The uplift project is just a peripheral storyline, which makes it even more tantalizing for me. I haven’t even addressed the Probationers and the impact on society of marking people as dangerous before they’ve even done anything wrong. In other words, it’s a great book. Lots of action to keep you reading, and yet it still makes you think.
Title comes from: The research program on Mercury is called the Sundiver program because they’ve developed a vessel that can dive into at least the top part of the Sun and bring back data.
Reading challenges fulfilled: #30 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge
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