scifi blog — Uplift War trilogy

Uplift War trilogy
by David Brin

I’ve just read David Brin’s Uplift trilogy.

There are adventures that involved me, had me rooting for the heroes and wishing ill for the enemies. They’re three good independent stories that are worth the read just for that.

But I want to comment on other matters, as usual. There’s somethings about his world that need special mention. So this is the spoiler warning.

A couple of minor points first. Unfortunately, the old whore magic of Psi is important in the story. Yes, reading novel’s is about wish fulfilment, but I don’t like Psi. It’s not creative wish fulfilment, it’s the lazy get out of jail free fantasy of a child’s “I wish”. Having said that, it was also pretty standard in scifi for quite a long period, so Brin’s usage isn’t something uniquely bad.

Brin also has the misfortunate of old scifi difficulty: the future comes along and wrecks a part of his story. This can’t be helped. If your plot needs someone in the future to be unable to find a camera, if your plot needs people to have to find wall phones to communicate with others, you story is going to be bolloxed when the future invents smart phones. The solution lies with the reader, who must suspect another reality, and go back to the day when ‘advanced communications technologies’ had yet to cede to creative engineering.

No, I’m far more concerned about a couple of other matters in this book. It’s too common major flaw is yet more story of plucky superhero humans overcoming incredible odds to bloody the nose of ultra–powerful aliens. Yes, there is something in the story that makes that plausible: the aliens depend on their technobible for everything, and have become stuffy and uninventive, presumptive and arrogant. Yes, the fall is due, yes, they fall, but it’s the same plot and atmosphere in many scifi stories, and it’s got to be dull.

Too much of the story’s movements aren’t plucky humans, or preprogrammed aliens, it’s luck. Too much of the plot turns on good fortune. Well, that’s how it seems to me: it’s quite possible I’ve missed some subtle depth. What’s worse, though, is that far far too much of the story is super-human smugness, and it gets on my tits. I’ll give Brin, he's got a character that takes the piss out of this, but all the same … .

Actually, there’s so much luck in the trilogy that I suspect there’s actually an unseen hand, something that was perhaps going to be revealed in another novel that hasn’t been produced. The uplift universe is full of aliens whose cultural history goes back a very long way. Their universe irregularly gets stuffy and then gets kicked up the arse: this time it’s the humans doing the rear rearranging. But the human success depends so much on luck … are this universe’s mythical old progenitors really still around, perhaps using the humans to do some universe shaking? There are a lot of unanswered questions that would be answered by that.

The problem with that is the core of the tales are always the plucky earth underdogs doing incredible things. The stories would be rather wrecked if it turned out in the unwritten novel that the underdogs were really overdogs, and their stunning plucky victories were inevitable. I can well see why such a story would be a problem. It could only work if the humans turned bad, or maybe the invisible hand turned bad, but divided, and a small “good” faction were able to guide all the other goodies into underdog victory. Not that it matters, David Brin writes his novels, not me, so I’m talking crap.

But, you see, that illustrates one of the strengths of this series: I WANT MORE. Go read the novels, go enjoy them.