Fascinating. Absorbing. Enjoyable. Winner of the 1983 Nebula and 1984 Hugo awards, Startide Rising by David Brin is the type of novel that made me fall in love with science fiction. The plot has multiple strands. The characters have interesting, complex personalities. The world that Brin creates is unique and well-developed. The novel contains some interesting science and technology. [Note: Startide Rising is the second in a series. I didn’t read the first book but I felt like I didn't need the backstory.]
Very briefly, the crew of the Streaker makes a discovery that upsets the older, dominant alien cultures. The ship is attacked, and the crew tries to repair it and hide on a planet that is composed primarily of water.
The characters in the novel consist of arrogant aliens, humans, neo-dolphins, and a neo-chimp. An idea that threads its way throughout the book—and the other books in the series—is the concept of uplift. Sentient species are uplifted through genetic engineering, selective breeding, and even a little bit of grafting. The dolphins and chimp are the products of uplift by the humans. They serve as more or less equal members of the crew of the Streaker. On one level, it is easy to forget the differences because the characters behave like humans in most novels: making mistakes; being heroic, wise, selfish, angry, insecure, silly and amorous; being loyal and mutinous. On another level, the differences produce some of the most interesting parts of the novel. The dolphins use languages that are based on poetry, creating beauty and some poignancy in the novel. The dolphins bring their own cultural issues, religion, and social customs into the mix. The book also touches a bit on racial and species prejudice.
The book has some interesting science and technology. Streaker is built so that it can be habitable both by humans and dolphins, air breathing water dwellers. Both humans and dolphins have to have adaptations. The dolphins are continuing to be uplifted, and some of the genetic tinkering doesn’t turn out so well. Brin also brings up an ethical issue; while something is gained, something is also lost with each genetic change. The planet that the crew lands on also has some surprises of its own.
I didn’t want Startide Rising to end. A sequel, The Uplift War, is also a winner of multiple awards but has a new set of characters. Later in the week I will see if I like it equally well.