Startide Rising – David Brin

startide

“The propensity of Earthlings to get into trouble, and to learn thereby, was the reason my owners agreed to this mad venture – although no one expected such a chain of unusual calamities as befell this ship. Your talents were underrated.”

 I adore space opera, and I especially like really big space opera, where distances and years are measured in millions, billions, or other illions, and there’s plenty of room for what should be momentously unforgettable events to be lost to memory, leaving us with lots of interesting backstory, obscured by the mists of the ages.

The Terran exploration vessel Streaker has crashed in the uncharted water world of Kithrup, bearing one of the most important discoveries in galactic history.  Below, a handful of her human and dolphin crew battles armed rebellion and a hostile planet to safeguard her secret–the fate of the Progenitors, the fabled First Race who seeded wisdom throughout the stars.

This book was published in 1983, and while it is part of a six-part series it can stand alone.  I found this at a Goodwill for about fifty cents.  How could it not be amazing? It has space dolphins, for crying out loud.  Let that sink it.  Space. Dolphins. Their culture is called “fen”.  As it turns out, this book was exponentially better than I had anticipated.  I’m not the only person who thought so; it won the Locus Award for Best Science Fiction Novel in 1984.

The one thing that I think this book is rather light on is a sense of gravity.  Sure, there is a body count, but not unconscionably high.  There are intense situations, and there are rumblings about how even if Streaker escapes, Galactics have already started taking out all the human settlements in an effort to get at the secret of the ancient fleet’s location; but they don’t strike the note of despair news like that should.  Even concerns about how poorly humans treated dolphins before the fen were uplifted are brushed off. The animals simply say there’s no resentment on their part because they understood that being preyed upon was a reality of nature. That may be an interesting idea, and consistent with the dolphin worldview Brin has created, but it still feels like he’s letting us off the hook.

Overall, I recommend this book – if space dolphins and aliens are your cup of tea.

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