David Brin's Uplift Trilogy has not been the easiest series for me to read. I enjoyed Sundiver as a mystery set within a much larger universe. Brin left me hungry for more, but <citeStartide Rising left me bitter and disappointed. What had started with so much potential seemed encumbered by flawed storylines and a myriad of unwanted characters. Hence, I was doubtful of The Uplift War's ability to mollify me.
While certainly superior to Startide Rising, The Uplift War lacks the central protagonist that made Sundiver so compelling. If the first book was a murder mystery and the second a siege story, this one is about living under occupation by the enemy. As such, the span of the story is somewhat larger than Startide Rising's, which at least gives the much-inflated cast something to do for six hundred pages.
Maybe my expectations are just skewed here, but I'm in this series for the answer to one question: who, if anyone, Uplifted humanity? After such tantalizing promises in Startide Rising, Brin shelves that question once again. Instead, we get another look at the sociological implications of Uplift and the stringent codes of Galactic warfare.
I don't mean to make The Uplift War sound boring. For the most part, it's interesting to watch the resistance crystallize in the mountains outside Port Helenia. It's fun to wonder who among the three Gubru Suzerains will achieve the dominance required to become the triumvirate's queen. As usual, Brin's depiction of a truly alien species and its leadership structure is second to none.
Even a species closely related to humanity, the neo-chimpanzees, can seem alien at times. Brin raises the question of whether neo-chimps have sentience or are merely "aping" their human patrons. Although it seems obvious that chims like Fiben and Gailet are sentient beings, the behaviour of those like Irongrip makes one wonder. It's scary to think that other creatures, the Gubru and the various Uplift examiners, are watching, judging whether another species is sapient. Imagine what would happen if humanity were declared the clients of another species!
We walk a thin line between being animals and thinking beings. Brin's obsession with comparing Richard Oneagle to Tarzan makes that clear. That being said, I'm not sure how much of that subplot was Brin's enthusiasm for the rugged wilderness adventurer and how much was a conscious statement about how environment shapes us. It's this exploration of what divides us from animals, thinking beings from non-thinking beings, at which the Uplift Trilogy excels. And of the three books in the trilogy, The Uplift War emphasizes this best.
So I've got a lot of complaints about The Uplift War. It just didn't satisfy me in the way I had hoped. Try as I might, however, I can't dismiss the book as "bad" or even "poor." Brin's execution is not flawless, but it's enough to convey a powerful theme about humanity and our role at large in the universe. I can't condemn the Uplift Trilogy—but I can't go so far as to celebrate it. You'll have to make up your own mind.