Friday, April 08, 2011
By David Brin
Some time after humans have achieved starflight and become a rather unwelcome part of the galactic community, an experimental mission consisting of a crew of a few humans but mostly "uplifted" dolphins sets out on a shakedown flight that ends up turning the whole galaxy on its ear.
First, the galactic community, consisting of many different intelligent species, has existed for millions of years. They have pooled their knowledge into a vast Library which they share among themselves.
The origins of this community are pretty much unknown, but the common mythology is that a race of intelligent Progenitors established the Library, started the process of "uplift" and developed the galactic culture and community and then disappeared. Consequently, a fundamentalist-type of religion has developed in the galaxy that maintains that someday the Progenitors will return and establish a new, perfect community and reward the true believers.
"Uplift" is the process whereby an intelligent species takes a species that is just verging on becoming self-aware, and using genetic manipulation, push it into intelligence and then the uplifted ones spend a long time, maybe thousands of years, as servants and slaves of the species that uplifted them.
Uplift is the main reason that humans are not liked in the galactic community, because humans developed intelligence on their own and are not beholden to anyone. Plus humans uplifted some Earth species and did not make them slaves or servants to humanity, namely chimps and dolphins. This the galactic community finds outrageous because it flaunts millions of years of tradition.
So when this spaceship of humans, a chimp, and mostly dolphins discovers a graveyard in space of huge, moon-sized spaceships, the galactics, believing that the spaceships are those of the Progenitors and herald the beginning of the return of the Progenitors, will do anything to get their paws, flippers, tentacles, whatever on the location of this graveyard. The little spaceship becomes a target and gets shot down on a water world and its combined crew is in for a fight to the death to not only save their own lives but to protect the hugely valuable information that all their many enemies are dying to possess.
This is an ingenious and interesting story about a most unlikely situation, namely a spaceship crewed by a bunch of dolphins and that spaceship in turn trying to face down an armada of enemy ships determined to possess it. It was an exciting and intriguing read and I enjoyed it a lot. The only quibbles I had with the story were the dolphins, which I thought seemed too human in their behaviour, and the religious fanaticism of the galactics, which came off as too primitive for such supposedly highly advanced species. But other than that, it was a very enjoyable read.