When I was about half-way through The Uplift War, I sat down and wrote the following:
The saying is that familiarity breeds contempt. In the case of David Brin’s Uplift novels, though, I’m finding that familiarity merely breeds a sense of the mundane. The grand brushstrokes of his galactic civilization seem brilliant and bold when you see them for the first time, as if a reality of epic scope were being polished like a jewel before its presentation. But the longer you look and the more you see, the more mundane the creation becomes — as if some magician had used the polishing cloth to shuffle the jewel away and replaced it with a counterfeit of glass.
When someone says, “Look ye upon a galaxy teeming with alien civilizations beyond count.” There is a promise of grandeur there. But when the same guy wraps up by saying, “And pretty much all of t hem are uni-cultures based on biological cliches and my own fascination with trinary thinking.” Well, the promise kind of evaporates like so much smoke.
Having just completed The Uplift War, I find that my opinion has shifted.
The ending is odd… About twenty pages from the end Brin shifts into a strange storytelling mode where he’s suddenly reminding readers of things that happened less than five paragraphs earlier. It gets even weirder when he begins re-stating the basic relationships between characters. “There was XXX, YYY’s lover…” Yeah, David, we know. They’ve been lovers for three hundred pages. And, yes, we know that Megan Oneagle is Robert Oneagle’s mother. Give it a bloody rest already.
I think the reason I find it so hard to precisely put my opinion of Brin’s writing into words is the blatant inconsistency of it. In Startide Rising I watched him shift seamlessly, time and time again, between hack soap opera and brilliant space opera. In The Uplift War we’re spared from hack soap opera, but the inconsistency simply finds its place in a plethora of Achilles’ heels which, while being less easily summarized, are not less frustrating and debilitating.
Some more random thoughts:
– Intriguingly, while I found the hack soap opera of Startide Rising to be one of the major failings of the novel, I found the romantic sub-plots of The Uplift War to be one of its major strengths.
– As with Startide Rising, Brin gives us a plot of epic scope with a mythic core. To his credit, he manages to resist the urge to have one of his characters explain to us just how amazingly cool the epic scope and mythic core of his novel is. (Something which, in Startide Rising, dulls the luster of the accomplishment. Unfortunately, because he did it in Startide Rising, some of the luster is still lost.)
– The Uplift War is a far more satisfying novel than Startide Rising, in no small part because Brin chose both the right beginning and the right ending.
I wish I could put my thoughts on The Uplift War into some kind of order, but I’ve spent several weeks trying to write this reaction and that order just isn’t emerging. In retrospect, I can say that I liked as much as I disliked. And what I liked, I liked a lot. And what I disliked, I disliked a lot.
In the end, I’d say that The Uplift War is worth reading. But I won’t give it a high recommendation.