Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 15

I am making a bold move. I am not reading book 15, which is The Uplift War by David Brin.

More than ten years ago, I read this book to almost the midpoint before I lost interest and set it aside. I have decided to trust that Past Me knew what she was talking about and not re-tread old ground. Part of my reasoning is practical: it's a long book, the end of the year is looming, and I have a lot left to read for the challenge. But there's more to it than that.

I have a long, complicated relationship with David Brin's work. Fifteen years ago, when I was still educating myself about Science Fiction as a genre, I took a fantastic book out of the library: a collection of novellas set in SF worlds that had multiple novels written about them. I remember I took it out because one of the novellas was by Ursula K. LeGuin (set in her Ekumen world); I had read it already, but figured its inclusion was a good sign.

One of the novellas was by David Brin, set in his Uplift Universe, and it completely blew my mind. The Uplift Universe posits that there was one original intelligent species that "lifted up" other races, engineering them into sentience. Those races then uplifted other races, and so on. On Earth, humans have uplifted chimps and dolphins. The novella, the title of which escapes me, took place on a spaceship with a nearly all-dolphin crew.

I know. It sounds like the dumbest thing ever, like a skit from The Muppet Show. Dolphins! In! Spaaaaaaace! But it was brilliantly done. Brin had obviously done a ton of research about dolphins and a lot of deep thinking about how a sentient dolphin would think, talk, use tools, perceive the world around him/her, and relate to humans, chimps, and other dolphins. I was awed by it, and excited to read the rest of the series.

The first book, Sundiver, didn't grab me the way the novella had, but I finished it. I moved onto the second book and lost interest halfway through. I tried the third (that's Uplift War) and fourth books, and stalled out on both of them as well. Finally, as an experiment, I tried reading Glory Season, one of Brin's non-Uplift novels. The premise of Glory Season could not be more tailor-made to my interests and preferences... and yet, I didn't make it past the halfway mark.

In each case, the worldbuilding was masterful and the stories started strong, but somehow I got lost in the Valley of the Shadow of the Middle. I think it's some combination of failing to connect with the characters and becoming bored with what seem to me to be predictable plots.

So, despite our promising start, the time has come for me to bid farewell to David Brin. He has a lot going for him as a writer, and I wish him the best in all his future endeavors. But I need to accept that his books are just Not For Me.


  1. Now I really want to know what that collection of novellas was.

  2. I had forgotten the title, but a little google-fu and I found it:

    Far Horizons: All New Tales from the Greatest Worlds of Science Fiction.

    Reading the amazon description, I see it includes a Dan Simmons story from the Hyperion world! He wasn't on my radar back then.

  3. Thank you; this went straight on my wishlist!