Startide Rising  - David Brin image
Christmas 2010: I realised that I had got stuck in a rut. I was re-reading old favourites again and again, waiting for a few trusted authors to release new works. Something had to be done.

On the spur of the moment I set myself a challenge, to read every book to have won the Locus Sci-Fi award. That’s 35 books, 6 of which I’d previously read, leaving 29 titles by 14 authors who were new to me.

While working through this reading list I got married, went on my honeymoon, switched career and became a father. As such these stories became imprinted on my memory as the soundtrack to the happiest period in my life (so far).

New book?
What’s it about?
Space dolphins
What, like dolphins swimming in space?
Don’t be silly. Dolphins flying spaceships filled with water.
Oh. Sounds cool.
I know!

Sometimes it’s easy to make me happy.

Startide Rising is the second book in David Brin’s Uplift Saga. The first, Sundiver, is nothing to write home about, but this one was a runaway critical success – taking the Locus, Hugo and Nebula awards in 1984 (the year I was born).

The Uplift concept offers a superb backstory and a galactic framework with a huge amount of potential (see Sundiver review). I’m not sure Brin takes full dramatic advantage of what he’s created (can you imagine the Uplift universe in the hands of Peter Hamilton or Dan Simmons?) – but what Brin does create is a tremendously enjoyable adventure (if you’re not too cynical).

Mankind has uplifted chimps and dolphins to sentience. The Streaker is an exploration ship, crewed and captained for the first time, primarily with dolphins. They discover something (big coincidence time, shhh) ancient, valuable and powerful. Word gets out and suddenly every bug-eyed alien wants a piece of Streaker. They run, hide and crash on a water world. While they try to repair and escape, the different ET factions scrap it out in orbit for the right to capture Captain Flipper and his arcane treasure.

It’s a bit ‘sci-fi light’, but golly-gee it made me smile. The writing isn’t amazing, but the characters are likeable, the action fast paced and gripping, the scenario imaginative and the book skips along in quick, tasty little chapters.

Brin does use a lot of perspectives, both within the crew and between the various hostiles in orbit – some people may find this off-putting – but it wasn’t a problem for me. I loved the little snapshots of the different alien ships. I loved the different dolphin crewmembers. I wasn’t half as fond of the human crew (been there, done that – give me more dolphins!).

Startide Rising is my favourite book of The Uplift Saga – it’s probably a 3.5 affectionately rounded up to a 4 – but definitely worth checking out. Just keep your expectations in check – this is a fun book, but not a brilliantly written book.