Jun 30 2006


Published by at 5:09 pm under Books

by David Brin

This book was recommended as part of the “Uplift” series of six books of which I’ve read some very positive comments. It is also the first book by this author that I’ve read. While I don’t know how the series hangs together, this particular book reads like a detective story placed in an exotic setting and situation. The hero is apparently a ‘serial’ hero having saved some significant part of ‘the world’ on a previous occasion, but the cost of that bit of heroics was the death of his wife and a split personality for him.

The exotic environment is mostly provided by a research station on Mercury a few hundred years in the future. Sometime after space traveling earthlings have made contact with a wide ranging, galactic collection of races and civilizations that consists of many different species only a few of which appear in this book. In fact, two of the three alien species turn out to be represented by bad guys. Exotic technologies, some from earth and some from the ‘galactic library’, allow colonization of Mercury and provide ships that allow human and alien passengers to travel within the outer layer(s) of the sun where they discover intelligent beings consisting of gaseous plasma toroids that eat magnetic fields (this sounds really silly, but it reads better than silly).

I don’t read a lot of science fiction and I’ve sometimes wondered why I read any. It’s shortcomings are many, but it can be interesting when it explores the implications of some variation in ‘reality’ or technology. That is it addresses a ‘what if’ type question. What if virtual reality got so realistic and available that people lived in it? etc. Overall, Sundivers was weak on that scale. Little elaboration or pursuit of ‘what if’. Technologies are just available and work like miracles.

Sundivers does introduce two ideas that may be elaborated in the remaining books: uplift and ‘prohibitioner’. Uplift refers to one species helping another species to become intelligent, and a species status depends on how many other species it has helped. Humans, in the book, appear to have not been uplifted (and hence are a little unusual), but they have helped chimpanzees and dolphins to achieve intelligence which gives them some status. The described human society is split between those who believe ‘we did it on our own’ and those who think ‘we had help’. More rigidly, that society is also split between ‘citizens’ and ‘prohibitioners’ by a clever test that seems simply to be based on visual reaction to pictures. Whatever the technology, those categorized as prohibitioners are deemed to be potentially dangerous and hence restricted in where they can go and what they can do. Citizens are allowed free run, it seems. Tune in next book?

A somewhat interesting detective story.

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