Author: David Brin
"Sometimes I wish I could boldly go where no man has gone before... but I'll probably stay in Aurora." Garth.
Sorry, wrong Garth.
Garth is the next world we visit in the Uplift Trilogy. As the hunt for the Snark Class Streaker expanded, the war cut off Earth from its colonies. Garth was one of those colonies. Predominantly populated by Chimps or uplifted Chimpanzees, the planet must fend off the invading Gubru, a vicious avian clan of galactics. While Garth had a large population of Chims, many other clans were represented. The story uses the word Chims collectively, so I will stick to that moniker for the rest of the review.
In order to secure their hold, the Gubru indiscriminately used hostage gas on the planet. Any humans who breathe the poison were forced to turn themselves in for an antidote. The client Chimpanzees find themselves without their patrons and allies.
Of course, no plan is perfect and a handful of heroes escape the planet-wide gassing. Fiban, a Chimpanzee officer loses his spacecraft in the brief battle for the planet, crashlanding in the wilderness. Robert, a human child of the planetary council members escapes with Athaclena, the daughter of Uthacalthing, the Tymbrimi ambassador to the planet. Uthacalthing himself was shot down fleeing the main city with Thennanin ambassador, Kault.
These unlikely compatriots engage in a certain type of warfare which shall not be named, using ambushes and diplomacy to wear down their Gubru invaders. As the story plays out, Athaclena and Robert work with the Chimpanzee irregulars while Fiban's team performs recon for the ah... guerrilla force. Uthacalthing ran the Gubru and Kault through the countryside on a wild goose chase for a legendary pre-sapient species never before seen on the planet.
Garth is a sad backwater planet granted to Earthclan for ecological recovery. Humans have a talent for ecology having pulled themselves back from the brink of planet-wide pre-contact disaster. Poor Garth's previous tenant devastated the planet by hunting most species to extinction. Rumors of the pre-sentient species in the wild are a type of improbable, magical thinking that seems to attract all who wish for order and better outcomes for Garth.
Whoever restores the ecological balance to the planet takes not only the planet but also gains a client species for their clan, a great honor to all of galactic society. Unfortunately, Bururalli, the last tenants of the planet destroyed any hope of restoration with planet-wide slaughter. There was no way any large, pre-sapient species could have survived the holocaust.
Where Sundiver gave the reader a host of alien species and Startide Rising expounded on their way of thinking and beliefs, The Uplift War really digs deep into the ways and minds of Humans, Chims, Gubru, Timbrimi, and Thennanin.
The reader will be surprised as to what Humans have become in the face of these threats and delighted by the charm of the Chimpanzee heroes. Through Robert and Athaclena's leadership and love, the reader is given yet another study of both the humanity and alienness of the world he describes. The prank-loving Tymbrimi possess almost superpowers with their powers of adaption and a nearly biological form of empathy or weak telepathy, which is distinct from actual psi powers in this series. Both the Gubru and Thennanin are conservative, dour enemies of Earthclan.
In the Startide Rising, the antagonists are portrayed as ruthless and bloodthirsty. In The Uplift War, the Gubru and Thennanin are revealed to have passions that drive them. While the Gubru are honor driven, the Thennanin are impassioned by service and preservation of all life forms, great and small. At least in theory. As these plays of honor and love of all play out, the aliens seem more frightening for all of their similarities to Earthlings rather than their differences.
In my past few readings, I cannot help but notice how unfixed certain tropes are in time. If I wanted to pin the idea of jaded, sarcastic, carelessness on a time period, it would be the 1990s. This trilogy has that in spades in the middle of the 1980s. The Thieves World books show some of the same from the late 70s. Clearly, ideas take time to foment.
I only mention this because this novel appears to have a serious moral/values dissonance depending on the reader's outlook when reading it. The Gubru strip the Chimpanzee's patron and allies from the picture in the hopes that a young client species will relent and surrender to an obviously powerful patron class invader. The author, David Brin takes an extreme form of "show, don't tell" which can leave the moral of the story very ambiguous. If you read too much into a single plot line, it will appear that the Gubru are correct that chims are a lesser species ripe for domination without their patrons, however, there are several other plotlines and details which lead to the other opposite conclusion.
I've read this book several times and often wonder which group is snider: humans, chimps, or alien zealots. It's hard to tell some days. It's odd when the author embroils a reader so deeply into the universe that the whole meaning and moral of the story is really in the eye of the beholder.
Of all of the Uplift books, I like this one best as it contains a coming-of-age story similar to any of H. M. Hoover's works. The best part of my childhood was taking a rank of some real-life skill, and most often these rank takings were most memorable when I was young and coming of age myself. I love that sense of self-discovery.
Again, if you can't find this title at a local book store, you can find The Uplift War at AbeBooks.