Showing posts with label Uplift Series. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Uplift Series. Show all posts

Monday, July 4, 2022

GURPS Uplift

Title: GURPS Uplift, Second Edition
Author: Stefan Jones and David Brin
Year: 1990
Rule set: GURPS
Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Pages: 128
Rating: ★★★★★

Ok, I am taking a break from novels and switching to games to review. This one is a trick review. I don't play GURPS, I've never played GURPS. It's not that I don't like it or anything, it is merely outside of my experience. 

Having said all that, I'll point to that 5-star rating right now. 

Here is what I know: GURPS or the Generic Universal RolePlaying System is one of the most, if not the most successful RPG using a common rule set for a variety of settings. To get the most out of this book, you'll need The GURPS Basic Set, and players will find a lot of help from GURPS Space and Ultra-Tech. All of these are available through the links at DriveThruRPG. 

Hopefully, from my reviews of Sundiver, Startide Rising, and The Uplift War, you have gotten a sense of the types of stories David Brin weaves in his Uplift double trilogy.  From David Brin's forward, Brin is an avid gamer and was interested in doing a series where players' actions were complicated and nuanced. This was written in 1990, but as I flipped through this work, I see that there is information that would not have been available to those reading the novels at the time. It's not a huge amount, but it is interesting. Gene raiders, Jopher, and E-space come to mind. 

The author, Stephan Jones breaks the book into 8 sections, starting with The Uplift Universe and moving to more and more detail with characters, which include some pre-generated characters from the novels. From there, we dive into the culture in the chapter Family, Friends, and Foes, before digging into the concepts of Uplift. The last four chapters cover the various forms of technology and travel plus two chapters about campaigning and adventures. 

The entire book has dozens and dozens of pictures, all of them pretty standard for the 1990s. The main advantage of these images is it depicts what Brin described in the book. I don't foresee a series of movies based on these works, but Xandar in the Marvel films is kind of close. 

While I already mentioned that I am probably unqualified to rate the rules in this set, I do want to focus on some of them because of the setting. In Brin's Uplift series, the sophonts are living on the bleeding edge of technology and biology. 

The cover depicts a dolphin in space, after all. 

In some ways, there is little to differentiate technology from biology and dolphins are a prime example. They have walker shells and manipulator arms that they wear on land or in space. They suffer very little from their environment, although they can't climb trees. The rules make sure that some of these odd cases are outright disallowed but in some edge cases are perfectly plausible. For example, Chimpanzees are rotten swimmers in real life, therefore Chims in the Uplift world don't swim at all. 

Brin stuck to the basics of reality when coming up with these limitations and they are all well thought out in this book and the novels, even the fantastic ones. Jones continues that in fin fashion. Dolphins were known to use tools back in the 80s, so robotic arms are not so fantastic. Chimpanzees were once thought not to swim, but it appears that they may not be the strongest swimmer but can if they desire. They also possess an ability that humans don't have, they can sink to the bottom so they can walk and hop through deep water, like a human in a wave pool. It is unclear if Uplifted Chimpanzees can or can't swim, the ones depicted in the novels don't like to get wet and usually take to trees rather than going down into major water obstacles. What is interesting in the books is, so Chims are mortified if they startle and jump in a tree or other perch for safety while others view it as a tried and true escape tactic. 

These approaches to games are great. I've almost sold myself on a set of GURPS books. I hope I sold you, too. 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Startide Rising by David Brin Review

Title: Startide Rising
Author: David Brin
Year: 1983
Pages: 462
Rating: ★★★★★

Startide Rising was the book that introduced me to the series. Being that this novel is not expressly linked to the first one left me confused as to where this series was going. 

Anyway, Brin starts this book in the middle of a mess. The Earth ship Streaker was running for 10 different kinds of trouble. Crewed by 150 dolphins, seven humans, a savvy and wise AI and a socially awkward chimpanzee, the Streaker's mission was to research data provided by The Library, an alien font of all known knowledge. 

The Library is an interesting piece of technology sold to Earth Clan. It was advertised as a completely unbiased cache of all information known to the citizens of the Five Galaxies. Brin's use of this device to drive the plot was excellent. The machine is persnickety, offering a deluge of information not really pertinent to anyone's needs. Its reactions to who asks the questions and how came across as maddening. 

It doesn't take long for humanity to grok that the Library was a great booby prize that came at a greater cost. Captain Creideiki's mission was to pick away at the cache's information and find flaws. He immediately scores a win for humanity with the discovery of The Shallow Cluster, the resting place of thousands of ancient alien ships, many of which have mummified crews. During the course of the mission, the Streaker suffers its first loss when the Captain's Gig was destroyed in an accident, claiming the lives of many brave fins. 

Even in their loss, the crew make wonderous discoveries and transmits their discoveries to Earth. The answer was as timely as unexpected: 

“Go into hiding. Await orders. Do not reply.”

Soon the Streaker and her crew are fighting for their lives. Thennanin, Soro, Brothers of the Night, Tandu and dozens of other fleets of battleships engage the tiny Streaker. Creideiki orders the Streaker to a distant, fallow system named Kithrup to hide and make repairs. Kithrup, a water world offers mobility and safety for the dolphin crew while exposing them to the danger of metal-rich poisons. Their refuge was also a death trap. 

As the fleets hammer away at each other over a period of a month, the crew succumbs to primal urges and fractures. The array of responses are both typical, fight or flee and unusually, devolve to presentience or mutiny. The humans and the Captain struggled to keep everyone in line as they hatch a plan to escape. 

Under a sky of enemy ships, the Streaker made repairs and ploys to allow them safe passage from the system. As if the original discovery wasn't enough, the Streaker's crew unlocks several mysteries of Kithrup's past. As the battle rages around them, the crew bravely draws their opponents to the surface before making a heroic attempt at escape.  

Startide Rising is a strong second novel in the series, one of the strongest follow-up works I have ever seen. Brin does world-building on an epic scale while amplifying the sense of frustration and isolation of the claustrophobic Streaker. 

This was one of my favorite novels when I was younger. I'd love to say that this one was my favorite of the Trilogy, but the next novel in the series is my hands-down favorite. Both are excellent reads, hence the tied score of 5 of 5 stars. 

Again, your best place to find this title is a local used book store, but if you can't find it there, I suggest AbeBooks. Click this link to search for Startide Rising on AbeBooks. Results are sorted from lowest price to highest. 

Friday, July 1, 2022

Sundiver By David Brin Review

Title: Sundiver
Author: David Brin
Year: 1980
Pages: 340
Rating: ★★★

Sundiver by David Brin is the first book of a trilogy that birthed a second trilogy.  

For those of you on, you friend the author right here. For those of you who don't know, David Brin is an award-winning author, scientist, and futurist. He has even jumped on board with games, GURPS Uplift. It is sadly out of print, but an informative read even if you have no inclination to play GRUPS. It's that excellent and will be the subject of a future review. 

Sundiver has a couple of high-interest points being the first of two trilogies. First, it lays the groundwork for the Uplift series by introducing a horde of aliens. There are actually two different types: the Terrians, and the Galatics. At least this is how I think of them. 

Earth evolves pretty much as you would expect for near-future science fiction. Engineered solutions are the way humans work. Brin described space needles fueling a new space race as the primary vehicle to introduce the main character Jacob Demwa. We'll circle back to him after we get through the tech. Terrians have also found clean energy and skill sets to fix the environment. It alludes to that they launched some sort of interstellar ship, but we don't see that in this series. However, the capstone of Terran achievements is the uplift of chimpanzees and dolphins to human-level intelligence, with other creatures like whales and gorillas waiting in the wings. 

The galactic aliens are a vast and varied culture spanning 5 galaxies. There are more species than appear in all of Star Wars and Star Trek combined. The core defining feature of these aliens, which is held on to almost as a religion is stewardship of the environment and the uplift of lesser species to sapiency. This pattern was created by the mythic, almost godlike Progenitors. Woe until those who do not believe. 

The book lands the reader in a disaster of epic proportions. Many galactic hate Terrians because they violate the tenants of their religion: "Who uplifted humans?" 

"No one," is the wrong answer.  

They have a secondary hatred of humanity and its kind as humans have shown great achievements of uplifting not one but two client species with two or more waiting in the wings without any help from a patron. The dilemma for the aliens is really clear, humans defy and prove their central beliefs. 

Not all aliens are bloodthirsty killers. There are some who are curious about earthlings and others who are willing to bide their time in picking a position. A few position themselves in such a way as to annoy other aliens for profit, politics, and fun. The galactic aliens nail a few tropes without being any singular one, which is very interesting. 

Now, I can introduce Jacob Demwa properly. Jacob is a classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy character. He is a scientist working on refining the dolphin species uplift, a dabbler in other scientific fields with a warrior's heart, a ton of savvy spycraft, and a network of alien friends and enemies plus a big personal problem.  

As previously mentioned, some of the aliens take a long view of humans and have sold them a ship capable of traveling to the sun. Surprisingly, the Terrans upgrade this ship with standard, non-standard human tech and moxie to make it a Sundiving ship. As in, one that can travel into the upper atmosphere of a star. Stunningly, they discover a sort of ghost, hereunto undiscovered species by any galactic culture. Alien adventurers, scientists, and miscreants pour into the solar system just for a chance to take a ride of discovery on the Sundiver. Some hope for a new form of life catalog or a new path of spirituality, if they are ghosts, are real while most hope to see the humans burn in shame from chasing imaginary beings.  

The cruises below the sun's surface are wild, while the crew and observers are even stranger. As the ghost story progresses, Jacob Demwa must use all of his skills to keep the aliens in their lane while preserving the ship's crew on its journey. It's a rough ride, to say the least. Notably, Jacob is not the captain of the ship or even a member of the crew. He is an outside consultant.  

This novel is interesting as it is not required reading for the rest of the series. It's a strong stand-alone work which both compelling and fun to read. Brin totally nails it with Sundiver. 

Now for a few months, I've been listening to books on Audible, an Amazon company. I lost my Amazon associate account for sharing links on my blog. So, I can't point you to a link on Amazon. So, I have been suggesting people look for these books at their local bookstore, which is great if you have one. If you don't find what you need there, you can probably find  Sundiver on AbeBooks at a good price.

I haven't had many takers on the links to AbeBooks, but it's always there if you need it.