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The Secrets of Startide Rising: David Brin's Uplift Saga Explained

David Brin's Startide Rising: A Sci-Fi Classic

If you are a fan of science fiction, you have probably heard of David Brin and his award-winning novel Startide Rising. Published in 1983, Startide Rising is the second book in Brin's Uplift Saga, a series that explores the concept of genetic engineering and cultural evolution in a vast and diverse galactic civilization. Startide Rising is widely regarded as one of the best sci-fi novels of all time, and has influenced many other writers and works in the genre. In this article, we will take a closer look at what makes Startide Rising a classic, and why you should read it if you haven't already.

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What is Startide Rising?

Startide Rising is a science fiction novel by American author David Brin. It is set in the 25th century, in a universe where humans are one of the few races that have achieved interstellar travel without the help of a patron species. Most of the other races in the galaxy belong to a hierarchy of patron-client relationships, where older and more advanced races uplift younger and less developed ones by genetically modifying them and granting them intelligence and culture. In exchange, the uplifted races owe their patrons loyalty and service for a long period of time.

Humans have uplifted two species of their own: dolphins and chimpanzees. The novel follows the adventures of the Streaker, a starship crewed by humans and dolphins, who discover a derelict fleet of ancient spaceships belonging to a mysterious race known as the Progenitors, who are believed to be the first ones to start the uplift process in the galaxy. The discovery sparks a galactic chase, as many races want to claim the secrets of the Progenitors for themselves.

Why is Startide Rising a classic?

Startide Rising is a classic because it combines an exciting and original plot with rich and complex worldbuilding, memorable and diverse characters, and profound and thought-provoking themes. The novel showcases Brin's talent for creating realistic and believable alien cultures, languages, and psychology, as well as his skill for writing thrilling action scenes and suspenseful twists. The novel also explores deep questions about the nature of intelligence, culture, communication, freedom, and responsibility, and how they shape the destiny of individuals and civilizations.

Plot Summary

The Streaker and its crew

The Streaker is a small exploration vessel that belongs to the Terran fleet. It is commanded by Captain Creideiki, a dolphin who communicates with his human colleagues through a device called a trinary. The Streaker's crew consists of 150 dolphins, six humans, and one chimpanzee. The humans are Tom Orley, Gillian Baskin, Dennie Sudman, Toshio Iwashika, Jonathan Ford, and Charles Dart. The chimpanzee is named Robert Oneagle.

The Streaker's mission is to explore uncharted regions of space and report any findings to Earth. During one of their surveys, they stumble upon a massive graveyard of ancient starships orbiting a red dwarf star. Among them, they find one ship that bears the emblem of the Progenitors, the legendary race that initiated the uplift process in the galaxy billions of years ago. The Streaker's crew manages to salvage a data cube from the ship, which contains information that could change the course of galactic history.

The galactic conflict

The Streaker's discovery does not go unnoticed by the other races in the galaxy. Soon, the Streaker is pursued by a coalition of alien fleets, led by the Thennanin, a race of reptilian warriors who claim to be the rightful heirs of the Progenitors. The coalition also includes the Tandu, a race of insectoid zealots who want to destroy the Progenitors' legacy; the Soro, a race of avian imperialists who want to dominate the galaxy; the Gubru, a race of avian militarists who want to capture the Streaker and its crew; and the Zang, a mysterious race of aquatic predators who hunt for sport.

The Streaker tries to escape from its pursuers by hiding in a nebula, but is detected and attacked by the Gubru. The Streaker manages to inflict some damage on the Gubru fleet, but is severely damaged itself. The Streaker then decides to seek refuge on a nearby planet called Kithrup, which is inhabited by a primitive race of amphibians called the Kiqui.

The Kithrup planet

Kithrup is a water-covered world with a harsh and volatile environment. The planet is plagued by frequent storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, and tidal waves. The Kiqui are a pre-sentient race that live in small tribes along the coastlines. They have a simple culture and language, and worship a deity called the Midden.

The Streaker lands on Kithrup and tries to repair its damages and contact Earth for help. However, the crew faces many challenges and dangers on the planet. They have to deal with hostile wildlife, environmental hazards, internal conflicts, and cultural clashes. They also have to contend with the alien fleets that are orbiting the planet, waiting for an opportunity to attack or capture them.

Meanwhile, some of the crew members explore the planet and learn more about its secrets. They discover that Kithrup was once visited by another uplifted race called the Tymbrimi, who left behind some clues and artifacts. They also discover that Kithrup has a hidden connection to the Progenitors, and that the Midden is more than just a myth.

Themes and Analysis

Uplift and intelligence

One of the main themes of Startide Rising is uplift and intelligence. The novel explores the ethical, social, and political implications of genetically modifying other species and granting them intelligence and culture. The novel also examines the different ways that intelligence can manifest itself in different species, and how it affects their behavior, values, and worldview.

The novel presents a contrast between humans and dolphins as two uplifted races that have different forms of intelligence. Humans are more rational, analytical, and individualistic, while dolphins are more intuitive, emotional, and communal. The novel also shows how humans and dolphins have different ways of communicating, using language, and expressing themselves.

The novel also presents a contrast between the Terran races and the galactic races as two groups that have different attitudes towards uplift. The Terran races are more respectful, curious, and compassionate towards their uplifted clients, while the galactic races are more arrogant, greedy, and oppressive towards their uplifted clients. The novel also shows how uplift can create conflicts between races that have different interests, goals, and beliefs.

Culture and communication

Another theme of Startide Rising is culture and communication. The novel explores how culture shapes identity, values, and behavior in different species, and how communication facilitates or hinders understanding, cooperation, and conflict resolution among them. The novel also examines how culture and communication evolve over time in response to environmental changes or external influences.

The novel presents a variety of alien cultures that have different characteristics, customs, and languages. The novel shows how these cultures influence their members' personalities, motivations, and actions. The novel also shows how these cultures interact with each other in positive or negative ways.

The novel also presents different modes of communication that are used by different species. The novel shows how these modes of communication affect their ability to convey information, emotions, or intentions. The novel also shows how these modes of communication can be enhanced or distorted by technology or biology.

Freedom and responsibility

Reception and Legacy

Critical acclaim and awards

Startide Rising was met with critical acclaim and commercial success when it was published in 1983. The novel received praise for its originality, creativity, and depth. The novel also appealed to a wide range of readers, from hardcore sci-fi fans to casual readers who enjoyed the adventure and humor of the story.

Startide Rising won several prestigious awards for science fiction, including the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, the Locus Award, and the Ditmar Award. The novel also received nominations for other awards, such as the Campbell Award and the British Science Fiction Association Award. The novel was ranked as one of the best sci-fi novels of all time by various polls and lists, such as the Locus Poll, the SF Masterworks series, and NPR's Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books.

Influence on other works

Startide Rising has influenced many other works of science fiction and fantasy, both in literature and in other media. The novel has inspired other writers to explore similar themes or concepts, such as uplift, intelligence, culture, communication, and galactic civilization. Some examples of works that have been influenced by Startide Rising are:

  • The Uplift War by David Brin: The third book in the Uplift Saga, which follows the events of Startide Rising and focuses on another uplifted race, the neo-chimpanzees.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams: A humorous sci-fi series that features a race of uplifted dolphins who leave Earth before its destruction.

  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card: A sci-fi novel that features a race of intelligent insectoids who communicate through a hive mind.

  • Avatar by James Cameron: A sci-fi film that features a race of humanoid aliens who live in harmony with their planet and its wildlife.

  • Mass Effect by BioWare: A sci-fi video game series that features a diverse galactic community of alien races with different cultures and histories.

Adaptations and sequels

Startide Rising has been adapted into other forms of media, such as comics, audio books, and board games. The novel has also spawned several sequels and prequels that expand the Uplift Saga. Some examples of adaptations and sequels are:

  • Startide Rising: The Graphic Novel by David Brin and Scott Hampton: A comic book adaptation of the novel that was published in 1985.

  • Startide Rising by David Brin and George Wilson: An audio book adaptation of the novel that was released in 1993.

  • Uplift: The Board Game by David Brin and Tom Lehmann: A board game based on the Uplift Saga that was released in 1998.

  • Sundiver by David Brin: The first book in the Uplift Saga, which was published in 1980 and serves as a prequel to Startide Rising.

  • Brightness Reef by David Brin: The fourth book in the Uplift Saga, which was published in 1995 and serves as a sequel to Startide Rising.


Startide Rising is a sci-fi classic that deserves to be read by anyone who loves science fiction or literature in general. The novel offers a thrilling and captivating story that is filled with imagination, humor, and emotion. The novel also offers a rich and complex world that is populated by realistic and diverse characters and cultures. The novel also offers a profound and thought-provoking exploration of themes that are relevant to our own world and society. Startide Rising is a masterpiece that will make you think, feel, and wonder.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions that people have about Startide Rising:

  • Q: How can I get a copy of Startide Rising?A: You can get a copy of Startide Rising from various online platforms or physical stores that sell books. You can also download a PDF version of Startide Rising from this link:

  • Q: Is Startide Rising suitable for children?A: Startide Rising is suitable for children who are 12 years old or older. The novel contains some scenes of violence, sex, and profanity, but they are not graphic or explicit. The novel also contains some complex and mature themes, but they are presented in an accessible and engaging way.

  • Q: Is Startide Rising part of a series?A: Yes, Startide Rising is part of a series called the Uplift Saga, which consists of six books: Sundiver, Startide Rising, The Uplift War, Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore, and Heaven's Reach. The books can be read in any order, but it is recommended to read them in chronological order for a better understanding of the plot and the characters.

  • Q: Who is David Brin?A: David Brin is an American author, scientist, and speaker. He is best known for his science fiction novels, especially the Uplift Saga and the Postman. He has also written non-fiction books on topics such as futurism, technology, and society. He has won several awards for his works, such as the Hugo Award, the Nebula Award, and the Locus Award.

  • Q: What is the meaning of the title Startide Rising?A: The title Startide Rising has multiple meanings. One meaning is that it refers to the rising tide of starships that are chasing the Streaker and its crew. Another meaning is that it refers to the rising tide of intelligence and culture that is brought by the uplifted races, especially the dolphins. A third meaning is that it refers to the rising tide of change and discovery that is brought by the secrets of the Progenitors.



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