A spoiler-free review

The Uplift War a Hugo winning novel by science fiction writer and scientist David Brin. Set in Brin's uplift universe, it is one of many tales of a war set off when the dolphin-crewed ship Streaker discovers something upsetting out on the Galactic rim.

The Uplift War is set on the planet Garth, one a few leaseholds granted to Earthclan after they bundled into space and became surprise members of a billion-year old galactic civilization. Earth didn' get the planet because it was good, but rather because it was a catastrophe world, with almost all animal life wiped out due to the group madness of an uplifted species, the Bururalli. The resulting holocaust was an ecological disaster, and so it was dumped off on humans, and their neo-chimpanzee clients. Most of Garth's population consists of uplifted chimpanzees. Many, like ecologist Fiben Bolger and sociologist Gailet Jones are tremendous successes. But uplift is very new, and like many engineering projects, full of fits and starts. For every Fiben or Gailet there are ten more who can't meet the standard. And these lesser chimps damned well know it.

The War is occasioned by the Gubru an avian species of enormous power in the galaxy. They are also conservative, dour and very much the enemies of Earth. The Gubru are divided at home, and have three sexes, with the dominant females decided after a mating 'competition' between two others. Three Gubru are chosen to lead this expedition, one from the priesthood, one soldier and one bureaucrat of Cost and Caution. Each represents a faction in Gubru society. They are to be mated, and their mating on Garth is also intended to provide a crystallization of policy, a direction for their clan to take as it negotiates galactic politics.

So Garth is invaded, supposedly to force Earth to reveal the secrets uncovered by its neo-dolphin clients serving on Streaker. The Gubru are clever, and come with overwhelming force. They win, quickly and decisively. And so, almost without guidance, humanity's very young clients, the neo-chimpanzees find themselves forced to conduct a guerrilla war on behalf of their patrons.

The Uplift War is more involved with galactic politics than any other of the books or stories in Brin's uplift series. It's about racism with neo-chimpanzees and humans standing in for the underclass in the eyes of the Gubru. It's about propriety, and about the dangers of excess inside a complex culture. And it's about a staple of Brin's universe, what it means to be human.

It's also a damned good read. There are many great characters. Fiben, Gailet, the Tymbrimi Athacleanna, and her father Ambassador Uthacalthing, and stoic, hulking Kault of the Thennanin. The plotting is tight, and full of stunning twists. And there are some laugh out loud parts, of cleverness tinged with Irony.

The Uplift War won the Hugo and Locus awards for best novel of 1988. it was a nominee for the Nebula award.

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