The Uplift Series
of books began when science fiction
writer David Brin
noticed that in the literature, almost every time humans engaged in genetic manipulation
it was for ill. Frankenstein
, The Island of Doctor Moreau
and others were all cases where science messed with life and it turned out wrong
. So Brin asked himself a question, "what would happen if Doctor Moreau were to do his thing for totally ethical reasons?" In other words, if humans didn't want half-human slaves
, but partner
In Brin's uplift universe humans had actually done that. We'd matured, learned to clean up our own environmental messes, to preserve genetic diversity on our planet, and had be begun monkeying with two other pre-sentient races: chimpanzees and dolphins with the idea of creating equals.
That led to a second question. On earth science teaches that intelligence is the culmination of a long evolutionary process. Yet, despite that thing called evidence many today persist in believing evolution is not possible. Yet, by engaging in the very act of uplift humanity had thus created an alternative path to sapience.
It is useful to remember the universe itself is quite old. So Brin took forward another postulate: What if that alternative path, uplift, became the normal path to sapience? If said process went on long enough, uplift would become enshrined, even a form of dogma. Perhaps the galactics themselves might come to see uplift as the only path to sapience. In essence, an orthodoxy would form around uplift, so many would see the evolution of intelligence as impossible, because they knew no one who had done it.
This is the setting for David Brin's uplift universe. Humanity has learned wisdom at home, and begun uplifting chimps and dolphins toward intelligence, and partnership in our complex, but diversity-loving civilization. And we'd begun to take baby steps outside our solar system.
And there we encountered the aliens.
Humans are different in Brin's universe. Humanity uplifted itself, learned to build a worthy civilization the hard way, through bitter experience and error. History is our teacher, and everything we have: language, religion, culture, science, mathematics, all scratched out of the dust. Yet there we encounter peoples who have had everything handed to them, as answers are handed down by a pedantic schoolteacher to his students.
The history of a galactic race is the precise opposite of our own. A presentient species would be found by a patron species, who would control and guide them on their journey to sapience. Client species, as the former presentients were known, would be indentured to their patrons for 100,000 years (which isn't that long by galactic standards). They would have knowledge handed to them by their patrons and the great Galactic Library, a neutral instutution which contains the sum of all knowledge collected over a billion years on thousands different worlds. The relationship between patron and client species is almost familial, with a different 'clan's acting is forces within galactic politics. However, the great library's very richness can become a handicap, because galactics tended to look there rather than try and figure their own answers.
To many, the 'wolfling' humans would represent apostasy, an unfinished species abandoned by irresponsible patrons. Yet because we had uplifted both chimps and dolphins, humanity had to be granted patron status, an important step in the hierarchy of the Five Galaxies. It would be resented, humanity would begin with enemies, and all the resources of a weak, third world planet because we had no library and our homebuilt technology lagged behind the billion year old galactic civilization. Outsiders, we would make diplomatic mistakes.
The universe offered Brin a lot of options to explore. First of all, the process of uplift allowed him a metaphor for human civilization, to show how the road to utopia is full of fits and starts, and missteps. The neo-chimpanzee Fiben Bolger is everything you could want, a fully realized personality fully capable of taking his place in the highest circles. But others are not, and left behind by the process of taking an animal and making it well, human in every way that matters. It also allowed him to ask the question 'What kind of future is appropriate for an uplifted species?" Brin's humans sincerely want their clients to become shining examples, perhaps even better than we are. (Well, most humans anyway). But some aliens, like the Soro see their clients as property, that this species shall specialize in war, another in entertainment.
To date there are six novels set in the Uplift universe;
Sundiver was the first novel Brin published, and a decent introduction to uplift and galactic politics, Worth reading, but the weakest of the first three books.
Startide Rising won both the Hugo and Nebula awards for best novel, and is a space opera full of war, internal conflict, and the issues of uplift itself. Highest recommendation, and the best book to start with.
The Uplift War is set after, or during, Startide Rising. The Gubru have invaded the Earth colony world of Garth, and humanity's neo-chimpanzee clients have to walk through a minefield of political punctillio to fight a guerilla war for liberation. it won a Hugo for best novel, and is a great read.
The first trilogy is three separate stories, set on different worlds, with essentially totally unique characters. The second trilogy is not, but rather set after the first series on the abandoned world of Jijo, a world declared fallow and at the far edge of galactic civilization. There six different alien species live as near primitives, trying to recapture their 'innocent' pre-sapience. Humans live there as well, but not to re-capture innocense. Rather humans have been stashed on Jijo in case their galactic war goes badly and we face extinction.
Brightness Reef is an introduction to the conflict-ridden but co-operative world of Jijo, where the peace is shattered when galactic pirates come, and they are humans who believe they have found humanity's long lost patrons.
Infinity's Shore the humans who had come to raid Jijo's gene stock had been careless, and brought other Galactics, the composite Jophur species. The Jophur hold to an ultra-orthodox view of uplift and are sworn enemies of all humans. Worse, they have a particular interest in two of Jijo's other species, one of whom represents an alternative path might have looked like for them. On top of those problems the Jophur sense that their greatest prize might be hiding in Jijo's oceans.
Heaven's Reach is the finale of the this uplift trilogy, strongly metaphysical work where the residents of Jijo and their Earthling allies realize that sapience is a one way journey.
In addition there is a reference book: Contacting Aliens: An Illustrated Guide To David Brin's Uplift Universe is pretty much what the title says. Brin has published two short stories "Afficianado" and "Temptation" in that universe. A game set in the Uplift Universe. Uplift was written by Stefan Jones. The game uses the GURPS system of Steve Jackson and is now in a second edition. It can be reached through his site at: http://www.io.com/~stefanj/uplift_gateway_home.html