Ossus Library Index Science Fiction Index


A novel by David Brin (1998, Bantam Spectra)
Book 3 of The Uplift Storm Trilogy

As the known universe starts to tear itself apart, some of the Jijo and the Earthclan crew make their way back into civilization.




Read August 14th to 22nd, 2001  
    Well... there were stretches at a time where I quite enjoyed what was going on. Then there were stretches where I thought the author dwelt too long on his own creations. And a lot of it was just way too complicated to understand in one shot.

It turns out that I was wrong about the fate of Jijo in my review of Infinity's Shore. We never saw the planet again. This whole adventure took place in space, in the weird, and very strange place called the Universe. Actually, the Five Galaxies. 

It looks like the author was trying to do something epic with this book. I think he went to far. Truth be told, he did succeed on what he set out to do. He just went too fast, too far, and too long. 

In this book we were introduced to the six layers of space, and so many "orders" of life that it was quite overwhelming. We live in normal space, and can travel through hyperspace levels A and B. I forget what C space is, but some quantum life orders live in D space. E space is the realm of living ideas, and they can kill you. Oxygen breathers are just one order of life, another equivalent being hydrogen breathers, and then machine entities, silicone-based. Then we have the Old Ones, retired oxy-breathers who enjoy the "embrace of tides" in a modified Dyson sphere around a red dwarf star. After that come the transcendents, who evolve from combining oxy- and hydro-breathers into a new life form, and who live in a stronger tidal environment around a neutron star. After that, the combined life form is combined with machine entities, who enjoy even stronger tides around a black hole. Some go through the black holes, into either yet another realm, or to be destroyed and recycled (nobody knows which). Others remain at the nearly timeless boundary at the event horizon.

Got all that? We had to visit each and every kind of life, of course. And all in one book. We even got to visit every level of space. By the time I was halfway through the book, I wanted to go back to Jijo. I was not happy about this "epic" effort, and I could see that it was not going to come to a satisfactory conclusion. I could tell there was more to come. 

What I did like was some of the foreshadowing that went into the book. There were many questions raised by the other Uplift books, not the least of which was the only one that was really answered: why was Galaxy Four declared fallow -nobody is allowed to settle a planet in that galaxy. The answer: because time-space is shredding, and the galaxy will be torn free of hyperspace, and therefore be inaccessible for travel. However, I wonder why the author couldn't make it less complicated. Why have the hyperspace levels tear away? That doesn't make sense, if they are part of the overall space. Just break the connections, and leave the galaxy isolated. That way, anybody who was left in the galaxy would still be able to travel around in it. It doesn't make sense to destroy hyperspace. 

The various groups discover what we knew from previous books: that there were once seventeen linked galaxies, as depicted on the ships that Streaker found. At certain times, they broke apart. Who is to say that when (say) four galaxies tore apart from the others, that they didn't maintain a civilization between them?

There is not much character work in this book, which is why it gets such a low rating. The only character who gets any real work here is Harry, a new character, and a member of civilization. Harry is a chimp who works in E-space, the realm of living ideas. We get to know him through several chapters where he has to confront the ideas on their own turf, and use their realm against them. Very weird, and often more than I could handle. Later in the book, he discovers a machine entity sneaking along through this restricted space, and it is carrying Dwer and Rety, from Jijo. It falls under attack by some vicious ideas, or "memes", and he has to rescue them. The machine dies, but Harry brings the two humans back to his base, where they escape his custody. Rety joins up with a human-revering religious cult, becoming its icon, and is nearly killed for it in a ritual suicide. Dwer goes looking for her, and with the help of Harry and another alien, rescues her just in time. They make their way back to Jijo with Kaa, the dolphin pilot of Streaker, through E-space, and are trapped there when the galaxy separates. Suspenseful? No. Interesting? Vaguely. Something I wanted to read about? Definitely not, though I grew to enjoy the time with Harry as some of the best in the book. 

The fate of Jijo seems to lend itself towards another sequel, sometime down the road. There are still Jophur troops on the planet. The Rothen ship is still down there. The Jophur battleship got word out, as did the captured Rothen, so two fleets were converging on Jijo when hyperspace tore, and they were destroyed. Only lifeboats remain, and many of those will burn up in Jijo's atmosphere. The inhabitants have forsaken the path to redemption, it appears, because Harry spotted rockets launched towards the abandoned (or not?) Buyur city on Jijo's largest moon. Dwer was also conveniently given the secret code that would get the silent tytlal to talk, revealing them as sapient, instead of just noors. There is a colony of dolphins and the pre-sapient life forms from Kithrup, there is now a fully sapient chimp (Harry -remember that the other chimps on Jijo were only partway uplifted), and a different kind of alien, both with knowledge of the Civilization of Five Galaxies hundreds of years beyond what the original Jijo castaways knew. And as far as they know, they are the lone sapients in this galaxy. What better fodder for another story? 

The other story that I could have done without was that of Lark and Ling aboard the Jophur ship. They are separated early on, and only reunite near the end. The ship is attacked by the Zang, hydrogen breathers who helped Streaker escape Jijo's solar system. The Jophur still maintain some control, and are able to follow the Earthclan ship wherever it goes, but most of it is infiltrated by the hydrogen breathers. We are given a very long and very dry lecture on the scientific differences between the oxys and hydros, and Lark makes a deal with one of them. I don't know what the hydro got out of the deal, but Lark got to find Ling. The Jophur who used to be the traeki Asx also gets to show us life inside the Jophur ship, but goes into hiding as his leader is killed for incompetence, thus putting him, the leader's pet project, in jeopardy. Ewasx joins up with Lark, and when they are picked up by the transcendent, they are all merged with hydros. From here, we get to watch the galaxy at work. We see some combined life forms destroyed by transcendents, we see through the gateways to the black holes, and everything else the author wanted to show us, but couldn't justify doing to his characters. Actually, I'm not sure he could justify doing any of this to them anyway. 

The excuse he uses is that adding a wolfling race to their gamble would pay off better than any other communication attempt has before. For the transcendents are going to use this galaxy split to try and get a message across the deep space between galaxies. They will set off millions of supernovas, fueled by the bodies of those merged life forms they killed, and hope for a reply, when the next split occurs, in another two hundred million years. Yawn! 

Thus the Jophur ship is picked up along with Streaker, and both will be sent across time and space. But the Jophur are not wolflings. And the transcendents change their minds after talking with Gillian. They take some dolphin volunteers and the ancient artifacts that Streaker found, place them aboard the now-conquered Jophur ship, and send Streaker away. How convenient. The author gets to have his cake and eat it too! (And he attacks Star Wars vehemently on his personal web site for being clichéd!)

Alvin, Huck, Pincer, ur-ron and Tyug, who had joined the Streaker crew after their ill-fated submarine dive in Brightness Reef, also don't get much to do. They get to be amazed when Streaker gets into more and more trouble, and then are sent off with a copy of Gillian's report, to look for humans or other Earthclan sympathizers, in a shuttle piloted by Kaa. Pincer is killed after the Rothen escapes after stowing away. Ur-ron joins up with some people in need of engineers, Alvin finds love, and even ends up changing Hoon society throughout civilization! He introduces Hoons everywhere to adventure, sailing, and Earthly music. Huck, being the last of her kind, equipped with what are presumably G-kek form of sperm, is charged with repopulating her species in secret. Of course, they all end up on the planetoid where Harry is based. They get to do a lot of nothing, and that's how Harry, Dwer and Rety end up with the best pilot in all the galaxy (and that's why they didn't get destroyed in hyperspace like the attacking Jophur fleet when hyperspace was torn). They didn't even have to deliver their message!

Finally, we come to the Streaker crew, which is shrinking all the time. They discover that the Old Ones they had trusted in their great escape from the Fractal World led them to Jijo because they knew it would give them time to find (or bribe) the codes to Streaker's travel recorder, thus gaining access to the ancient derelict fleet. They have infinite patience, so when Streaker arrives again from Jijo, they delay, pretend to ignore the ship, while actually they try to access the log. Fortunately for Streaker, the heavy carbon coating that Jijo's star gave off, and nearly prevented them from escaping the Jophur, also prevents the Old Ones from accessing the log. Emerson figures out the trick, and ignites a war between factions. Then two machine entities transform the carbon coating into a thin but impenetrable shield, which deflects even the most powerful energy blasts. The Old Ones find this out as Streaker tries to escape, and the Jophur a little bit later (and this is why the Jophur captain was killed). Meanwhile, the Fractal World is being destroyed, first by tides from the coming catastrophe, and later by warfare between factions of Old Ones.

Emerson gets to speak again, because it was a group of Old Ones who took away the speech part of his brain. When it gets close enough, he can think and talk normally. Uh-huh. Right. They try to bribe him with his speech centers for the information on the derelict fleet, but he refuses, and ends up destroying their ship (or damaging it to the point where it falls into the gravity well of the neutron star), sacrificing his speech forever.

Gillian and Sara and their crew just get to react to various things as the book progresses. They are ready to commit suicide by jumping into the newly-formed and immature transfer point (which seems to be home-made, and might actually work even after the breakup... in time for the next book?) when they see a group of Zang and machine entities leaving the tumultuous surface of Jijo's star. Using the glavers, they are lucky enough to attract the hydros' attention, and are brought to the fractal world. There, they gawk as they watch the Dyson sphere dissolve. Then, they are amazed at the transformation in their hull that lets them escape the Jophur. Then, they gawk as they are picked up by the transcendents. They watch the same events as Lark does, and Gillian bargains with the transcendents to let them go. 

I don't know what the transcendents were actually doing at that neutron star, but they didn't even let hydros merge with Streaker! Their stated goal was to send the merged lifeforms to the stars, but one of the ships wasn't even merged! And if they thought the wolfling race should be unmerged, then why have the Jophur ship merged? It just doesn't make sense. 

Using the new Transcendent armor, as well as their new protective shield, Streaker goes to Earth, finally. There, they meet the imposing battle fleets that have been attacking Earth for two years. And they only got as far as Luna's orbit? I guess the interdiction against ecological damage was the main factor here. Otherwise Earth would probably have been pummeled to cinders! And Streaker taunts first one ship, then the next, and jumps into hyperspace only to find that it is mined. They jump deeper and deeper, and things get worse. So when they revert to normal space, the ship is nearly destroyed. But the battle fleets are gone! Wow! They were actually frightened off by Streaker's message of superiority and by the ships' miraculous ability to survive everything the battle fleet could send at them! 

Likely they regrouped, as the author mentions, but the "victory" left a sour taste in my mouth. 

Endless questions are left unanswered, and the author leaves many new leads from this book alone, with which he can undoubtedly pick stories at random whenever he feels like it. There are all the questions about Jijo, the Buyur and the holy egg, which were untouched in this book. Then there are the different stories of Dwer and Rety, Lark and Ling, and Alvin and Huck, who are all in different parts of the universe; myriad stories to tell there. Streaker is home (and in no shape to fly again), but Gillian and her crew know many things that the rest of civilization does not know, including the method to overcome the Jophur master rings, and where the ancient derelicts lie. She also believes that Tom and Creikedi are alive, adventuring on their own somewhere. Finally, Sara believes that just as the Jophur ship left their civilization, something big is arriving... and they will arrive in the same place where the derelict fleet is located...

This book was really a mess, now that I look at it. I didn't feel that way while reading it, of course, though it felt like we were treading water, maybe heading for a climax, but not one that would give be satisfactory. What I really did enjoy about this book is the way humans at first think it is their fault that civilization is collapsing. They think their trip to the fractal world caused it to be destroyed, until proven otherwise. As shocks and tremors from the splitting of galaxies make people (and aliens) more and more nervous, alliances fall, and old grudges come to the front. Streaker was a catalyst for some religious fighting, because it questioned a basic belief (that the Progenitors had transcended), but nothing more. They just live in fateful times. 

The author was successful at making this book seem civilization-wide, but not epic. A lot of unanswered questions about logic and continuity left me wondering if the work was too big even for the author. For example, it is stated at one point that Galaxy Four was off-limits only to hydro and oxy life, but in the last books, the Zang (hydros) are known to be here already, and nobody is surprised to see them. But if the transcendents knew the split was coming, and wanted to evacuate the galaxy, why let machines and old ones remain? Why would the transcendents remain? According to one part of the book, they live between galaxies, so they might not care if there is a split. But in another part, they are confined to this place, and they use the transfer points, too. What gives? 

There were many enjoyable parts of the book, but I prefer character to plot, though both are necessary for a good story. This book was almost entirely plot. And its scope was way too broad to make a really interesting story. It wouldn't have worked to introduce us to other parts of the civilization in the previous books, because they would have seemed completely disconnected. In fact, this whole book seems disconnected from the rest of the trilogy. While interesting in many parts, and worth reading for the shear expansion of the universe experienced here, this book is easily the least enjoyable of the Uplift books, ranking even below Sundiver. Please give us more of a character study to describe different aspects of the universe, as in previous books, and less on events that shake the universe, requiring godly perspectives.

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