BRIGHTNESS REEFA novel by David Brin
(1995, Bantam Spectra)
The Uplift Storm Trilogy, book 1
A group of six species, castaways from different eras, try to cope with the arrival of a party of gene-raiders who seem to be searching for something very specific.
-- First reading (hardcover)
I quite liked this book, though it took better than a hundred pages to get into it. The story was very different than I expected it to be, and I never quite got used to the two different first person narratives. The third person narrative was much better.
All throughout the book, I wondered if using six different races was such a good idea. Since only one of them was human, it took a while to figure out what the other races were like, and why they were the way they were. I never really got a feel for the hoon, even though Alvin was one of the narrators. The traeki were a collection of rings, stacked one on top of the other, so that they resembled a cone. G'kek were like wheelchairs, I guess, with magnetic axles to hold onto their wheels. Qheuens are mighty crab-like creatures, while urs are similar to centaurs.
There was really a lot of good thought that went into the alien races, because they were really alien. At least in looks. In attitude, necessarily, they thought and acted like different brands of humans.
One of the tales is completely separate from the others, for now. Alvin's tale takes us through the seeds of an expedition to explore the ocean floor, in a home-made submarine. They build and test the sub, made from the primitive materials that they have, and launch on a secret mission for one of the sages. To the public, they are adventurers, but they are to recover a strange piece of advanced machinery. It is damaged, however, when they find it. So they go after the missing part, but fall over a cliff in the ocean. There, they encounter (or are saved by) a monster out of the deep, giant, and metal. I am 100% certain that these monsters are dolphins, and that by the end of the book, the starship Streaker, from Startide Rising, has made its presence known, at least to the readers. The rest of the tale will have to wait for the next book.
I have no trouble with the story, but it was very strange, especially at first. What was most off-putting was the introduction of new words. A new word for hour was likely inserted to make the story feel more alien. Others were the words of a teenager, and it was unsettling to read them. This part of the story is undoubtedly very important setup, but it only held my attention in very, very suspenseful parts (of which there were maybe two?).
The other first person narrative takes place from the point of view of a sage, and it meshes perfectly with the third person narrative that the rest of the story takes.
The sages are of all races, brought together out of the chaos into a Commons. The six races all arrived at different times, fleeing various threats to their race, or simply anonymity. There were struggles for authority, and brutal wars, especially between the urs and humans, mostly because humans rode horses, we are led to believe. I do wonder how and why humans brought horses on a starship?
But now there is peace, even though struggles do arise at times. Humans are the most advanced people on the planet Jijo, mostly because they arrived last, but also because they refused to follow whole-heartedly the path to savagery. The Path of Redemption, as it is sacredly called, is the devolution of all the races, until they are able to leave no trace of their existence on the planet. For the planet was designated fallow for millions of years, and it is forbidden to settle there.
The interesting part of the story is the conflict between the natives and the ship of gene-raiders that show up from the very start. They are human, together with a mysterious race called Rothen, who claim to have uplifted humanity from pre-sentience into sentience. The sacred scrolls say that when people from the Galaxy show up, they should cower in front of them and beg forgiveness for illegally settling Jijo, and destroy everything that they have built, to show their sincerity. But when the moment comes, they hesitate, especially when they see that the ship that arrives belongs to illegal pirates.
So the sages wait. The raiders search around the area, then venture far away, beyond any point where the illegal settlers have ever gone, past the ruins of the last great star-faring race that legally settled this world. They are clearly looking for something, and that something is obviously the dolphin starship Streaker, a starship that none of the Six know about yet.
Lark is assigned to guide one of the raiders through her trip. He is a biologist, and he knows more about the local wildlife than most people on Jijo. He witnesses the procedures of the raiders, and he even gets to go inside their laboratory. But he also believes that all Six races should willingly sterilize themselves, so that the planet can become fallow once again. So I wonder what his radical views will come to, in the end. Lark is present when extremists blow up the Rothen laboratory, exposing them as people who wanted to commit genocide, wiping out the Six after they finished what they came to do.
Dwer is Lark's brother. He is a hunter, and an expert tracker. He happens across a young girl, Rety, from an illegal settlement, chasing after some metal bird. He sends both her and the bird to the sages, where she betrays them and hands the bird over to the Rothens. Dwer, meanwhile, is then forced to lead a small band of humans to become the last group of humanity if the Rothens decide to kill all witnesses. He comes across Rety again, now a friend of the Rothens, extracting her revenge on the clan that was not nice to her before she ran away. That part of the story ends in the middle of a conflict between Dwer's small party and Rety (with her robot).
I liked Dwer, and thought that he was one of the smartest of the cast of characters. A lot of his point of view was dedicated to giving historical accounts, of his point of view versus his brother's, and encountering strange and exotic stuff, like the spider that was designed to break down any sign of technological civilization, but chose to collect unique samples, instead, or the mysterious glavers, who followed the Path of Redemption before most of the Six races arrived on Jijo. Or the noors, whose origins even the Six don't know.
The third part of the main arc takes place from Sara's point of view. She is Lark and Dwer's sister, and specializes in mathematics and language. She saves a Stranger from certain death in the swamps. Once the Rothen ship arrives, she takes him to the high-sages in the town of the library, Biblos. On the way, and while they are in Biblos, they see signs of the peace starting to leak away. The Stranger has lost most of his memory, but through song, pictures, and the strange symbiont of the rewq, which can read emotions, he relearns how to communicate.
The sages decide to send him to the Rothen spaceship, discovering that he is from space. In fact, we the readers who have also read Startide Rising, know that he is from the ship Streaker, and that the Rothens must be looking for him, as well. But the expedition sets out, and about halfway there is ambushed by a group of military urs, who have plans of their own. The Stranger helps defeat them, though, and by the end, Sara is partly in charge of the gang.
The peak of this story comes when some urrish and human cavalry show up, complete with horses, which were thought to have been extinct by urrish hands generations ago.
And then a streak flies by overhead, and the tension is increased even more. A second ship has arrived, even larger than the Rothen ship. It pins the Rothen ship to the ground, and out emerge the scourge of the galaxy, whom the Traeki devolved from, a group of Jophur. They obviously won't be as lenient as the Rothen in their search for the Streaker. I seem to recall them from Startide Rising, as one of the ships warring overhead while the story took place. But I wonder how it will all turn out.
Each part of the story took place in short, packet-sized chapters centered around one of the main characters. Each began, typically, slowly, and ended after the action ended, for the most part. There were frequent exceptions to that rule, but even in those cases, I was barely even tempted to skip ahead to find out how it would end up, because the chapters were skillfully presented.
The story was wonderful, even if it was all setup. It gave a history of a unique world, in the unique universe of Uplift, and showed how the six races came together in peace, in fear of discovery by the outside world. It was full of suspense, action, lost love, and pain, but also hope. There were good guys and bad guys, and both were prone to doing good things and bad things, and everybody was deceitful.
The only thing that keeps this book from being great is the long time it takes to settle in. With six races to get to know, and three narrative perspectives, I think it is too much. There were also a few instances where I thought the coincidence was a little too much, but these can mostly be neglected. All in all, this is the same good work that I saw in Brin's other books, and better than his first foray into the Uplift universe, in Sundiver, where an alien race sought to blackmail humans and its patron race inside Earth's Sun. But most of all, Brightness Reef is good setup.
Back to Top
All reviews and page designs at this site Copyright © 1999 - by Warren Dunn, all rights reserved.