INFINITY'S SHOREA novel by David Brin
(1996, Bantam Spectra)
The Uplift Storm Trilogy, book 2
A larger threat forces the Six races on Jijo to act for survival, while the dolphin crew debates whether or not to make contact with the natives of this planet.
-- First reading (hardcover)
All of a sudden, the tension has been cranked up several notches, and it shows no sign of slowing down. The story has quickly become much more complex, and is so much better for it. The characters have grown, and aside from a few episodes that were obviously designed for the sole purpose of getting a character from one place to the next, everything flowed naturally.
Since I still knew many of the characters and the species, and I took time off from the first book, Brightness Reef, things were much easier to settle into at the beginning of this book. There was certainly no lack of interest anywhere, and right from the beginning of the book, things had grown much, much more dangerous on Jijo.
While reading the last book, I was disappointed that the dolphin ship only made an appearance- and an anonymous one at that -at the end. Throughout this book, I was much more interested in the Jijo natives than the dolphins. Sure, they were interesting, but they had little more to do than simply watch and wait, for the most part.
Once again, this book was made up of packet-sized chapters, rarely more than a few pages in length. But it kept the story going. Every time a chapter ended, I got annoyed, because I was very interested in what was happening. But then I would get into the next chapter, and it was so exciting that I became annoyed when the following chapter returned to the previous story! I think that's the sign of a good book. It had every element here, depending on which character was being featured. There were far more viewpoints in this book than in the last one, and the tone was set by the particular character.
The traeki Asx (it occurred to me that he perhaps "asks" many questions -or gets asked lots of them, thus his name?) is slow, both in movement, and in memory, because memory is stored in wax that connects his ring stacks. When the Jophur arrive, the slaughter everybody waiting in the Glade, and capture Asx, giving him a dreaded Master Ring, which effectively turns him into a deadly Jophur. The Jophur are so different from their traeki forbearers. They are feared throughout the galaxy, and are the ones that extinguished the g'Kek species from the five galaxies. With the addition of the controlling master ring, Asx turns into Ewasx ("you asks"?) And he becomes the point of view for our enemies.
Lark has been promoted to a junior sage, ironic considering his heretic beliefs. He guards one of the captured humans from the sky, Ling. They are attracted to each other, but are enemies, until Lark is able to convince her that her Rothen lords are simply using humans as scapegoats to do criminal activities. When qheuens and hoons start getting sick, he convinces her to look for a cure, since it is almost certainly a Rothen induced plague. They meet with the other "sky-human" Rann, and using some ancient Buyur computers, they determine that the Rothens intended to sell the dolphin ship to the Jophur. Unfortunately, the use of the computer attracts the attention of the Jophur ship, which discovers the g'Kek city they are hiding in, and destroys it.
The Jophur offer an ultimatum: gather all g'kek to be exterminated, and gather all traeki to be given Master Rings. Of course, the sages try to delay, which makes the Jophur angry.
Lark leads a party to try and get a cure for the plagues from the Rothen ship. The ship had been incapacitated by the Jophur when they arrived, and are trapped in a sticky bubble of "quantized time". It takes some ingenuity to get some of the Rothen out, and the plague cure with them, because the ship is also under water. In a scene that is wonderfully described, again and again, the Jophur ship landed in a glade, crushing trees and rocks, and blocking the flow of a river, thus creating a new lake around the Jophur ship. Rann and Ling are with Lark, and Rann betrays them by going to the lake surface and using a computer to attract the attention of the Jophur. All three are captured and questioned by Ewasx.
Meanwhile, Dwer and Rety are dragged along by the robot he partially disabled, for days it seems. They meet up with the Rothen scout ship, which was deployed to find the starship Streaker. The scout is dropping depth charges into a section of the sea called The Rift, where Rety's villagers found the robotic bird in the last book, believed to be a spy probe from the spaceship. When a Jophur corvette appears, a firefight ensues, and both scouts are damaged. Dwer recognizes the swamp as belonging to one of the deconstruction spiders, which are used to destroy all signs of civilization. Since he was able to speak with the crazy spider up north, he tries to communicate with this one, too. He succeeds, and the spider destroys both scout ships.
But then something incredible happens. Dolphins climb up onto the shore, and gather everybody, including some captive Jophur, into their submarine.
Sara's tale is the least interesting part of the book, which is not to say that it's any less exciting! Essentially she and Emerson (the Stranger who was an engineer on Streaker) make their way south, to the place where Alvin launched his submarine, and where they are greeted by a city of horses, in the strange place called the Spectral Flow, where it was thought nobody could survive. Mount Guenn is a volcano, where an urs community has created an analog computer out of spinning disks, and some relics that the ancient Buyur left behind. There, Sara finds out that one of the human scientists has discovered that eight starships came to Jijo, not the seven that has been believed for centuries. Also, there are two ways to enter this solar system by hyperspace, instead of the single entry point that everybody believes exists. And he has discovered that it is not coincidence that these races have arrived on Jijo at the same time, and settled in the same place.
Those discoveries are left hanging for the moment, but I am certain that they will play a major part in the last book. For by the end, Streaker is racing towards the only known transfer point, in a race against the Jophur ship that they are certain to lose. And a presence has made itself known on the planet, something akin, I think, to the tectonic-dwelling lifeforms that Streaker discovered on Kithrup, in Startide Rising.
Alvin proves to be the key to finding out what happened to Streaker in the years since Startide Rising. He and his friends are questioned by the artificial intelligence called Niss, which was given to Streaker when it set off on this mission of exploration. The machine is Tymbrimi in origin, a race that had befriended Earth and whose ambassador (and his daughter) we got to know so well during The Uplift War. And when Alvin pieces so many clues together and discovers they are humans questioning him, Streaker's crew ends its deception and Alvin becomes very useful in relating events on the planet.
Gillian is now acting captain, and I wonder if the author ever regretted killing off Tom or Creideiki in Startide Rising. But it makes the story more interesting, because Gillian only has a little psi capability, and she is not as ingenious as Tom ever was. She and a cyborg are the only humans left on the ship! And many dolphins are reverting back to their presapient form, because of all the stress.
And that is one of the highlights of the book -the way it handles sapiency, as a gift, and explains so much about how the universe functions in this world of Uplift. The concept might be strange (even to people who were introduced to it, again extremely well, in Startide Rising and The Uplift War), but is so well handled that one cannot help but express the feeling that this must be the way the universe runs -it makes so much sense. And it is doled out in small enough doses that between chapters there is time to absorb the information and, as the next revelation comes, it also seems natural.
And the way Earth is handled is done best of all. It is the youngest and weakest race, under siege, with few friends (and a strange new alliance that was made by uplifted gorillas in The Uplift War). It has no warships, and many enemies, like the Jophur, who would delight in making humans extinct, the way they did to the g'Kek. And that is why the Jijo human colony is here, to protect against extinction in a cruel galactic society.
Asimov stated that he created his Galactic Empire out of only humans because his editor didn't like the idea that humans would not be the masters of such an empire if it contained aliens, but he believed that it could only be that way. So he simply said that aliens did not exist (in this galaxy, at least). If he had been allowed to publish an alien-filled society, what he might have come up with would certainly be something of this sort -but not nearly as complex. And I love the complexity. The wheels spinning within wheels, as they say. Everybody has an ulterior motive.
The book comes to a head when the Jophur get tired of waiting, and the sages employ primitive rockets to destroy their remaining scout ship. They lift off, drowning hundreds more people (aliens and humans) as the lake burst forth, and head towards the place most likely to harbour their prey: the Rift, or the Midden, where continental shelves press together and Jijo slowly consumes all signs of civilization. But Gillian has foreseen this, and has activated dozens of Buyur relics, so that the Jophur have to search hard for Streaker. The urrish smiths of Mount Guenn create hot-air balloons, and stuff Buyur computers in them. The Jophur, of course, have to investigate all possibilities. And this gives Streaker a chance to escape into space -plausibly.
So by the end, Rety has stowed away on one of the decoy ships, blasting off into space with Streaker, Sara has been welcomed on board Streaker, and is probably guiding them towards the second transfer point her friend told her about, Lark and Ling are stuck on board the Jophur ship (they escaped their cell with the help of Asx before his master ring regained control, but have nowhere to go, though they sabotage a system or two), Dwer is with Rety, after being captured in one of the balloons and brought close to the Jophur ship, and some presence is making itself known on Jijo.
For the first time, human, hoon, qheuen, traeki, g'Kek, and urs have joined together around the Holy Egg along with glavers and noors, and they expect chimps, dolphins, and the other pre-sapient species Streaker found on Kithrup, to join them in song. And this will probably help to bring about the prophesized Time of Change in the Five Galaxies.
I had completely forgotten most of the events of Startide Rising, especially the discovery of two pre-sapient species there, and how Tom and Creideiki went off as decoys. That is one of the primary reasons for the detailed descriptions I make in this web site -to remember.
Streaker has been through a lot, barely making it through one trap after another. In one of these traps, Emerson was separated from Streaker, but was sent here after them. One as-yet-unanswered question is why?
One of the things I thought was out of place here was the fact that Lark and Ling could roam freely around the Jophur ship. Even if the Jophur pay attention to smell instead of sight, humans must smell very different to them. Asx gave them a ring that emits a smell signifying "all clear", but I can't believe all of the Jophur obeying that without question. Especially when they stand shoulder to shoulder with their enemies in the observation room, or when they've infiltrated the bridge.
I liked and disliked the implications of civil war breaking out between the Six races of Jijo. The grey qheuens have split away, restarting their feudal ways. There are militant urs who want to control Jijo. There are also militant humans. Some groups are insisting that the Six give up their lives and structures on Jijo, and others are hoping the situation will go away. It was nice to see that everybody wasn't united in how they perceived the Jophur's arrival, but I found that it could have taken away from the story, too. Fortunately, it didn't take up too much of the story. But I fear that it will play a larger part in the next book. There is all sorts of setup calling for resolution here. I have the same feelings about the split among the dolphins. It seemed like a natural progression, but I thought the kidnapping of the female would lead to something bigger. Maybe it still will.
I wonder if Dwer and Rety will survive. I expected them to die in this book, for if they activate their computers and try to take control of their decoy ship, they will alert the Jophur to their presence, perhaps giving Streaker the time it needs to escape. But they did survive, and if they survive the next book, I wonder if they'll start a new colony of humans...
As for the complexity -I loved it. Every time somebody thought they had figured something out, a new mystery popped its head out. I couldn't figure out why the Tymbrimi would send its client race here to become Noors, even if they left some sapient ones among the group. But I'm sure it is part of the key to unraveling this story.
I apologize for the length of this review, but with a story as complex as this one, I wanted to elaborate on as much as I could. I was intrigued by so much of it that I keep coming up with new thoughts! If the people on Jijo thought they were in trouble in the first book, the tension level was increased here, and I expect it to get even higher in the last book. The first book was good setup, in that it introduced us to the characters and the situation without getting into the war situation. This book assumes we know the characters, and delves directly into the war. I hope the third book can live up to this, with a strong conclusion.
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