Wordy Wednesday – Sundiver by David Brin

In short – Sundiver is okay, not great.

Sundiver, based on the popular game “Galactic Marbles” apparently. (Source)

First, the writing. Much of it is decent, but Brin has a tendency towards complicated words at times. For example – a male character is watching a female character walk away. There’s a bit of sexual tension between them. Here is part of the description: “He admired the limberness that members of the interstellar corps inculcated in their extremities.”

Just…c’mon. It makes me think the character has a little thesaurus and dictionary in his pocket, and he takes them out for reference before he has thoughts, to think in the highest-handed way possible. Say “He admired her limber legs as she left.” I’d even accept “Check out the gams on that dame!” Or “The interstellar corps sure kept a lady fit, he thought as he watched her walk away.”

I know big words! (Source)

But on to the story. Two billion years ago, a race (cleverly called ‘The Progenitors’) were kicking around, being all progenitory. They started to engage in a process called “uplift.” They’d find a species of animal that was clever but not intelligent; these species weren’t conscious in the technical sense. The Progenitors would give them intelligence through the uplift process, turning animal species into spacefaring, fully conscious races.

In time, the Progenitors vanished, but the races they had created now uplifted species themselves. This is how the majority of intelligent creatures in the galaxy came to be. It also created the galactic society – race A that uplifts race B is considered to be older (and wiser) than race B. Race B will serve race A, for periods of hundreds of thousands of years. Race B can petition the galactic government for freedom if they feel like they have met or exceeded the intelligence or accomplishments of race A.

Everything you need to find out who outranks you is here. (Source)

It’s a complex system. But some species aren’t uplifted. Some species start to be uplifted, but are then abandoned by their uplifters. Galactic society frowns on this. Others, like humans, seem to have achieved sentience on their own. These are called ‘wolfling’ species.

Many of the uplifted species don’t like this. It is difficult to incorporate such species into the galactic pecking order. Usually, the wolfling species will be integrated into the galactic system by a kind of mentorship. One of the established species will push all kinds of galactic benefits on the wolfling species, and then the wolfling species in indebted to their benefactors. The wolfling species is then treated generally as a species uplifted by the benefactors.

There is no evidence that humans were ever uplifted. As in, we evolved entirely independent of the galactic uplift system. This is something of a disturbance to the social order. Where do we fit in?

The story itself is so-so. Humans are getting a Library built, a center for all galactic knowledge. Great, right? Well, it has stymied scientific research by humans. Why look for answers when they can just be looked up?

Humans are skimming the Sun. We want to know how it works. When we get there, we find Sun Ghosts – apparently living creatures, surviving off of the magnetic energies of the Sun. A few appear intelligent.

So humans and aliens both get involved with the Sundiver program, flying ships into the sun. The characters are okay, and there are two major reveals in the novel. One of them is telegraphed so heavily and is so obvious I think the book should be called “This Character is a Shitty Individual,” subtitle “He Lies and Steals and Fucks Things Up on Purpose.”

“I’m making…pancakes.” (Source)

The other reveal doesn’t feel like a reveal. We were never really given enough pieces to see that this character might be up to something, so when we see that he has, in fact, been up to things, it isn’t so much an “Ooohhh!” moment as a “Umm?” moment.

And a lot of that comes back to the writing itself. Many things feel like a list of events rather than actions. Only twice do we see some good activity – once when the main character is breaking into places to solve mysteries, and once when the crew of the Sundiver ship is fighting desperately to avoid falling directly into the Sun and, you know, burning to death. There’s some sabotage at the end, and it’s an okay sci-fi drama moment. But it’s based off of this out-of-left-field betrayal, and on top of that, we never get a really solid explanation of how the Sundiver operates. We get some information, but not enough. If we don’t know how it works, we can’t really feel like the Captain was being clever when she utilizes certain functions to make a daring and unlikely escape.

Overall, eh, I wasn’t too impressed. I liked a handful of ideas, but they never seemed fully developed. The real reason I read Sundiver is that it precedes The Uplift War, which was recommended to me years ago by, oddly enough, the husband of a professor I had for Geology.

So-so book, can’t honestly recommend it. I give this book one wolfling:

Just ignore the one on the right. He’s not part of the rating system. (Source)


About seansynthetic

"...so I says the the guy, I says to him, 'No, YOU ain't allowed back into this Chuck-E-Cheese.'"

Posted on August 1, 2012, in Wordy Wednesdays and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I read this a few years ago, and had the same thoughts you did. Great idea, but iffy execution.

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