David Brin's Uplift novels are among the most thrilling, highly regarded works of contemporary science fiction. Beginning with Sundiver, Brin provides an intriguing exploration of humanity's future in the universe. For nearly a billion years, every known sentient species in the universe has been the result of genetic and cultural guidance--or "uplifting"--by a previously uplifted patron race. Then humans are discovered. Having already uplifted chimps and dolphins, humanity clearly qualifies as an intelligent species, but did they actually evolve their own intelligence, or did some mysterious patron race begin the process, then suddenly abandon Earth? The answer to this mystery might be as close as our own sun, but it will take a daring dive into its fiery interior to know for sure. Sundiver begins David Brin's thoughtful, exhilarating exploration of a future filled with an imaginative array of strange alien races, dazzling scientific achievements, and age-old enigmas. Narrator George Wilson gives a strong, enthusiastic voice to Brin's search for humanity's destiny in the cosmic order of life.
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Classicly-styled science fiction with the empasis on SCIENCE
"Sundiver" is the first in a lengthy series of books set in the same universe - the "Uplift Saga". The base premise of this series is that a galactic society a billion years old exists; that this tradition-bound society believes firmly that with the exception of the mythical Progenitor race, -every- intelligent species is the result of genetic manipulation ("uplift") by predecessors; and that humanity might or might not be an evolved intelligence (the mere concept of which is a blasphemy). There is a tremendous potential in such a premise, and "Sundiver" is the introduction to that galactic society and the perils that humanity faces in its sudden exposure to the Galactics and their billion-year-old science of orthodoxy.
"Sundiver" is, at its core, a mystery. It explores strange goings-on at our own sun, with the fierce debate about how humanity should deal with the galactic society as a backdrop. Our point-of-view character, Jacob Demwa, is one of humanity's most versatile examples, and this is in keeping with other science fiction of that era (1980). Like most science fiction novels written in the 60's and 70's, the characterization is a little stiff and hard to swallow; the emphasis is on the -science-. Given that the author is a holder of a Ph.D in Astronomy from Cal Tech, this is no surprise, and the reader can count on picking up a good introduction to astrophysics along the way. The plot, premise and setting are excellent; the characterization is shallow; our hero is almost a superman. So very 1980!
One thing that sets "Sundiver" apart from many other science fiction novels is that it is loudly, unabashedly political. Dr. Brin is not the first such science fiction author; Robert Heinlein also required that his readers take into account the realities of politics. Again, considering that Dr. Brin has almost as much of an interest in sociology and political theory as astrophysics, and that he has written extensively on modern political themes, the reader can expect exposure to "this is how things work in the real world, and when reality and idealism collide, idealism loses". However, the author tries hard to not beat his personal views into the reader or to undervalue idealism; he does present valid arguments for all of the various viewpoints which are quite relevant today. The three main questions examined are "how should society treat its dissidents"; "where is the proper balance-point between individual liberties and societal good" and "should primitive cultures be forced into assimilation when the alternative is extinction". Nice, lightweight themes... and in this story, how those questions might be answered are directly tied to humanity's survival. The author does not come to any overt conclusion; that's your job, dear reader.
The reading itself is of good quality, though not outstanding. The reader has a strong, authoritative tone in his reading, well-suited for science fiction of this era. Though lacking in warmth at times and a little stilted and mechanical in his pacing, the reader is very clear and understandable. There are no objectional audio artifacts such as hiss, pops, or obviously stitched-together sessions with different types of microphones (a common flaw in long audiobooks). I can't help but think a slightly more dramatic, emotional reading would have helped shore up the relatively dry subject matter; it's a missed opportunity, though by no means is the reading crippled.
Overall, I recommend this audiobook. As a mystery, re-reading and re-listening don't have quite the same value as some other styles of storytelling (you already know whodunnit), but the depth of the universe envisioned by Dr. Brin is captivating and worth a repeat visit. I believe that this depth is what earned "Sundiver" its notoriety. If you like "hard" science fiction, this is an audiobook you will not want to miss.