Review: Contacting Aliens by David Brin and Kevin Lenagh

I am a fan of David Brin’s work. His stories tend to be, if you’ll pardon the inside joke, uplifting. His stories focus on the theme that there is good in the world (or universe) and that it is not foolish to live a life striving for hopes and dreams. One person can make a difference. I personally think Startide Rising and The Postman should be required reading for any child who’s parents despair at being able to provide a antidote for all the negativity in our world.

This 2002 offering from Brin is not a novel. Contacting Aliens: an Illustrated Guide to David Brin’s Uplift Universe is written in the format of a field guide for Terragen Agents (Earth’s government employees) . Brin’s Uplift Universe has an existing multi-galactic civilization with myriads of aliens, some of which have been around for millions of years. A key element of this civilization is that existing alien races can get permission to take pre-sapient beings from fallow worlds, and “uplift” them to full sapience. These races get prestige and power as “patrons”, and the newly uplifted race become “clients” with a status similar to indentured servants for tens of thousands of years. There are no known instances of any race achieving sapience on their own. That is until Humans are discovered puttering about in isolation in the fallow backwater of our galaxy. Previously any race that appeared to have gained sapience with out help have been assumed to be illegal or abandoned attempts at uplift. They either were adopted as clients, or became extinct. At the time humans were discovered we had already uplifted chimpanzees and dolphins and thus were automatically considered patrons. This angered many powerful alien races. Startide Rising has many of these angry aliens chasing a Terran spacecraft captained and predominantly crewed by dolphins.

Back to Contacting Aliens. It basically is a better, more detailed, overview of the Uplift universe than I have just given. It also lists all of the major alien clans (patron-client lineages) with tidbits of information scattered about that are not contained in the existing novels. The book gave me the feeling of being a supplement for a role playing game. It only lacks a specific games statistics–just about any other information one would need is there. This was confirmed by the inclusion of an ad on the end-sheet for role playing game GURPS: Uplift. This book is going to be a great addition to my library. However, I am already an existing fan of the series. I am not sure how this book would play out for someone that is totally unfamiliar with Brin or his Uplift books, but I would hope that it would at a minimum spark and interest in them.

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