Reviewed by Steven H Silver
At the start, I would like to say that I tend to prefer David Brin'n non-Uplift novels to those set in the Uplift Galaxies. In this, I'm probably in a distinct minority. I'm not really sure why this is the case, the concepts of the Uplift Galaxies are intriguing and the plots are just as good as those which Brin wrote in Earth and Glory Season, but for some reason, Sundiver, Startide Rising and The Uplift War didn't grip me as strongly. Nevertheless, I still enjoy Brin's writing.
Brightness Reefis the opening of a trilogy of books set on the planet Jijo. Brin is very upfront that this book does not stand on its own and apologizes for it. However, not having read the previous three Uplift novels is not an hindrance to the enjoyment of this book.
Jijo is a planet of renegades. Seven races have settled on Jijo to flee persecution, for political or for philosophical reasons. None of the seven have any right to be there, but an uneasy peace exists between the six races who are still sentient. The novel opens with the discovery of a near-fatally wounded unknown human lying dying in a swamp. Shortly thereafter, the peace is threatened when a Rothen spacecraft is seen in the skies and Jijo is visited by space-faring pirates trying to illegally find pre-Sentients with Potential.
As in his previous novels, Brin relates the story from several different viewpoint characters, including a traeki and an hoon, two of the races which have settled on Jijo. Although this allows us to see the action from a variety of viewpoints, it also means that the same major events (for instance, the appearance of the Rothen spacecraft) are described several times, the result of which is that it takes quite a while before the book advances beyond any particular plot point. Furthermore, although Brin's traeki narrator, Asx, appears very alien from humans, his hoonish narrator, Alvin, does not appear to be all that different than a human adolescent. In fact, the majority of Brin's races in this particular novel, seem to be humans in funny costumes, although, admittedly, we have very little direct, in-depth contact with qheuens and urs and the only real contact we have with g'Kek is through Alvin's best friend "Huck". Perhaps future volumes of the "Uplift Trilogy" will examine these aliens in more detail and make them less familiar.
In addition to the main story line of the Rothen spacecraft landing on Jijo, Brin includes another story about a group of adolescents from five of the six races who have a plan to build a bathysphere to explore the Midden, a deep region of ocean where all seven refugee races concealed and destroyed their sneakships. In good science fiction form, these children successfully build their submarine (with a little help from adults) and manage a successful voyage which creates a new plot twist.
Because Brin conceived of the "Uplift Trilogy" as a single work, Brightness Reef has an unfinished feel to it. Many of the plots are left extremely open and will be answered (one hopes) in Infinity Shores (due out in December 1996) and the third book of the series. Until the story is complete, it is rather difficult to see how well Brightness Reef will stand up against Brin's other novels, but I do hope the remaining books can pick up the pace.
One final note is a problem I had when Brin decides to be cute. He has a heavy reliance on modern culture, naming one character after Huckleberry Finn and another after Alvin from Arthur C. Clarke's novel Against the Fall of Night. His characters also refer to such great classics as the Doc Smith novels, Silverberg's Lord Valentine's Castle and Kim Stanley Robinson's (?) Ultraviolet Mars. In another scene, a song from Gilbert & Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance plays an important role. Every time Brin makes one of these references, I found myself dropped completely out of the story. After all, how many people go around reading Christine de Pisan's City of Ladies or singing songs from the Carmina Burana (not the Orff piece)?
Purchase this book in paperback from