The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

David Brin’s Sundiver introduces readers to his galactic society. Humans have been “uplifting” chimpanzees and dolphins into sentience; that is, through genetic engineering, each successive generation is better able to communicate in the “Anglic” language, use tools, and interact with humans.

Dr. Jacob Alvarez Demwa, the protagonist, is a scientist assigned to the Uplift Project, working mainly with dolphins. He also knows quite a few “Eatees” (ETs, or extraterrestrials). When he was a young boy, a spaceship from Earth encountered alien life, and Earth was thrust into a galactic society billions of years old, a society that revolves around “patron-client” relationships. Each sentient race was uplifted by an older race in a tradition stretching back to the mystical Progenitors, who have since departed for parts unknown. The uplift process is both altruistic and brutally practical, because most of the older races “indenture” their newly uplifted species as slaves. Humankind is considered a “wolfling” or upstart species because of its claim to have come to sentience by itself, a notion at which the galactics sneer, viewing it as impossible. They state instead that its patrons deserted humanity. The assorted ETs are also contemptuous of the way humans treat their “client” species, as partners rather than as slaves.

Demwa realizes that there are problems when a Kanten (a race resembling seven-foot-tall broccoli) diplomat named Fagin calls on him, yet he cannot resist seeing his old friend again. At a meeting in Baja California, Demwa is convinced to join a scientific expedition called the Sundiver Project. A group of scientists and militia led by Dr. Dwayne Kepler and Commander Helené deSilva have...

(The entire section is 719 words.)