BRIN, (Glen) David


BRIN, (Glen) David
(1950-)
   US writer with a BS in astronomy and an MS in applied physics, who began publishing sf with his first novel, Sundiver (1980), which is also the first volume in the ongoing Uplift sequence, for which he remains best known: it continued with STARTIDE RISING (1983; rev 1985) and THE UPLIFT WAR (1987), the two being assembled as Earthclan (omni 1987); further volumes are projected. STARTIDE RISING won both the HUGO and the NEBULA awards for best novel; THE UPLIFT WAR won a Hugo. As a whole, the series established DB as the most popular and - with the exception of Greg BEAR - the most important author of HARD SF to appear in the 1980s.However, despite their both being fairly characterized as hard-sf writers, DB and Bear demonstrate through their fundamental differences of approach something of the range of work which can be subsumed under that rubric. Some exponents of hard sf speak as though it were a kind of writing which adhered to rigorous models of scientific explanation and extrapolation, eschewing both the doubletalk of SPACE OPERA "science" and the psychobabble of "soft" disciplines like sociology; and it might be argued that Bear attempts to convey in his work a sense that he is carrying that form of discipline to its uttermost, and beyond. Not so with DB. Despite his professional competence as a physicist - a level of scientific qualification not shared by Bear - he writes tales in which the physical constraints governing the knowable Universe are flouted with high-handed panache, with the effect that - for instance - the Uplift books are as compulsive reading as anything ever published in the genre. The basic premise of the sequence is simple enough, though its workings-out are increasingly complicated. All thinking life in the Universe-or at least throughout the Five Galaxies encompassed in the three books so far - takes part in a vast hierarchical drama of evolutionary uplift, at the pinnacle of which are the Progenitors who - eons before humanity's entry into the scene - established laws to govern the creation and interaction of species. The Progenitors are now long gone - the intergalactic search for relics of their presence shapes much of the sequence - but before their departure they established five Patron Lines, races which govern individual galaxies. On achieving Contact with the local Patron Line, Homo sapiens (which uniquely among known races does not belong to the family tree that descends from the Progenitors) then replicates in small - by uplifting dolphins and chimpanzees to full sentience and partnership - a central imperative of the galactic ancestors. But problems arise.The secondary premise of the sequence - one that breeds true from the GOLDEN-AGE assumptions that have tended to govern space opera on this scale-generates most of the action. The human race, according to this premise, is a kind of sport, more ambitious and energetic and fast-moving than other galactic peoples. The local Patron Line has become corrupt, and its rulers hope to batten on human vitality; moreover, the Galactic Library Institute, supposedly autonomous, has itself been corrupted, and the human race has begun to learn caution about the technological data and other lessons supposedly passed down from the Progenitors via this source. Sundiver plunges into the heart of all this. A human expedition penetrates the Sun, where lifeforms are found which impart secrets about the Universe and the Library. In STARTIDE RISING, one of the most rousing space operas yet written, a starship crewed by uplifted dolphins and a GENETICALLY ENGINEERED human find an ancient fleet and an ancient cadaver, and must contrive somehow to escape an assortment of Patron-led foes and get their prize of knowledge and power back to Earth. THE UPLIFT WAR, seemingly an interlude, transfers the action to a planet occupied by Earth humans and neo-chimps who may have some clue as to the location of the Progenitors. The sequence is clearly intended to extend into further volumes.Insofar as DB's singletons stay closer to home, they are less successful. The Practice Effect (1984) reworks in fantasy terms the oddly Lamarckian principles (EVOLUTION) espoused in the space operas. The Postman (1985), set in a worryingly PASTORAL postHOLOCAUST USA, eulogizes Yankee decencies without much analysing the hugely complex cultural matrix that shaped them. Heart of the Comet (1986) with Gregory BENFORD is an uneasy marriage of two very different hard-sf writers, Benford caught as usual in the coils of Stapledonian Sehnsucht (Olaf STAPLEDON) and DB resolutely uplifting. In Earth (1990), a novel of very considerable ambition about the NEAR FUTURE death of the planet for all the usual (and quite possibly valid) reasons, Gaia is rescued at the last moment from a gnawing BLACK HOLE and other threats by an infusion of PULP-MAGAZINE plotting that consorts ill with the pressing seriousness of the issues raised. This is not to say that DB fails to raise those issues: more than any of his earlier novels, Earth demonstrates his very considerable cognitive grasp of issues, his omnivorousness as a researcher, and the reasoning that lies behind his stubborn optimism. He is, in other words, a taker of cognitive risks, and Glory Season (1993) - which seems to require a sequel - demonstrates this attractive characteristic in its compendious attempt to present a matriarchal culture with virtues, warts, centres of inherent strength, and fault lines too. The story takes place on a planet long isolated from "normal" male-dominated human hegemony; its climax portends an ultimate clash between the two ways of life. Like E.E. "Doc" SMITH before him, DB gives joy and imparts a SENSE OF WONDER; but he also thinks about the near world. It is to be hoped that he continues to do both.
   JC
   Other works: The River of Time (coll 1986), which contains the Hugo-winning "The Crystal Spheres" (1984); Dr Pak's Preschool (1988 chap); Project Solar Sail (anth 1990) with Arthur C. CLARKE; Piecework (1991 chap); Otherness (coll 1994 UK).

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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