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The Uplift Series is a science-fiction series created by author David Brin. Several centuries into the future, humanity has matured as a species, cleaned up the Earth, more-or-less achieved world peace, and even used genetic engineering to bestow sapience on chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins. However, Earthlings make contact with an intergalactic, multi-species alien civilization, and find out that they're extremely primitive by "Galactic" standards. Every other spacefaring species got where it is by being "uplifted" by a patron race, and were handed amazingly advanced technology on a silver platter. Many species consider humanity's belief that they evolved sapience without genetic engineering to be a blasphemy worthy of extinction or enslavement.The Uplift Universe consists of six novels, a novella, a short story, a GURPS supplement, and a Universe Compendium. The first series of novels is usually just called the Uplift Trilogy, but is not strictly speaking a trilogy. It consists of:
Sundiver, which takes place in 2252, four decades after first contact. It tells the story of Jacob Demwa, a scientist who is asked to investigate mysterious phenomena in Earth's sun. It was the first Uplift novel published, and is considered the weakest novel of the first "trilogy." Reading it is not necessary to understand any of the subsequent novels.
Startide Rising, which takes place about 240 years after Sundiver. It tells the story of Streaker, the first starship commanded by dolphins, after it is pursued by the fleets of many Galactic clans to the planet Kithrup. It won both the Hugo and Nebula awards when it was published, and is considered the best of the Uplift books.
The Uplift War, which takes place at about the same time as the events of Startide Rising. It tells the story of several beings caught up in an invasion of the human colony planet Garth caused by the discoveries of Streaker. It won a Hugo Award. It can be read either before or after Startide Rising.
The second three novels are called the Uplift Storm Trilogy. It takes place about two years after The Uplift War, and introduces the planet Jijo, illegally settled by several species, including humans. It is an actual trilogy. It consists of:
Brightness Reef, which tells the story of the invasion of a ship of alien gene raiders and their traitorous human allies, as well as that of a group of young aliens who attempt to dive into a great undersea trench in a bathyscape.
Infinity's Shore, in which the residents of Jijo drive off the gene raiders. However, a battleship full of fanatical Jophur arrive to convert their mentally stable Traeki cousins, as well as enslave the rest of the planet. The Streaker also arrives on Jijo in this book.
Heaven's Reach, which tells the story of Streaker's return to Earth, as well as wrapping up the stories of the characters introduced in the first two Uplift Storm books.
This series contains examples of:
A Form You Are Comfortable With: When Gillian Baskin is speaking to the Transcendental Races, they take the form of various persons from her own past. At first they claim it's because they want her to be at ease, but she quickly notices that they're also trying to make subtle points with their choice of mouthpieces.
Abusive Precursors: Some patron and step-patron species are exceedingly cruel to their clients, not only mistreating individuals or severely discriminating and oppressing client species, but sometimes subjecting them to downright horrific species-wide genetic changes without consent. The worst (that we know of) are probably the Nr~klat (patrons of the Karrank%), the Tandu, and the Oaillie (inventors of the master rings); but the Fonnir, Soro, Pila, and Nght6 are also quite awful.
It turns out that all of Galactic society is designed this way, with particular attention to math (with formal mathematics being almost nonexistant and all galactic civilizations relying on powerful computer simulations) and language (rigidly formal and controlled galactic languages are constantly compared to barbaric wolfling tongues that let you say almost anything, even illogical or false things!). It turns out that the powerful Oxygen and Hydrogen civilizations that rule the galaxy are actually just infants in the eyes of the reclusive and much more powerful Retired races, who are themselves infants to the Transcendant races (who combine Hydrogen, Oxygen, and Machine before going to live at warp speed at the edge of a neutron star), who are themselves infants to the combination of themselves and both Quantum and Memetic races at the event horizon of a black hole... The strict nature of galactic languages (variations only being permissible for biological necessity) and the complete absence of formal math and science is intended to keep Galactic "civilization" under control. This is also why wolfling races such as humanity are destroyed; they always have unconstrained tongues and mathematical and scientific traditions that can take advantage of that lack of constraint. That freedom is a potent threat to Ascended races' control of the galaxies.
The Ace: Thomas Orley, genetically engineered agent of the Terragen Council. Adept linguist, strategist and commando, beloved by men, dolphins and females of all species.
Ace Pilot: While the series by and large avoids Two Dimensional Space, dolphins are one of the few species who truly have instincts for operating in three dimensions, which makes them valuable navigators. Of the protagonists, Keepiru and "Lucky" Kaa were selected for Streaker specifically for their piloting skill.
A.I. Is a Crapshoot: This trope, or at least the fear that it will come true, is why Galactic law requires fantastically severe restrictions on A.I., and especially on allowing machines the ability to reproduce themselves.
Alien Invasion: A violent all-out invasion is the plot of The Uplift War, with the Gubru invading the human-chimpanzee colony world Garth. The simultaneous invasions of Mars, Calafia, and other human worlds are mentioned but not shown. Basically, the entire galaxy is out to get Earthclan. The Uplift Storm trilogy also eventually features two simultaneous alien invasions of Jijo.
Aliens Speaking English: Pretty much all Jijoans speak Anglic, thanks to the ironically outsized cultural influence humans have there. On the other hand most Jijoans, including the humans, speak Galactic languages as well. In the rest of the universe, aliens very rarely deign to learn wolfling tongues, unless they're ambassadors.
Appeal to Force: Galactic law exists, but it exists in a state roughly identical to international law on modern Earth, in that it's roughly as strong as the power available to enforce it. Several clans and species openly commit crimes that would earn them race-wide enslavement or genocide, but nobody actually has the capacity to bring them down for it.
Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: What the Galactics believe happened to the Progenitors, and any Retired species to leave their Fractal Worlds for the "Embrace of the Tides", a sequence of orbits around white dwarf stars, neutron stars, and finally black holes where they merge with hydrogen-based life, machine life, and possibly other orders. Except it looks like the Progenitors went the opposite direction, into "flat" space away from gravity wells, and the Transcended kill off most of the countless billions who head down their path.
Assimilation Plot: The Jophur invaders of Jijo plan to enslave their Jijoan Traeki cousins by surgically implanting the same "master rings" that all Jophur have. Master rings turn the composite sapience of Traeki into the egotistical, quasi-unified will of the Jophur, while routinely torturing and electrocuting the other rings, and forcing them to act against their wills. This is the whole reason the Traeki ring-stacks fled to Jijo in the first place.
Axe Crazy: The Tandu have, as their stated objective, the outright slaughter of every non-affiliated form of life. They jump at the chance to participate in any legally-sanctioned genocides and see their clients as little more than living tools. At one point a Tandu is hired for an act of ritual murder, and when the ritual is disturbed he starts attacking his employers, since getting unexpectedly attacked constitutes a breach of contract on their part.
Baleful Polymorph: Harry gets bitten by a sapient idea in the middle of thinking “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” and winds up with white fur and a tail.
Bamboo Technology: A Bamboo Space Program, seriously! Though at this point the Jijoans have only the most primitive one-stage rockets, made out of single pieces of "boo" several feet in diameter. Except at the very end of the last book, they DO have multi-stage Boo rockets and are working on a moon shot. Sounds humorous, but it's strangely justified— Great Boo isn't a natural plant, like many other species on Jijo it's actually ancient Buyur biotechnology gone feral. It has ridiculously useful properties. Since the Buyur turn out to have been manipulative as hell, it's entirely possible that they actively left it behind to encourage primitive rocketry.
Banana Peel: Played straight by E-level hyperspace, which is interpreted by sapient minds entirely in the form of visual metaphors. One chimpanzee pilot, encountering a patch of "slippery" E-space, sees building-sized banana peels through the viewscreens.
Batman Gambit: The Tytlal are absolute masters of this, thanks to their trickster training. Approaches Xanatos Gambit territory on Jijo. They literally devolve most of themselves back to animals - "noor beasts" - in case things go badly for the Tymbrimi, so they will be readopted alongside the long-regressed Glavers. At the same time. a small number of fully-sentient Watchers also disguise themselves as noor beasts, keeping tabs on all the races of Jijo. They reveal themselves at the end of Brightness Reef, to participate in the battle against the Jophur.
Bedtime Brainwashing: Gailet Jones is the victim of this at the hands of the Gubru, without her knowledge. She doesn't realise what's happened until she finds herself unable to object to the highly improper Gubru-manipulated uplift ceremony that would make Neo-Chimps their clients.
Begging The Question: Discussed in one of Brightness Reef'sEncyclopedia Exposita sections, the Galactics' assertion that humans must be the result of Uplift is based on the premise that evolved sapience is impossible, despite that being - at best - a contentious matter because it fails to account for the Progenitors. The same entry does also note that actually asking The Question will probably trigger some fairly violent reactions from the more zealous Scary Dogmatic Aliens who make up most of the known universe.
Benevolent Precursors: Galactic dogmas rarely agree, but all oxygen-breathers concur that the Progenitors were awesome, they invented Uplift and true civilization, they obviously had a supernatural origin of some kind, and everyone should revere them. For millions of years, the Great Library has taught this version of history.
Humanity, horrified by the standard Galactic treatment of client races, has a desire to be this for its own clients. They give chimps and dolphins an almost unheard-of level of autonomy and involve them in the world government, refuse to impose any kind of indentured servitude on them, and begin seeking alien clients with an eye to protecting them from more hostile species.
Traeki and Jophur, which are colonies of quasi-fungal toroids. Each stack of rings is a sapient being, but individual rings are merely rather stupid animals. Traeki also lack a unified individual identity, having a communal hive-mind. Reproduction comes in several strange flavors.
T'4Lek, another colony-species, whose bodies are shaped like architectural arches.
Karrank%, a species designed to live in the lower layer of planetary crusts and survive off of radioactive minerals. The results were less than fun. Their larvae take the form of living islands, with trees and coral for organs.
g'Kek, a species with biological wheels instead of legs. They also "get to change sex when their training wheels fall off."
Hoon, whose central circulatory organs are in their spinal column; yet they somehow shed the entire spine and grow a new one at puberty, one vertebra at a time.
Tymbrimi, who can slowly (or rapidly, when sufficiently stressed) shapeshift the proportions and details of their bodies.
Nish, which are basically giant, amoeboid, intelligent blobs.
The Quantum Order of life, which live in the "interstices" of space in some sort of weird quantum state, and avoid other orders of life because being looked at by non-quants is bad for their health.
Our sun is inhabited by solarians and magnetovores, which are seemingly made out of living plasma.
The Soro fleetqueen Krat thinks dolphins are pretty darn weird, what with lacking hands and being unable to survive outside of water.
The general Galactic civilization has weird shared values compared to Earthclan, and the various orders of life are so alien to one another that they avoid each other whenever possible. However, what shared principles there are still seem pretty blue and orange, holding genocide to be a relatively minor infraction or even somewhat laudable but moderate, largely reparable environmental damage to be a major sin worthy of extermination. The only thing saving humanity is that the galactics are largely in denial that the Earthclan actually have no patrons, so they cannot legally treat us as responsible for our own actions.
On a species-by-species basis, some behaviors and moral concepts are shown to vary widely. Dolphins, for example, aren't nearly as bothered by rape (or at least non-consensual sex) as humans are. Many species (i.e. Urs, Qheuen, Tandu) evolved to produce huge numbers of offspring, only a tiny fraction of which live to adulthood. They form no parent-child emotional bonds, and are perfectly OK with infant mortality rates vastly higher than in any Real Life country today. Even on Jijo, where the Six Races are used to the differences between them, Humans and Hoon still tend to find this disturbing.
Brain–Computer Interface: Most humans and dolphins (and presumably most chimpanzees) have computer jacks implanted in the left sides of their skulls, so they can directly access computers. Dolphins use them to control the machines that provide them with "hands" and let them walk on land. It's not clear if other, more advanced clans use or even need jacks. Aside from making tool-using, walking dolphins possible, the things also become plot devices on three occasions.
Calculus Is Arcane Knowledge: The Galactics consider any math more complex than arithmetic to be "wolfling superstitions" seeing how none of it is in the Library, they make do by brute-forcing with massive amounts of computation. Then the Terragens council uses calculus to figure out why the Galaxies are losing contact.
Call Back: In Heaven's Reach Emerson rigs up a refrigeration laser to cool down the Streaker.
Carnivore Confusion: Pre-uplift dolphins treat the food chain as a religious matter, and consider it perfectly acceptable if they're eaten by something higher up, though there's strict rules on this (namely, only kill a dolphin for food, not pleasure; tuna nets are also seen as abusive to dolphinkind). This becomes a plot point when one dolphin tries using it to justify cannibalism.
Clueless Chick Magnet: Early in The Uplift War, Fiben is pondering joining a group marriage with relative strangers. By the end, he's accidentally stumbled into two separate romances. He winds up marrying them both.
At the end of The Uplift War, circumstances force Fiben into this with Iron-Grip, a genetic throwback the Gubru are trying to put forth as a representative of all Neo-Chimps.
Creepy Cute: As part of the series’ overall enlightened approach to writing aliens, their personalities don’t necessarily match their descriptions. For example, Pincer-Tip is a large, armoured, one-eyed, radially-symmetrical crab monster with the personality of an excitable nine-year-old.
Crystal Dragon Jesus: Ifni (infinity) is considered the goddess of spacers, though it’s less of a formal religion than it is putting a face on the randomness and capriciousness of the universe.
Damsel in Distress: In the Uplift Storm trilogy, Peepoe has no sooner agreed to be Kaa's mate than she is kidnapped and dragged out of the plot entirely with no opportunity to go looking for her. For the rest of the series she serves only as motivation for Kaa, who struggles to fulfil his duties and return to rescue her. The novella Temptation has her as a viewpoint character, escaping her captors and stumbling across the Not Quite Dead Buyur. Presumably she'll be prominent in whatever comes next in the series, as Brin has stated his intention to work the novella into the next novel.
Darwinist Desire: Eugenics programs are a standard part of uplifting new species. Earthclan chooses a "card" system for their clients with green, blue, and white cards (unrestricted breeding rights) awarded to scientists, artists, war heroes, etc.
Death Equals Redemption: In Startide Rising, Gillian sets this up intentionally for another character, making it something of an invoked subversion. She knows he's going to try to sell them out to the Galactic forces, so she sabotages the longboat's radio and sets its weapons to fire automatically, making it look like Takkata-Jim is trying to pull off a Heroic Sacrifice in order to distract the Galactics from Streaker's escape. In the end, with no options remaining, he goes along with it.
Defector from Decadence: Ling forsakes her rothan masters when she learns they were engaged in a plan to exterminate the Jijoans. Also, with a few exceptions, the story of all the Sooner races on Jijo:
Hoon were the humorless bureaucrats of the stars, implacable and without joy. They came to Jijo to find happiness as sailors.
Urs want to constantly be pregnant, which clashes with Galactic overpopulation strictures. They came to Jijo so they could breed without limit.
Qheuens wanted to go back to their pre-spacefaring lifestyle, with a strict caste system of aristocratic grays ruling over waterbound blues and dryland reds. Ironically, the reds and blues soon rebelled and made things even more egalitarian than in space.
Traeki wanted to shed the domineering, egotistical ways forced upon them by their master rings, making them Jophur.
Glavers feared a debt that would eventually come due to a Hydrogen race, and so fled to Jijo hoping to revert to a pre-Uplift state of nonsentience and get a second chance.
The other five species on Jijo left a high-tech lifestyle, but not as defectors from decadence. Rather, they're fleeing a hostile galaxy in an attempt to hide a fraction of their species from their enemies. G'kek were fleeing the Jophur, Tytlal (noors) were hidden by the Tymbrimi in recognition that a dangerous time of change was coming, and Humans, Chimps, and Dolphins were hiding from everyone.
The Kiqui, introduced at the same time as the dolphins, are an utter aversion. They're a pre-Uplift species that was added to Jijo because otherwise they likely would have died with the rest of the Streaker's crew.
Deliberate Values Dissonance: Humans and aliens don't understand each other overly well. For one thing, claiming not being uplifted is tantamount to blasphemy for many races.
Department of Redundancy Department: Gubru tend to do everything in threes, to the extent that they will repeat, restate, reiterate certain things when trying to make a point.
Derelict Graveyard: In the backstory to Startide Rising, a Terran starship discovers a fleet of derelict ships associated with the Progenitors, and the news unleashes an intergalactic witch hunt against them.
Didn't See That Coming: Client races choose an "Uplift Consort," an outside race that has the right to intervene if their patrons begin to abuse them. Everyone is shocked when the Tytlal, reaching a new stage of uplift, choose Neo-Dolphins as their consort. Choosing the newest and weakest client species for the honour is seen as a great joke, a symbolic strengthening of the Human-Tymbrimi alliance and a vote of confidence that the Tymbrimi would never abuse them. Only Athaclena seems to realise that the Tytlal were being deadly serious. Whatever's coming, for whatever reason, the Tytlal honestly believe dolphins will be able to protect them.
Did You Die?: Alvin complains about this trope in Brightness Reef.
Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: What humanity lacks in resources and population it attempts to make up for in improvisation and thousands of years of unique tricks and gambits. It gets to the point that there are complaints of "unfair wolfling tricks" lodged by species in the process of trying to eradicate humanity. The finest of these is probably Streaker arriving in Earth orbit and making a series of empty threats, then spending every resource they have just to survive the counterattack. They emerge from the debris announcing they are prepared to discuss (their) surrender, and the invaders all panic and run away.
Divided We Fall: In Startide Rising, the fleets of aliens hunting the Streaker do not prevent fierce infighting among the dolphin crew. Fortunately, the aliens don't get along with each other, either.
In The Uplift War, the Gubru suzerains are supposed to be cooperating, with each acting as a balance for the other two as they move towards consensus. The death of the Suzerain of Cost and Caution throws their relationship out of whack, and they begin plotting against one another.
Dumb Struck: Captain Creideiki suffers damage to the language centers of his brain that cuts him off from Anglic and forces him to resort to Primal or Trinary, which are too primitive to convey complex ideas.
Emerson is struck with a very similar injury in the Uplift Storm trilogy, with very similar results. The similarity is deliberate. The aliens that stole a chunk of Emerson’s brain came across the memory of Creideiki’s injury and decided it would make a good cover story.
Emotion Bomb: Psi weapons in general work like this. As a specific example, the Gubru use special spheres to broadcast fear and self-consciousness in The Uplift War. The Karrank% set one off without a technological weapon, because they're all fearsomely powerful telepaths.
Evil Matriarch: Krat, and by extension all the Soro fleetqueens, literally. They give birth while plotting an entire race's demise, or ripping their own clients apart.
Exotic Extended Marriage: Uplifted chimps and dolphins are often involved in group marriages, and the species known as the Gubru forms marriages in threes, and doesn't become sexually differentiated until after marriage, when one member of the threesome will become dominant and the sole female, while the other two become male.
Exposed Extraterrestrials: Played with. Many Galactic races never wear clothes, but plenty of others do. One species religiously refuses to speak to anybody who's naked; there's another species who find the entire idea of clothing horribly offensive.
Fantastic Racism: Most of the Galactics at least mildly dislike to downright hate Earthclan. Some races, like the Tandu, feel this way about everyone. Less obnoxiously, but no less racist from a human perspective, is the systematic, expected, and legally required discrimination against client species. Indeed, human concepts of equality are antithetical to Galactic culture. On a lesser scale is the disdain to outright rebellion Stenos feel for regular neo-fins, and Takkata-Jim goes so far as to accuse the Tursiops majority of discriminating against Stenos while inciting his mutiny.
The Terran military, particularly the Marines, is mentioned as having a lingering problem with xenophobia. One commander in The Uplift War openly proclaims his dislike for aliens (even the ones who are in the room and helping him) and even disdains Neo-Chimps, giving them condescending praise at best.
Fish out of Temporal Water: Helene deSilva was on the crew of one of humanity's old STL Sleeper Ships, and she finds herself rather out-of-place when returning to Earth after a "jump." When she left, the Confederacy hadn't been founded and humans hadn't contacted aliens.
Helene: How old do you think I am? Jacob: Well, relativistically speaking... Helene: Screw relativity! I'm 26!
Five-Token Band: Parodied, perhaps unintentionally, by the crew of the bathyscape in Brightness Reef, who are five alien children, all different species, one of which doesn't walk, but rolls around on wheels. It's sort of happenstance, but such maximally-diverse groups are an ingrained pattern in Jijoan culture, with a quasi-mystical tinge; they're all a bit disappointed that they don't have a human friend along to make a full-on "Six."
Fling a Light into the Future: Humans and G'kek both sent a number of their population to hide on Jijo as a safeguard against what they thought was the imminent destruction of their species. This turns out to have been unnecessary for the humans (so far), but the G'kek are now extinct everywhere else.
Futuristic Stasis: Almost all sapient species are genetically modified and raised to sapience by their patron species and given access to the Great Library. This severely discourages technological innovation, through the quasi-religious sentiment that "if it's good enough for your patrons who dragged you out of animalism, it's goddamn well good enough for you." At one point a group of Galactics dismiss the idea of flight without gravatics as impossible and are utterly flummoxed by hot-air balloons, hang gliders, airplanes, and solid-fuel rockets.
Amusingly, the full version of the library probably includes all those methods for flight and more, much of the stasis results from a combination of the use of pared-down but easy-to-use "branch libraries", general laziness, and poor skills at using a search engine. Humans and their clients have readily found all sorts of 'unprecedented' things just by having a weirdly divergent technological base that causes them to search with different terms.
The second trilogy also concludes that this stasis is intentional. There are multiple stages of life, and the "Transcendent Races" use the Library and carefully constructed Galactic languages to control the lower orders of life and prevent them from developing certain ideas. Hence "wolfling" species like Humans are killed off to prevent their anarchic languages from spreading and allowing Galactic patrons to think for themselves.
Genius Breeding Act: Humans use both genetic engineering and selective breeding to improve the intelligence of their uplifted dolphins and chimpanzees. Most chimps and dolphins have to apply for a license to reproduce. The ones with unlimited breeding licenses are the smartest and most talented of their generation. It's stated that most alien clans have similar or stricter breeding programs for their client races.
Genre Shift: Each of the first three books is in a different subgenre of sci-fi (mystery, classic space opera, and war), and the Uplift Storm trilogy initially somewhat resembles low fantasy.
Healing Factor: Qheuens and Tandu can regrow severed legs. This also extends to Tandu heads: they have a reserve of "buds" that can grow into new heads if they lose their current one. Their personality, however, dies with their head.
Henchmen Race: Several species were designed to serve their clan as soldiers, such as the Paha (clients of the Soro).
Humanity Is Infectious: In The Uplift War, one alien learns why humans have a word "accident" even while saying "there are no accidents."
Humanoid Aliens: Many alien species are roughly humanoid bipeds that fit this trope, and a couple are even more anthropomorphic. The Pring look like very tall "Greys," while Tymbrimi are for some unexplained reason almost Rubber-Forehead Aliens.
Humans Are Special: Toyed with. Humanity isn't treated as special, but they do have the singular advantage of not being bound by millennia of tradition as most other races are. They are also the only species in tens of millions of years which may have evolved without uplift. (It's not unprecedented— very little is unprecedented in a civilization two billion years old— but it's extremely rare to the point that some people have the mistaken impression it is.)
The GURPS supplement indicates the Terragen council is trying to invoke this. The best way to engender Galactic sympathy -and thereby ensure Earthclan's survival- is for every human, dolphin and chimp to be as heroic, clever and generally awesome as possible. The logic goes that this will make earthlings valuable enough that otherwise neutral clans might be willing to step in to protect them.
Humans Are Superior: Deconstructed; humans are one of the few races to not be uplifted by a previous race, but rather than making humans look badass and superior it's made us pariahs amongst the galactic community
Humans Need Aliens: Played with. This is what most aliens believe—and given how much more advanced most alien species are, and how many are hostile to the "wolfling" human species, it is essentially true, now that they're aware of our existence. Without allies like the Tymbrimi, humanity wouldn't stand a chance.
However, there is no indication that humanity needs aliens for anything other than defense against aliens who think we should be their "clients" or exterminated for blasphemy. Between the present day and first contact humanity ended war, repaired the environmental damage to earth, uplifted chimps and dolphins, colonized five solar systems, and developed an automated empathy test that eliminated government corruption entirely (apparently most politicians are psychopaths, who knew?) In fact one might say that humanity is more "mature" than many species that are millions of years older because we had the opportunity to make mistakes and suffer the full consequences, unlike most of the galactics who were all uplifted by other species and in many cases designed to be soldiers.
Humorless Aliens: Most of the aliens in the series, with a very few exceptions such as the Tymbrimi, Tytlal, and Buyur.
Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: E-level hyperspace is a memetic reality. As such perception often literally defines reality, and beings native to normal space can only percieve E-space through visual metaphors, memes, and tropes. Some of said memes are alive and like to eat physical life.
Ignorance Is Bliss: Because most sophont races began as animals, there's a certain romance in the idea of deliberately "reverting" to a primal state (Referred to as the Path of Redemption). Since settling on a fallow world is illegal, the sooner races on Jijo plan to eventually return to their pre-uplift states to avoid punishment. Jijoan humans have no intention of doing so, though only their elders know it. Humanity fought too long and hard for their sapience to willingly give it up, and the whole point of the colony mission to Jijo was to preserve human culture. There are hints that, at least on Jijo, this is futile: Even the Glavers, held up as shining examples of "innocents," are still speech-capable, more like children than animals.
I'm a Humanitarian: K'tha-Jon develops a taste for dolphin flesh when he goes atavistic / feral, because he's a poorly-unified hybrid of Stenos...and orca.
The entire plot of The Uplift War is a setup for a Guerrilla/Gorilla warfare pun.
The alien kids in Brightness Reef enjoy puns — at one point they break out an incredible string of puns based on units of measurement.
Indentured Servitude: All new intelligent life is created when a starfaring race genetically engineers a wild species to add sapience. In the laws of the Five Galaxies, the "client" race is then required to serve their "patron" race for 100,000 years* approximately, in Earth time of "indenture," which ranges from subordinate but dignified positions to brutal slavery. Indentured clients are legally attached to their patrons, have very few civil rights, and are "spoils of war" if their patrons are conquered or exterminated. Humanity is in constant danger, so they've freed chimpanzees and dolphins from indenture even though their Uplift isn't even finished yet.
Informed Obscenity: On Jijo "slucking" seems to be a naughty word, but we never get a translation. It isn't said what language it comes from, though it at least appears in Hoonish Anglic along with "Ifni-slucking turd!"
Insectoid Aliens: Surprisingly few, considering the variety of species. Tandu are an example that look insectoid.
Insufficiently Advanced Alien: Most of the races rely entirely on technologies and knowledge handed down through generations of civilizations, and most never actually innovate on their own terms and time schedule. In fact, many see innovation as blasphemy.
Interspecies Romance: For the most part, this trope is averted. However, it pops up once in a while:
In The Uplift War Robert, son of the human governor of Garth, becomes seriously attracted to Athaclena, the Tymbrimi ambassador's daughter — partly due to the Tymbrimi's extremely humanoid appearance and the near total disappearance of Garth's human population. They had a (partially symbolic) marriage, though they mostly did it to solidify their species' alliance and both expected to find mates of their own species later. Athaclena deconstructed this trope by pointing out that sex between human and Tymbrimi was physically impossible, and certainly wouldn't result in offspring.
Male neo-dolphins are noted hornballs and have been known to hit on human women. Sa'ot, for example, in Startide Rising.
Oddly invoked in Brightness Reef, when the Jijoan human Rety rescues a male urs from being eaten by a predator, and starts carrying him around in her tote bag. Female urs carry their (much tinier) husbands in their pouches, so yee thinks Rety is now his wife. She's fine with that, but it isn't clear whether or not he's actually become attracted to her.
Jack-of-All-Trades: Humanity places a premium on adaptability and so often finds itself as this, particularly on Jijo where the other species are specialists of one type or another.
Karma Houdini: Ro-Kenn, whose crimes range from conspiring to commit genocide to killing Pincer-Tip, escapes Streaker and is never seen again.
Kill It with Water: Urs are an oxygen-breathing species from a terrestrial planet, but liquid water is intensely unpleasant to them (apparently their skin is extremely susceptible to disease when they get wet), and they'll only drink pure water under duress. Fire, on the other hand, hardly bothers them at all.
Laser-Guided Karma: Rety's impulsiveness obsession with escaping Jijo and living among sophisticated starfarers leads her to backstab , abandon or otherwise inconvenience numerous other parties throughout the second trilogy, particularly Dwer. Naturally, she winds up getting dragged back to Jijo at the last possible moment and stranded.
Left Hanging: The Streaker’s skiff, last seen leaving Kithrup at the end of Startide Rising carrying two-thirds of the novel’s protagonists, has not been seen or heard from since. As of the end of the second trilogy their fate is unconfirmed, but it's more or less stated that everyone believes they're dead.
Living Gasbag: The Bahtwin were uplifted from a lighter-than-air gasbag species that floated in their homeworld's atmosphere. In a way, all hydrogen-breathers are this; they're ginormous single-celled organisms that float in the high-pressure atmospheres of gas planets.
Low Culture, High Tech: None of the extant Galactics developed their own technology beyond simple rock hammers. And many of them were designed as soldiers or some similar reason. Despite their age it often seems like humanity is more mature than any of them on account of having had to learn from their mistakes.
Macross Missile Massacre: Taken to ultratech extremes. The missiles not only are smart and capable of independent targeting, they are armed with weapons of their own to defeat antimissile systems. If a Soro or one of the other major powers fires one of these at you, you're in really big trouble. Happens in Startide Rising to a neutral Synthian observer, who more or less was just wondering what all the fuss was about. He doesn't survive.
Manipulative Bastard: Tymbrimi ambassador Uthacalthing. He thinks of himself as a largely benign joker, but one of his "jests" involves stranding the Thennanin ambassador Kault and manipulating him into getting his entire species into a fight with the hostile Gubru, to Kault's detriment. It backfires on him in a spectacularly karmic way when the "Garthlings" select the Thennanin to be their patrons, thus boosting their status enormously while also forcing an alliance with EarthClan. Uthacalthing in typical tymbrimi fashion is delighted to have been caught in his own joke. Now consider that Uthacalthing is considered boring and staid by the rest of the Tymbrimi, and that the Tymbrimi have been designing their clients, the Tytlal, to be even worse.
Mechanical Lifeforms: The machine order of life consists of whole "species" of intelligent machines. Presumably the first such beings were built by organics billions of years ago, but they've multiplied a lot since then. Oxygen-breathers and hydrogen-breathers share a great fear of this order, and like to whup machine ass whenever they get too numerous.
Meta Guy: Alvin’s segments in the Uplift Storm trilogy are presented as him writing it all down in a journal after the fact, which he hopes to get published some day. He often takes time to comment on the tropes and allusions he’s using.
Misanthrope Supreme: The "Danikenite" humans, chimps, and dolphins believe humanity to be clients of some alien species. They generally worship the ground all Galactics walk on, and would like to find our Neglectful Precursors and worship them too. They're prone to subjecting themselves to slavery by whatever abusive, malevolent aliens happen to claim to be human patrons in their hearing.
Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Dr. Ignacio Metz, the uplift specialist in Startide Rising, who among other things is responsible for designing certain mentally-unstable dolphins and getting them onto the Streaker crew without proper qualifications.
My God, What Have I Done?: Dr. Metz, when he finally realizes the disastrous results of his genetic experiments and nepotism.
My Instincts Are Showing: The sapience granted by uplift tends to be fragile in new species, who may revert to baser instincts under pressure. Chimps in particular get annoyed and embarrassed when they find themselves acting “stereotypical.”
Named After Their Planet: Patron races sometimes give such names to their clients: examples include Jophur, Pila, and Pring. A particularly weird example is "Garthlings", who are actually Gorillas transplanted to the planet Garth and adopted as if they were natives there due to a massive Gambit Pileup.
Naming Your Colony World (Symbolic names): Before humans made contact with Galactic civilization, they gave their early extrasolar colonies the names NuDawn and Atlast. After contact, the later legally acquired planets just end up called whatever names the aliens had already given them.
It is virtually inconceivable for Galactic society to accept that a species managed to evolve sapience without uplift, and so many believe that humanity was uplifted by an unknown patron and then abandoned. Having no patron (and worse, claiming they never had one) puts them in the crosshairs of a lot of the more belligerent factions. Other client races have been abandoned before, so their patrons definitely qualify.
If humans had patrons, they were by definition extremely neglectful: they must have abandoned humanity; they clearly left no legacy of science, Galactic technology, intra-species peace, environmental stewardship, or knowledge of Galactic civilization or law; and since there's no record of human uplift in the Institutes' records, it must have been illegal. All this is sadly lost on the Danikenite faction, however.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: In hindsight, Dr. Metz's experiments with splicing DNA from orcas into neo-dolphins was a really bad idea...
Perhaps Creideiki would have been wiser just to head back to Earth with his discovery rather than radioing for advice.
Noble Bigot: Jijo is presented as a thorough melange of cultures and races all living together, not in perfect harmony, but in peace and cooperation. There are a few exceptions, with fanatical splinter groups striving for, for example, racial purity and domination. There is one human sage, a minor character from Sarah's past, who is presented as having a distaste for alien races that he strives to minimize (not saying anything, just seating himself far from them), which is presented more as a disability, an unfortunate atavistic hangover like the vermiform appendix. He recognizes it as an irrational flaw and tries not to let it hamper him or affect others.
Noble Savage: Humanity as a whole. They are the "wolflings" who may or may not have pulled themselves into sentience without the help of a Patron. And now the worst fanatics of the galaxy are arrayed against them... and humanity keeps winning. Barely.
This is invoked by one faction in Sundiver. The people who believe that humans uplifted themselves wear Neolithic-esque clothing made from animal skins as an act of defiance against the aliens (and their own government, which tends to be somewhat obsequious toward alien visitors), taking pride in their wolfling status.
Subverted in that the ethics and culture of many Galactics are less civilized than that of Earthclan, see Low Culture High Tech.
Invoked with Alvin, who is sent out to galactic society as an ambassador from the Hoon of Jijo to the Hoon of the galaxy. "Teach them about sailing; teach them to sing." He almost immediately gets a girlfriend and becomes a sort of Crystal Dragon Jesus to the galactic Hoon he meets (at least the young ones) and inspires a new fad among them.
Non-Mammal Mammaries: Sort of. The Tymbrimi are actually marsupials and as such their mammaries are present but invisible. However Athaclena still adjusts her body shape to subtly mimic the appearance of human breasts so she can appeal to Robert, making this more a case of "Mammal Non-Mammaries"
Obfuscating Stupidity: Galactic Patrons, in particular the fanatic clans that serve as most novels' antagonists, have a patronising disdain for all client races, Earthclan's in particular. Dolphins and Chimps are shown playing into this belief, since they find it useful to be underestimated.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Entire races of them, most notably the (non-Jijoan) Hoon, who seem to derive their only pleasure from thwarting clients.
Plant Aliens: The Kanten are uplifted trees resembling giant broccoli. Mulc "spiders" and Jophur are sort of plant-like, though hardly comparable to any plant-life on Earth.
Plucky Middie: Toshio and Akki, best friends and viewpoint characters in Startide Rising.
Portal Network: The transfer-point network is a somewhat natural version used for intergalactic travel.
Power Born of Madness: Episiarchs, who couple powerful psychic abilities and raging, single-minded solipsism to warp reality to their liking.
Precursor Worship: Pretty much every species save for some factions of humanity and their clients worship the Progenitors in some fashion. They've even had religious wars between different faiths.
Proud Merchant Race: The Synthians, one of humanity's few allies, but too cautious to fight alongside them, still perfectly glad to sell them weapons and ships.
Proud Warrior Race: A number of Earthclan's worst enemies. The Soro love battle but the hormones they produce while fighting tend to induce egg-laying so they send their clients to do most of the work. The Brothers of the Night have an entire culture built around "the hunt" constructed by their Nighthunter patrons (now extinct thanks to their clients). And the Tandu have a religious imperative to wipe out every other species in the Galaxies.
The Quisling: Invaders do what they can to gain allies among the populaces they’re trying to subjugate. In The Uplift War the chimps assisting the gubru are even referred to as quislings.
Reality Warper: The Episiarchs, by "denying." They are extremely powerful psionics, and adepts are trained and drugged to increase that ability while turning them into such solipsistic megalomaniacs that they perceive reality as an obnoxious hallucination, and can angrily tear it apart in fits of rage.
Rebellious Rebel: In The Uplift War, the chimpanzee forces challenge their planet's invaders to face them with equal forces. The enemy commander orders an mass-destruction attack, contrary to the laws of warfare and of not destroying whole ecologies, and a subordinate kills him. On hearing of it, the invader's leader immediately conveys a pardon to the subordinate.
Recursive Precursors: Every species (except Humans) are part of the chain of uplift going all the way back to the Progenitors.
Rhymes on a Dime: Anyone who speaks in Trinary regularly, although not as much as Primal Dolphin or what we imagine the Whale Dream would sound like.
Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Tymbrimi, though mostly when they're applying their limited shapeshifting to look human. And the Rothen in Brightness Reef, who claim to be humanity's long-lost patrons and turn out to be wearing masks.
Scary Dogmatic Aliens: Earthclan's greatest threats are a loose conglomeration of "fanatic" races, who want to kill us for reasons ranging from the fact of our existence to the blasphemy of calculus. Most of Galactic society is composed of neutral, moderate races, but these tend to be slow to act in a crisis such as the one surrounding most of the novels.
Self-Deprecation: Fiben Bolger is a chimpanzee self-described as having "delusions of adequacy."
Sense Freak: Acceptors have been bred as living sensors, and are so obsessed with new experiences they'll ignore orders to pursue them. Even being abused into obedience only works if they decide to pay attention to it.
Settling the Frontier: The six races illegally living on the planet Jijo in the second trilogy. And Earthclan had six extrasolar colonies before contact with the Galactics and access to FTL.
Servant Race: Some races go way overboard in turning their clients into cripplingly overspecialized organic tools with zero capacity for independence, initiative, or disobedience. The Tandu did this to the Acceptors and Episiarchs; the Soro did it to the Forski. The Nr~klat tried this on the Karrank%, but didn't perfect the "zero independent thought" stage before their clients rebelled. This is illegal, and has been punished by demotion back to client status or even genocide— but it's punished only when it's perpetrated by a clan the galactic policing forces can actually take, which lets many of the worst perpetrators right out.
A mulc “spider” suggests that Dwer is a figment of her imagination, paraphrasing Ebenezer Scrooge.
Sleeper Starship: Humanity colonized six star systems with near-relativistic sleeper ships before Contact was made with the Tymbrimi.
Space Age Stasis: The Galactics don't bother developing new technology, they get everything from the Library. Earthclan has a slight preference for what they understand works.
Space Elevator: Earth had two of these by the 23rd century. They're named Vanilla Needle and Chocolate Needle.
Space Is an Ocean: Toyed with. Earthclan does use nautical terms to describe things (e.g., a "Gravity-well sargasso"), but the sheer number of drives used in the setting makes it hard to tell sometimes.
Space Opera: This series spans half a dozen planets and involves a galactic scale war waged against humanity by fanatic extremists... yeah. Space Opera.
Split Personality: Jacob Demwa's "Mr. Hyde." Subverted when Jacob realizes Mr. Hyde was actually just an elaborate game his mind was playing with itself.
Starfish Aliens: Jophur and Traeki are made of stacks of rings which have independent personalities and thoughts, but are sentient only as a group. And they're not even the most exotic alien species — the other orders of life, such as hydrogen-breathers and quantum life, are generally much weirder.
Technology Uplift: In addition to the genetic modification patron races provide their clients with technology from the Library, even humanity was given limited access when they made first contact.
Traeki rings have mutualistic relations with each other when forming a sapient stack. The Jophur master rings, however, are more like parasites: a Jophur can move, fight, and make decisions far quicker than traeki, but the master rings make all the decisions, and constantly abuse the others.
Jijoan races wear symbiotes called rewqs on their eyes/faces to help them interpret and understand facial expressions and emotions of other species. In return the rewq drinks small quantities of blood/sap/whatever.
There Is a God!: Used literally, as a last-minute (and somewhat irritating) Aesop, in the third novel.
Trickster Archetype: The Tymbrimi and Tytlal are tricksters by design (because such behavior could never have evolved). The Tymbrimi's extinct patrons, the Caltmour, were tricksters as well.
Turtle Island: In Startide Rising, the Terrans eventually learn that the islands scattered across the surface of the planet Kithrup are all the larval form of the Karrank% species.
The Unpronounceable: Several of the universal Galactic languages are this for humans. Names like Karrank%, Bl@mtsht, $yllobo9, and J'8lek (no, these are not typos) represent sounds far outside human capacity. Indeed, there are apparently 20 or so different Galactic languages partly because no one could be pronounceable for all sapient races, even when they're designed to pronounce at least a few. (The fact that only 2, 3, 6, 7, and 12 are really ever mentioned among species that have mouth parts as diverse as the Human tongue, Qheuen's five speech-vents, and Traeki's rumbling sap rings implies that whoever's using the unheard codes must be REALLY exotic.)
The Unreveal: Egregiously in Heaven's Reach, where at least three instances of words to the effect of "Now, the real reason why Streaker's discovery has the galaxy in such turmoil is —" are interrupted by urgent action. Particularly frustrating because the last one or two come after a semi-plausible explanation: (the Embrace of Tides is a lie, blah blah dross yada yada) has already been confirmed, suggesting tantalizingly that this is not the whole story after all. And indeed, it is far from clear how knowing the exact whereabouts of the Shallow Cluster would help anyone decide whether the Embrace of Tides is valid or not...)
Uplifted Animal: Trope Namer. This is the standard (and according to most Galactics, the only) way intelligent, non-machine life comes into being. Galactic society is structured around mulit-species "clans" and the status gained from uplifting clients.
Takkata-Jim in Startide Rising. His entire betrayal was all to save Streaker and the crew, and get them home to Earth.
At the end of Sundiver, Helene figures out Pring Culla's reasons for sabotaging Sundiver: he was part of a long-term plot to free his species from a very harsh client indenture, and was trying to protect Earthclan by making them look like harmless fools, so other races would ignore them instead of trying to kill them.
In the Uplift Storm trilogy, the Rothen invasion of Jijo turns out to be caused by Lieutenant Tish't, a Danikenite who believes the Rothen are humanity's patrons. She secretly told them Streaker's location and heading, believing they'd help the ship get home safely.
The Galactics have nothing but contempt for the Earthling concept of the mathematical continuum, and thus for any science not based on discrete mathematics.
The discovery that every sapient species in the universe was uplifted turns the Ancient Astronauts hypothesis into conventional wisdom and changes the idea that humans merely evolved sapience into a crazy fringe theory.
However, the second trilogy explicitly throws that out the window. It turns out there have been a number of wolfling species; they're rare but not impossible. In the end, they all get destroyed by galactics, and it turns out that's by design. Then it turns out that Galactic contempt for wolfling science and mathematics is also by design and for the same reason... so Transcendent races can keep relatively primitive galactic Patron clans under control.
Wounded Gazelle Gambit: When his dolphin crewmates revert to Primal in a moment of panic, Toshio plays on their tendency to coddle him by pretending to be drowning, reasoning that if they think of him as a child they'll drop everything to try and save him.
Xenofiction: Many alien viewpoints with an emphasis on how their biology colours their thinking. such as a Tymbrimi being able to perceive emotions or traeki having trouble experiencing things in real time.