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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Did You Die?: Alvin complains about this trope in Brightness Reef.
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.
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 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, the disdain to outright rebellion Stenos feel for regular neo-fins is this.
Fish Out of Temporal Water: Faster-than-light travel, even more than travelling near the speed of light, dramatically slows aging. Galactics generally avoid this trope because their societies change with glacial slowness, but Helene deSilva 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.
Five-Token Band: Parodied, perhaps unintentionally, by the crew of the bathyscape in Brightness Reef, who happen to be five alien children, all different species, one of which doesn't walk, but rolls around on wheels.
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.
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 also claim to be the only species to evolve without uplift.
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.
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.
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 have a tendency 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.
Kill It with Water: Urs are an oxygen-breathing species from a terrestrial planet, but liquid water severely burns them like acid, and they usually can't drink it. Fire, on the other hand, hardly bothers them at all.
Living Gasbag: The Bahtwin were uplifted from a lighter-than-air gasbag species that floated in their homeworld's atmosphere.
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.
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.
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.
Named After Their Planet: Patron races sometimes give such names to their clients: examples include Jophur, Pila, and Pring.
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 ...
Non-Mammal Mammaries: The Tymbrimi female Athaclena accomodates Robert by switching from averting the trope to playing it straight thanks to the biological adaptability of her species. All other cases avert it.
Obstructive Bureaucrat: Entire races of them, most notably the (non-Jijoan) Hoon, who seem to derive their only pleasure from thwarting clients.
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.
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.
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 supposed to be illegal, but nobody bothers to enforce the law.
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.
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.
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 12 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 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.
With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: Episiarchs, though this is more a case of great powers coming from the insanity. Their solipsistic incapacity to accept reality gives them their reality-warping powers, which in turn make them even crazier.