Around the Turn of the Millennium, Brin gained a measure of notoriety among Star Wars fans for printing a blisteringly critical series of essays regarding that universe's philosophies and messages. He and Matt Stover later compiled them into a book called Star Wars on Trial.
Brin is probably the best known of the authors sometimes referred to as "the Killer B's", which also includes Greg Bear and Gregory Benford. The three are often credited with helping to revitalize hard science fiction after the rise of Cyberpunk. They became associated when each wrote one volume of a prequel trilogy to Isaac Asimov's Foundation Series.
Works by David Brin with their own trope pages include
Tropes found in his other works include
- Absent Aliens: A recurring theme; two instances are the short stories "The Crystal Spheres" and "Lungfish".
- Aesoptinum: "The Giving Plague".
- Alien Fair Folk: "Those Eyes" shows the activities of a group of alien beings whose origins are not made explicit, but who are responsible for both fairy legends and UFO sightings, and are struggling to keep their power in a world increasingly full of people who believe in neither.
- Alien Space Bats: Thor Meets Captain America has Nazi Germany essentially winning World War II because they were able to summon the Norse gods to fight on their side. The trope was used to make a point here: this was the most plausible scenario the author could think of that would have the Nazis winning.
- Balloonacy: Discussed in Glory Season; the balloon-like creatures called zoor have enough lift that children can can ride the larger ones by grabbing onto their tentacles.
- Broke Your Arm Punching Out Cthulhu: In "Thor Meets Captain America", a soldier broke the spear by which he ought to have been killed over his knee. The spear belonged to Odin, and his knee didn't really like the treatment.
- Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk: A recurring theme (expressly stated in his nonfiction) is that the choice between Cyberpunk and Post-Cyberpunk depends on whether we try to restrict the benefits of technology to the "proper authorities" or make them available to everyone.
- Evil Versus Evil: Gets a mention in "Thor Meets Captain America." The Nazi gain the upper hand by using genocide as fuel for a necromantic spell to create the Norse gods. The protagonist realises this too late to pass the message on, though he doesn't mind much:Better America and the Last Alliance should go down fighting honorably than even be tempted by this knowledge … to have its will tested by this way out. For if the Allies ever adopted the enemy's methods, there would be nothing left in the soul of humanity to fight for.
- Feudal Future:
- "The Fourth Vocation of George Gustaf" explores the possibility that even in a highly technological society, humans are hard-wired to need royalty. The sentient computer(s) running much of Earth's near-utopian future manipulate George, a highly successful but bored intellectual, into becoming King of Earth by "allowing" him to run a sociological experiment in which he claims to be heir of most of the defunct thrones of Europe and Asia. Then they rewrite the human database with the intention of keeping him on the throne — with no way of proving his original hoax.
- The Postman also features one, due to the US collapsing after a nuclear war, with violent survivalists taking over part of the country as its new feudal overlords.
- Fur Against Fang: The natives of Oxytoxin 41 in The Ancient Ones turn into vampires, werewolves, or zombies when they die, and they're all in constant conflict.
- Gendercide: In Glory Season, a spaceship carrying feminist colonists goes to a far, far away planet in order to create a perfect society. The women are in charge, and whenever one of them finds their 'niche' in society, they clone themselves over and over. There are men left alive, because the scientists knew that if their society was completely stagnant, eventually something would kill them. So, there are the clone children, or "winter children" who are the majority of the population, and then "summer children" who are born when men who have proven themselves useful get to vent their genetically suppressed lusts during the summer. The summer children are also called "variants", and the protagonist's goal through the book is to find her 'niche' and be allowed to have a clone child.
- Ghostapo: "Thor Meets Captain America", later adapted into comic form as The Life-Eaters, has the Nazis murder almost 17 million people as part of a gigantic Necromantic ritual intended to bring the Norse Gods to life, fighting on the side of Hitler. And it works. The author has said this was an attempt to make the Holocaust have some actual sense for the Nazis.
- Humanity Is Advanced: In The Ancient Ones humans invented stardrive and built the interstellar federation, fifty-eight years before they contacted the demmies. Which was apparently long enough for the short-lived species to nickname them "Ancient Ones."
- Humans Are Divided: One of the few tropes about humans that weren't given to the demmies in The Ancient Ones, with the Spertans acting as the Romulans to the Galactic Community humans' Vulcans.
- Lady Land: Glory Season takes place on a planet settled by separatist feminists who have been genetically engineered to have a different reproductive cycle than other humans. On this planet, if a woman conceives a child during the winter, she gives birth to a genetically identical clone of herself; if she conceives during the summer, she gives birth to a child who has genes from both parents. "Clans" of cloned women are the dominant forces in society, while males and non-clone females are marginalized. Interestingly enough, the author avoids portraying the planet as exclusively either a utopia or a dystopia, instead showing both good and bad aspects of the society and its members.
- Living Gasbag: Glory Season has the zoor, flying jellyfish-like creatures which range from twenty meters up. Sailors like to tie ribbons and messages to their tentacles, and the larger ones can lift a child.
- Masquerade Enforcer: The short story Those Eyes has humans being able to kill fairies. Humans that look at fairies with skepticism can utterly disintegrate the fay.
- Powered by a Forsaken Child: In "Thor Meets Captain America", the Nazi Holocaust was an ambitious and successful attempt at industrial-scale necromancy.
- Rule of Fun: He makes it clear that his Star Wars on Trial articles are primarily for fun even if they're written as Serious Business.
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: His views fall firmly on the Enlightenment side, with many criticisms of Romanticism both in fiction and real life.
- Second-Person Narration: "Reality Check", in which you really are the main character. You're supposedly in a Lotus-Eater Machine, and the narration gets increasingly frantic as you fail to snap out of it. A clever experiment in writing, but one that can be easily defused by reading the story backwards.
- Space Elevator: Demmie ships in The Ancient Ones carry a reel of miles-long hose for squirting liquified away teams onto planetary surfaces and sucking them back up later. Their human advisors tend not to be entirely comfortable with being dissolved and reconstituted and would prefer to use the shuttles.
- Throne Made of X: In "Thor Meets Captain America", when the captured Allied team is taken to meet the Norse Mythology deities who rule the Nazis, the god Odin is seated upon an ebony throne — the dark wood a foreshadowing of the dark fate that awaits the team.
- Truly Single Parent: In Glory Season.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: While Earth is set in the year 2040, the book itself was written in 1990. As such, certain plot elements and devices have grown to be more than a bit hit-and-miss, with some of them becoming more likely, while others will never come to pass. Some websites make a point of collating and corroborating these seeming predictions.
- Weird Historical War: The Life-Eaters is premised on the idea that mass human sacrifice can create godlike beings, which the Nazis use to create Nordic gods to fight for them. Then other countries get in on the game, and things get pretty horrible.
- Where No Parody Has Gone Before: The Ancient Ones starts out as something like Star Trek if humanity filled the role of the Vulcans to an even more energetic species called the demmies.
- Wowing Cthulhu: "Thor Meets Captain America". After the Allied team is captured, they are taken before the Norse Mythology deities who rule the Nazis. One of the Free British volunteers defies them and insults them, and is beaten to death by their Nazi captors. Odin orders that the volunteer's body be given full funeral rights and says "We value courage, even in our foes. I want that brave man with me, when Fimbul-Winter blows."