The starship Streaker, crewed mostly by dolphins, has discovered what may be evidence of the race that started the whole cycle of uplift throughout the galaxy. Several other alien species, intercepting Streaker’s message about the discovery to Earth, pursue the ship determined to seize this evidence for their own benefit. Damaged in an encounter with some of these aliens, the Streaker is forced to land on the planet Kithrup. As the ship prepares to flee again, various different alien fleets blockade the planet, their seizing of the vessel only prevented by their battle with each other. And the planet itself also threatens their survival.
This book is a sequel to Sundiver, I was disappointed by the lack of mention of the race discovered on the sun. Surely, that must have had some major impact on Earth. However, this book does lots of things which I really enjoyed. In including viewpoints from several alien races, it fleshed out galactic society and some of the reasons uplift had taken on such a central role. The dolphin crew, particularly the captain Creideiki, are more interesting than their human and simian crew mates largely because the incompleteness of their uplift gives them unique and compelling internal conflicts.
Uplift as portrayed here raised a lot of ethical questions for me. For example, it is only certain species of dolphin that are being uplifted. What ultimately happens to the stock that don’t make the grade? Are there going to be unaltered stock left in the wild? What relation have they to their sentient kin? At what point does a neo-dolphin cease to be a dolphin at all? You have to be willing to not worry too much about these questions to enjoy the book. Why should the natives of Kithrup be candidates for uplift on a par with dolphins or chimps when the former can build their huts and use weapons.
Also there are a lot of viewpoints, so if you prefer a small number of points of view, this book may not be for you. However, I found the aliens’ perspectives and the insight into their various psychologies captivating. At the beginning of the book the action on the planet seems a bit detached from the orbiting battle but they collide dramatically the tension ramps up. All in all, it was well worth reading.