I started reading David Brin a long time ago – probably with the Uplift series. I liked that, The Postman, The Practice Effect, and a few others. Gradually, though, I began to tire of Brin’s oppressively serious writing. It was intelligent and interesting, but emotionally flat. After Kiln People, I mostly lost track of Brin. This new collection of stories was a chance to go back to an author I once quite liked.
I’m sorry to say that my view hasn’t changed. Brin’s writing remains intelligent, mildly interesting, and emotionally flat. Several of the stories here are acknowledged thought experiments, but almost all of them read as if they were. I found it hard to care what happened, and the self-consciously ‘important’ themes began to wear. There’s very little of the zest that filled The Practice Effect, and less of the drive of The Postman. The only piece that really works as a fully- functioning story is a novella set in the Uplift universe that feels a bit like the second, less-interesting, Uplift trilogy. The rest of the stories read largely as philosophical lectures forced into a poorly-fitting narrative format. A day after finishing the book, very few of the stories stayed in my mind. Unless you’re a serious Brin or Uplift fan, I can’t recommend the collection.
The best stories of the lot include:
- “Insistence of Vision” – an interesting concept (punishment by virtual tagging), though not really a great story.
- “The Tumbledowns of Cleopatra Abyss” – a colony living under the ocean, but still at risk. The most character-driven of the group.
- “An Ever-Reddening Glow” – the consequences of widespread star-drive technology. The only one of the message-driven stories here with much impact, but it fades toward the end.
- “Temptation” – what happened to the dolphins Streaker left behind. This is the most successful story as story – plot, characters, etc., and the most satisfying to Uplift fans.