Customer Review

38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Detective Short Story Disguised as an SF Novel, October 1, 2004
This review is from: Sundiver (The Uplift Saga, Book 1) (Mass Market Paperback)
I've just finished Sundiver. A member of our local book club had selected Startide Rising. But I wanted to begin at the beginning. Now having read it, I thought I'd review it because, unlike many reviewers, I haven't read anything else by Brin to color my thinking.

This is a detective story. At first I thought this was going to be a hard SF novel. It's not. For most of the book, we follow the protagonist, Jacob Demwa, as he unravels the mystery is "who killed the intelligent chimp in the sunship" and other related riddles. So while we visit Mercury, the Sun, and an entire universe of Brin's imagined future, the plot rests on a couple of tentpole scenes where the protagonist solves the mystery and accuses the criminal. Brin seems to acknowledge the legacy of this device when he refers to one climactic scene as an "Agatha Christie" turn of events.

It's easy to imagine why Brin, at the beginning of a career, would choose such a device. A detective story is an incredibly sturdy workhorse. The detective story's author can introduce a variety of inventions along the detective's quest for clues. In this case, the inventions are a unique future history, galactic structure, alien races, and hard science fiction. And all these inventions are neatly worked into the mystery and its solving.

Unfortunately, this idea only succeeds if you've got an interesting mystery. As a reader, Brin never really courted me into curiosity or concern. Characters are flat. Events and clues work with the plot in oblique angles. We follow, for example, Jacob Demwa to Mercury and beyond but for a good chunk of the novel, no-one really tells him why he's been invited. Often supporting characters can't divulge plot details or help because of some convolution of the plot, apparently to avoid a premature climax.

In a Sherlock Holmes short story, this is okay. It only takes a few pages for Holmes to amaze us with how neatly he deduces a conclusion. Sundiver moves similarly but, unfortunately, with the onus a couple hundred pages of universe building before things come togethor. Brin keeps his mystery closed to the reader. Brin's clues only function for the plot when the plot jerks forward and villains are unmasked. This makes the mystery solving become something of a Rube Goldberg moment. Everything comes together but not in a way we could have possibly conceived.

There are other, smaller flaws dealing with characters, pacing, and setting. Personally, I was particularly put off by how Demwa was surprised by 20th century anachronisms in some scenes but then found using similar anachronisms in other scenes. It made the character seem half baked.

If Brin had made his central idea work and involved the reader in the solving of the mystery, the novel would have worked, even with a whole universe of ideas in tow. But the mystery is forced. We patiently wait for the solution while we watch Brin build his universe. And because we see the artist at work, the novel doesn't succeed in really transporting into its fiction. There's just not enough momentum.

The good news is that we are left with the foundation which Brin then works to create the (hopefully) superior sequels. As a reader, I can't recommend Sundiver: the rewards just aren't big enough. But as an academic, the underpinnings of the novel and how they both fail and succeed are pretty interesting. And they promise a writer with greater things to come. So despite my disappointment, I'm ready to dig into Startide Rising.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

[Add comment]
Post a comment
To insert a product link use the format: [[ASIN:ASIN product-title]] (What's this?)
Amazon will display this name with all your submissions, including reviews and discussion posts. (Learn more)
This badge will be assigned to you and will appear along with your name.
There was an error. Please try again.
Please see the full guidelines here.

Official Comment

As a representative of this product you can post one Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
The following name and badge will be shown with this comment:
 (edit name)
After clicking the Post button you will be asked to create your public name, which will be shown with all your contributions.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.  Learn more
Otherwise, you can still post a regular comment on this review.

Is this your product?

If you are the author, artist, manufacturer or an official representative of this product, you can post an Official Comment on this review. It will appear immediately below the review wherever it is displayed.   Learn more
System timed out

We were unable to verify whether you represent the product. Please try again later, or retry now. Otherwise you can post a regular comment.

Since you previously posted an Official Comment, this comment will appear in the comment section below. You also have the option to edit your Official Comment.   Learn more
The maximum number of Official Comments have been posted. This comment will appear in the comment section below.   Learn more
Prompts for sign-in


Sort: Oldest first | Newest first
Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 14, 2011 9:06:10 AM PDT
Nathan Denny says:
I just finished this book and agree almost completely with your review. Very well summed up.

Posted on May 11, 2013 11:28:12 AM PDT
Perdition says:
Hey, great review....could you please go on and review Startide Rising??

In reply to an earlier post on May 11, 2013 6:06:46 PM PDT
Thanks! Startide Rising was better but I read it some years ago and couldn't do a good review. Cheers!
‹ Previous 1 Next ›

Review Details


3.4 out of 5 stars (119 customer reviews)
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:
1 star:
Add to cart Add to wishlist

Location: San Leandro, CA

Top Reviewer Ranking: 9,583,383