Infinity's Shore by David Brin
(Orbit, £17.99, 670 pages, hardback. Published 1997; UK paperback due in August 1998.)
For the duration of this review, let's take it as a given that David Brin is a right bastard to his fans. I mean, if you take the Uplift War books to date, only the first (Sundiver) and third (The Uplift War) have any kind of satisfactory resolution. The others all have either temporary resolutions (the dolphin-crewed starship Streaker escaping into the depths of space at the end of Startide Rising), or outright cliffhangers (like the fate of the main characters in their home-built bathysphere at the end of Brightness Reef, severed from their lifeline and about to be eaten by a monster). Infinity's Shore is no different -- yet another devastating cliffhanger, all ends of the plot left awaiting resolution, reader's nerves jangling. Why don't we all do the sensible thing and wait until he's finished the entire story?
The answer to that is because Brin, especially in the Uplift books, is very good, but is also very slow. Between Startide Rising (published in 1983) and The Uplift War, there were four years. Between that book (which mentions the fate of the Streaker only in passing) and Brightness Reef, another eight years elapsed, in which the fate of the Streaker is left to hang. Then, when we do get the next volume in the Uplift War saga, the Streaker is deliberately hidden away off stage for the entire volume. And there is that total cliffhanger ending! What an infuriating author.
A further two years elapsed before we got Infinity's Shore, and only now do we see the Streaker's crew taking the stage once more, to be left hanging by their fingernails (figuratively speaking in most cases, since dolphins do not have fingernails) over a precipice at the close. The only thing that stops me hiring a hitman is that I really want to know what happens next. Fortunately, the third part of this latest trilogy of volumes (and in truth it is, like Lord of the Rings, all one book subdivided for marketing purposes), called Heaven's Reach, is already out in the States, and due here in the UK in August, so the agony of waiting only lasts a little while longer. (And I hear Heaven's Reach has a real honest to goodness ending, praise be to Allah, Jehovah and all the other gods.)
Infinity's Shore picks up directly where Brightness Reef left off, and carries on the tale of the planet Jijo's multi-faceted civilisation. And what a story -- a cast of thousands, changing points of view from dozens of characters, and a lot of action crammed into 670 pages. The book is a difficult one to assimilate, simply because of the multiplicity of viewpoints and the multi-stranded action. This is writing on a large scale, and Brin does make it work extremely well for the most part. There are some sections which seem a bit over-long, or are repetitive, but those are generally the exception rather than the rule. If there is a fault in Brin's writing here, it is that he doesn't quite manage to differentiate the voices of Jijo's many races, to illuminate the various mindsets at work within this renegade society. It's not a major fault, though, set alongside the vast sweep of Brin's imagination, and the tumultuous activity within the novel. If he carries through with the story in Heaven's Reach, and pulls off a satisfactory conclusion to the whole sequence, then the Uplift War series will deserve to be racked alongside Dune and the other great epic SF works of the past. Maybe then, all that waiting will have been worth it.
Elsewhere in infinity plus:
Let us know what you think of infinity plus - e-mail us at:
support this site - buy books through these links:
top of page
[ home page | fiction | non-fiction & reviews archive | other stuff | A to Z ]
[ infinity plus bookshop | search infinity plus ]
© John D Owen 20 June 1998