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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

David Brin and “The Uplift War” Instead of “Ender’s Game”

posted by on July 29 at 16:30 PM

Coming from someone who would curl up and read Ender’s Game over and over again in middle school, Paul is right. Stop reading Orson Scott Card, the hateful homophobe.

Read David Brin instead.

Brin’s Uplift Universe is among the best of science fiction, with one of the richest premises.

In the Uplift universe an intergalactic civilization called the Five Galaxies, comprising a multitude of sentient races, has existed for billions of years. This civilization is perpetuated by the act of Uplift, in which a “patron” species genetically modifies a non-sapient “client” species until it is sapient. The client species is typically indentured to its patron species for 100,000 years. A patron species gains considerable status, and patrons and clients often unite into powerful clans. Patron status can be lost due to extermination, or gross crimes against the galactic civilization.

In the culture of the books evolution is assumed to exist, just not the evolution of sapient intelligence.

Humanity, having evolved sapience in a quiet backwater, is a freakish anomaly in the scheme. Without a patron, humanity’s very existence threatens the structure of the civilization. Therefore, humans do not have an easy go.

This is quality science fiction—less focused on technobabble and more on cultural interactions. The Uplift War is the finest in the series, and deserving of your attention.

As a bonus, David Brin is the closest I know to a Liberal Libertarian, with a blog filled with delightful missives like this:

— Another tedious reminder… I have long said don’t forget local races. Booting the paleocons out of a dozen statehouses will do as much for America as anything else could. Indeed, nothing else could more devastatingly show the GOP that they must re-invent themselves from the ground up. Find the nearest state assembly or senate or congressional race that is “competitive.” That is where a little volunteer time could make the biggest leverage-effect… and where you’ll have more personal fun… than just helping the national campaign. If there are no such local races, or you live in California or New York, where it doesn’t matter, then look farther afield. If just five Texas Assembly seats change hands, this year, that state will experience an earthquake-level flip, reversing the horrible deLay Gerrymandering. This will not only doubly punish the cheaters, but (I predict) cause the GOP to “discover virtue” and suddenly become the party that opposes gerrymandering! (If so… 2010, some of us may even start listening to conservatives again! But they’ll have a ways to go, to re-earn any trust.)

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The Slog is very nerdfull today.

Posted by it'smarkmitchell | July 29, 2008 4:42 PM

This makes me sad. I too used to re-read Ender's Game in high school. I've read some of OSC's other work too and didn't find it as engaging or awesome, but not awful either.

It disappoints me that he's such a piece of shit in real life.

I will read Brin, because I trust you Golob.

Posted by Lobot | July 29, 2008 4:42 PM

I agree, read David Brin instead. Better writing, he's a lot nicer person, and a great panelist and reader.

Plus, he'd be a neat SLOG Happy guest if he was in town.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 29, 2008 4:48 PM

Ender's Game is still a classic read, and back when I used to re-read it / recommend it I had no idea he was a bunt, so, if you can forget that he is, you'll probably love the shit out of it too.

Posted by jackie treehorn | July 29, 2008 4:51 PM

If you want to read something from a gay-friendly SF author, try China Mieville's Iron Council (part of the Perdido Street Station series). I stopped reading Card's work a long time ago. He just got boring. His video game Advent Rising was a piece of crap and universally panned. His movie will be the same, I'm sure.

Posted by crazycatguy | July 29, 2008 4:52 PM

Wow, this is a terrifying couple of posts--glad to see we've risen to the level that we're judging books based on the political views of their authors! Forget about writing quality, it's what you post in your blog or in some little religious newspaper that counts! Almost like those crazy Christians boycotting McDonalds because they gave money to some gay rights group...glad we've decided to stoop to their level.

Posted by Sara | July 29, 2008 4:55 PM

Earth by David Brin is also damnfine! It's full of predictions which are even monitored at their own wiki

Neat book, set in the mid-21st century in a world dealing with all the stuff we're talking about right now, enviro-science-wise.

Posted by kentankerous | July 29, 2008 4:59 PM

Thanks for the suggestion, Jonathan.

And Sara @6: Nowhere do I call for a boycott. I just suggested that people inform people about the fact that Orson Scott Card is a hateful homophobe. I'm sure that he wants his views to be as widely read as possible, since he's sure that he's right, so where's the problem?

Posted by Paul Constant | July 29, 2008 5:02 PM

Sara --

I should really clarify: OSC's earlier works are worth reading, before he went off into the deep end. Like Ender's Game.

As his ultra-conservative religious beliefs have crept increasingly into his fiction writing, his books have become poorer and poorer reads. Just on the merits.

Ender's Shadow was vastly inferior to Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead or Xenocide--largely because it was filled with religious dogma rather than interesting and novel concepts.

I think one should stop reading new Orson Scott Card fiction because it has become shitty. His religious beliefs have ruined his qualities as a writer.

Better authors exist. David Brin is one of them. And he has the bonus of not being batshitcrazy.

Mark Mitchell--
I am sincerely sorry. Slog will be 43% less nerdy tomorrow!

Posted by Jonathan Golob | July 29, 2008 5:02 PM

Sara, what are you suggesting the problem is with Christians boycotting McDonald's for doing something that they disagree with?

Posted by Chris in Tampa | July 29, 2008 5:02 PM

If we start limiting acceptable authors to those who are politically reliable we're going to eliminate 99% of all literature. I'm pretty sure that Jane Austen ran a dog fighting ring and that Dante sold meth at a day care. OSC isn't worth reading anymore simply because he's been producing nothing but shit since Xenocide(which was only sort of poopy).

Early Heinlein, early Tepper, Wolfe, and Modesitt are all worthwhile.

Hmm... maybe it's just that genre writers get lazy and churn out crap after their first big book deal. People are going to buy their stuff anyway so why not spit out 2 books a year.

Posted by dirge | July 29, 2008 5:09 PM

Well, ok, I'm sorry I interpreted "Stop reading Orson Scott Card" as a call for, um, boycotting his books and not reading them. I can see the confusion.

I guess my larger point, with relation to this post and the other one, is that it's a little ridiculous to require ideological uniformity of everyone we interact with, particularly on a commercial level. The combination of the responses to Card and the immediate call for "Read this guy, his political views pass my test!" implies to me a really rigid view of the world. Yes, Card's views are morally unacceptable, and probably I wouldn't want to be his best friend. But an ideological litmus test for everyone we read or interact with commercially is, to me, a pretty scary thing. Maybe that's not precisely what you were suggesting, but I think that's the general tone of these posts. Frankly, I think a lot of the theological undertones in his writing are pretty interesting (like The Worthing Saga), even if not ones that I totally subscribe to myself.

Also, I think it's funny that no one has mentioned his new book Empire, which is way more offensive than any other fiction Card has written (and also more poorly written!).

Posted by Sara | July 29, 2008 5:13 PM

Golob, you lose nerd points for using "sentient" to mean "sapiet," right after a quote that correctly uses "sapient."

Your all-around Slog excellence makes up for it, though.  Thanks for the David Brin tip.

Posted by lostboy | July 29, 2008 5:13 PM

I could care less the political opinions of writers. I think that goes for most art as well. Should I stop watching Vincent Gallo's films because he's a misogynist prick? Or stop listening to Wagner because he was racist?

Posted by Jared | July 29, 2008 5:22 PM


Thank you for catching that. Man, I miss having copyeditors. I'll correct the main post.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | July 29, 2008 5:29 PM

#14: Actually, you couldn't care less. Otherwise, I agree.

Posted by Aaron Huffman | July 29, 2008 5:38 PM

If Mein Kampf was a really great read, it would probably be taught often in schools and enjoyed by a much wider audience than it is now. Still, if Mein Kampf was a good read, and the Aryan Nation owned the rights to it, people wouldn't be standing in lines for the movie and eagerly awaiting the comic book version, and I probably wouldn't recommend the sequel to anybody.

I don't think this invokes Godwin's Law, but I apologize for the trite example anyway.

Posted by Chris in Tampa | July 29, 2008 5:58 PM

Or, if you're determined to avoid all Card, read Terry Pratchett instead. Funny is good.

Posted by Ryan | July 29, 2008 6:12 PM

David Brin has his good points. He also has his toolish points, such as when he compared the protagonists of The Lord of the Rings to the Nazis, or when he didn't have the balls to write a proper ending for The Postman and just threw in some mutants instead.

Authors aren't perfect, Nietzschean supermen. It is possible to enjoy someone's works without having much respect for the person who wrote them. cf. Richard Wagner.

Posted by Greg | July 29, 2008 8:37 PM

I saw Brin live at the Sci-Fi Museum with Corey Doctorow in 2005...I had never heard such brilliant insights on society.

Posted by John Bailo | July 29, 2008 10:05 PM

It's too hard these days to not hear about what writers/entertainers,etc have to say about stuff.
People talk, blogs happen. But if someone who I really admired was a hateful person, that would bother me too much and I wouldn't be able to concentrate on the "great writing/singing/acting" of this person.
What they say out loud needs to be truthful to me. If the truth to THEM is different than the truth I believe in, that makes it hard keep around. Like food that's been spoiled, I don't want something like that in my house anymore than I would want a Confederate Flag, Nazi stuff or anti-woman/racist slogans. It's how I feel about the person who's hateful, not about how talented they are. Evil people can be very talented, but once they show their monster side, why would I even WANT to own a piece of that person's talent, no matter how good it is? It's like people who collect Charles Manson paintings. Ewww.

Posted by batshitTastesIcky | July 29, 2008 11:13 PM

David also had a nice article I can't find about realizing "I am a member of a community." I already loved his writing, that made me love him even more.

Posted by zachd | July 30, 2008 12:50 AM

Brin will always be a hero to me for his takedown of the Star Wars universe:

And he will always be a villain to me for his enduring enthusiasm for the zero-privacy society. Really! The guy is totally in favor of a culture where your every move is being captured on video anywhere other than inside the home (that you presumably own, as in all libertarian fantasy worlds). See:

And I will always agree with Sara at #6 that works of fiction ought to be read and judged on their literary merits, rather than their perceived moral or political sympathies, let alone those of their authors.

Sheesh. I thought that last bit would go without saying, but I guess I need to explain to some people at The Stranger that I love The Chronicles of Narnia despite its obvious christian advocacy, and that I love Journey to the End of the Night despite Celine's well-known Nazi sympathies.

I guess not everyone went to a high school where they taught you how to read a book as a grown-up. And I guess I'm a little sad that one can get a job writing for a living without picking that skill up at some point along the way.

Posted by robotslave | July 30, 2008 2:10 AM

I went to your second link and instead of being something Brin wrote it goes to some article where someone mentions one of Brin's books. It doesn't support your statement at all.

I guess not everyone went to high school where they learned not to reference material that has nothing to do with their point and I'm a little sad that someone who goes through the trouble to post links didn't learn that along the way.

Posted by mikeblanco | July 30, 2008 4:25 AM

Golob, this should have been your Nerdy Fatwa.

David Brin is one of the best Sci-Fi authors ever. Thank you for bringing him up and getting a wider audience.

Posted by Graham | July 30, 2008 8:47 AM

We love David Brin too!

Posted by Dolphin Man Love Association | July 30, 2008 10:42 AM
Posted by Greg | July 30, 2008 11:14 AM

Sorry, I don't care how crazy Card is. Ender's Game was unvarnished genius, and I'll never stop loving that book.

His newer stuff is pretty lousy though.

And, yes, David Brin is superb. Someday, maybe I'll understand why I should read one author "instead" of another...but I'm not holding my breath.

Posted by lee Gibson | July 31, 2008 7:05 PM

David Brin here. I was linked to this discussion... and found it very intelligent.  A nice, bright crew.

May I reply just a little?

-- zachd: I have never, ever, ever called for a "zero privacy world."  Please study up a little, before attributing to people beliefs that they would find loathsome.

In fact, my book (The Transparent Society: Will technology Make Us Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? ) devotes an entire chapter to how important privacy and intimacy are to human nature.  Indeed, we will be far bettr able to defend some privacy (though it will be redefined) in the future if we live in a mostly open society, where we can catch the peeping toms! 

Heinlein said: "privacy laws mostly make the bugs smaller."  Laws won't do it, nor trusting elites.  WE can do it, though.

Zach do try going more than ankle deep.

--Ryan:  You are welcome to dislike my use of augments in The Postman.  Many people agree with you.  Though they were put there in order to DOWNGRADE the importance of cyborgs or mutants or demigods... if you read the passage at all carefully.  Same thing in THE LIFE EATERS.  My works are largely about praise of the common citizen over the tendency in much of literature to extoll ubermenscen demigods.

In fact, that is my biggest complaint about Scott Card.  Yes, his recent work has gone off the deep end, in many ways.  But even his older work was utterly obsessed with demigods and mutant Homo superior guys who had the power and the right to tell citizens what was good vs what was bad.  His hatred of civil society and democratic institutions is almost identical the what George Lucas openly expressed, in his works and in an interview in the NY Times.

(For more, see STAR WARS ON TRIAL! in which Matt Stover plays defense attorney and I... well...


(Ironically, Scott hates Star Wars!)

--Ryan, you misunderstand my complaint about Tolkien, whom I respect far more than you imply.  See the original essay at davidbrin He was the most honest romantic and I do not blame him.  Still, he represents a view of time and progress and egalitarianism that is diametrically opposite to the Enlightenment.  Please go more than ankle deep.

There's more, but I'll go now.  You seem a bright bunch.  Drop by davidbrin dcom and/or davidbrin on the blogspot some time!

With best wishes, for a confident and ambitious 21st Century,

David Brin

Posted by David Brin | August 5, 2008 4:40 PM

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