Friday, April 23, 2010

On the Uplift Series


Jewish date:  9 ’Iyyar 5770 (Parashath ’Aḥare Moth-Qedhoshim).

Today’s holidays:  Day 24 of the ‘Omer (Judaism), Festival of Ridvan (Bahá’í Faith), Feast Days of George and Adalbert (Roman Catholicism), Feast Day of St. Susan DeLucci (Church of the SubGenius), Feast Day of St. George (Greek Orthodox Christianity), Feast of Sir Richard Payne Knight (Thelema).

This is a photo of David Brin.Image of the guy responsible for the Uplift Series via Wikipedia
Topic 1:  Continuing on the topic of catching up on reporting on my readings and watchings relevant to this blog, I recently finished reading the Uplift Series by David Brin.  (A bibliography follows my description and commentary.)  Please forgive your humble if the description presented below is somewhat disorganized.  The major themes are woven together tightly, and trying to present them in a linear form feels rather like trying to make sense of knotted yarn.


The Uplift Series is a series of science-fiction stories in which the Five Galaxies (including our own Milky Way), have been dominated by a multi-species civilization of oxygen-breathing sentient beings reaching back over two billion years.  The way things normally work is that promising nonsentient species are modified into sentient beings (“uplifted”) by existing sentient species.  The uplifted client species then serves their patrons for 100,000 years and may afterwards go on to uplift other species themselves.  Successful uplift of client species is a way of gaining prestige.

Species do not simply continue on as they are indefinitely after being uplifted and uplifting clients of their own.  Eventually they mature sufficiently that they withdraw from general Galactic society and take up residence in fractal variants of Dyson shells and become contemplative.  At some point, they may even “transcend” and leave Galactic society completely.  Explaining what “transcendence” really involves here would risk giving away too much of the plots, but suffice it to say that this information is not available to lesser races and is a subject for their religious speculation.

Tradition has it that the chain of uplift reaches back to a single species known as the Progenitors.  Many rival (often warring) religious traditions have grown up dealing with the Progenitors, often predicting their eventual return or claiming they dwell secretly among the younger civilizations.

Another somewhat religious thread is the Library Institute, which is the repository of all knowledge for the Civilization of the Five Galaxies.  Given the sheer amount of data collected by it in over two billion years detailing the histories of untold numbers of sentient species, it is commonly assumed that practically everything doable has already been recorded by the Library Institute and that further improvement is impossible.  As such, Galactic civilization, while far in advance of human civilization, has stagnated.  Furthermore, there is a tendency to assume that the information in the Library is completely reliable.

Notice the themes of order and tradition.  Both of these are very common in real religions, with traditions being passed down from generation to generation and rules ordering society being prescribed.  Also like most real religions with enough members and existing long enough, the primordial ancestral traditions of Galactic society have bifurcated into a plethora of variations on the same theme, even while all claiming validity within the framework of the original tradition.  Many of the variations have gone ideologically rigid, with adherents too often assuming the correctness of their ideology rather than honestly reexamining it as necessary to make sure it is actually correct.  Also dealt with is the common fault of hypocrisy; many groups ignore inconvenient parts of the tradition or rationalize their way around them, e.g., in dealing with environmental regulations or in warfare.

Humanity does not fit well into the highly-ordered Civilization of the Five Galaxies.  No patron species is known to have uplifted them, yet they have managed to become star-farers on their own.  (This is supposed to be impossible.)  Unlike other “wolfling” species, by the time of first contact, humanity has already uplifted two client species:  chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins.  And rather than assimilate into Galactic society culturally and technology, humanity largely clings to its own ways, persisting even in its own science and mathematics.  All this makes for much of the tension which powers the plots of the series.  While there are oddball species in the Civilization of the Five Galaxies, humanity violates the rules to the breaking point.  Having clients is the only thing which really prevents humanity from being wiped out immediately by aliens trying to avoid embarrassment, even though chimpanzees and dolphins are given freedom and legal rights that no other client species have.  Much of the plots, indeed, revolve around war against humanity.  Unfortunately, intolerance (as opposed to mere lack of acceptance) for those who do not fit into the system is all too common in real religions.  This is found in two forms:  built-in (as in Islam) and hypocritical (as happens periodically among members of other real religions).  Such intolerance is based on the logical fallacies of appeal to force, that squelching the opposition actually wins the argument, and wishful thinking.  Let us take these stories as a reminder of what not to do.

  • Aficionado
  • Brin, David. 1980. Sundiver, Uplift Series, book 1. New York: Bantam Books.
  • ———. 1983. Startide rising, Uplift Series, book 2. New York: Bantam Books.
  • ———. 1995. The uplift war, The Uplift Series, book 3. New York: Bantam Books. Original edition, New York:  Bantam Books, 1987.
  • ———. 1996. Brightness reef. Bantam mass market ed, The Uplift Series, book 4; Book one of a New uplift trilogy. New York: Bantam Books. Original edition, New York:  Bantam Books, 1995.
  • ———. 1997. Infinity’s shore. Bantam paperback ed, The Uplift Series, book 5; Book two of a New uplift trilogy. New York: Bantam Books.
  • ———. 1999. Heaven’s reach. Bantam paperback ed, The Uplift Series, book 6; The Final book of the New uplift trilogy. New York: Bantam Books. Original edition, New York:  Bantam Books, 1998.
  • Temptation
  • Brin, David, and Kevin Lenagh. 2002. Contacting aliens:  an illustrated guide to David Brin’s uplift universe. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Topic 2:  “Video: Is the Western Wall in Israel? - HR Interviews 'Confused' Tourists”.  Just a demonstration that the United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority is backing an idea which does not reflect the socio-political reality that Jerusalem is part of Israel.

Topic 3:  For today’s religious humor:  “Umm, scuse but befoo yoo go to light at end of”:
funny pictures of cats with captions

Peace and Shabbath shalom.

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