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Sundiver by David Brin
Published by Bantam
Reviewed by Leigh Kimmel
Humanity is not alone, as it discovered to its discomfiture when one of its interstellar missions encountered aliens. To these beings, representatives of a Galactic culture with a history stretching milions of years into the past, Humanity's greatest technological efforts are little more than children's toys. Only one area of research has given humanity a modicum of respect and prevented older and more powerful races from forcibly "adopting" humanity into millennia of forced servitude.
Galactic culture is based upon Uplift, a system by which elder races take promising species and give them full intelligence through genetic and cultural intervention. In return for the gift of full sapience, each client species owes its patrons a hundred thousand years of indenture. By lucky chance humans had been experimenting with genetic enhancements in chimps and dolphins when first contact occurred. By Galactic culture this made humans patrons in their own rights, although many races would dispute that status and take over all three species.
In an effort to improve humanity's precarious standing, a select team of humans is about to embark on a daring mission. Using a combination of human and Galactic technology, a ship has been built to dive into the photosphere, the energetic "atmosphere" that surrounds the Sun. There they have located evidence of life, elusive beings of plasma nourished by powerful magnetic fields. If these beings are intelligent and communication can be established, they may provide information about humanity's mysterious past. Specifically, they may be able to reveal whether humanity once had patrons, and if so, why that race abandoned humans to their own devices before finishing the job.
However, this research threatens powerful interests, and some of them are willing to go to terrible extents to see that humanity is made to look as foolish as possible. Even to the murder of the entire crew of the Sunship if that is what it takes to wreck the mission and ensure that no subsequent ones follow.
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Review posted December 15, 2000
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