A Book Set On A Different Planet

Sundiver, by David Brin, was first published in 1980. It is the first book in the Uplift series.

The first sentence is: “‘Makakai, are you ready?’


It’s 2246. Jacob Demwa is working with a research team, studying intelligence in dolphins, when one of his colleagues informs him that he received a message from a Kanten named Fagin.

Jacob considers ignoring his friend’s call. There had been times when Fagin had called just to say hello, or to ask about the dolphins, and there had been times when a call from Fagin had resulted in trouble.

Jacob returns Fagin’s call. Fagin invites Jacob to “a small and amicable meeting with some worthy beings of diverse species” to discuss a problem of a purely intellectual nature. Fagin is vague on the details.

Jacob is skeptical, but doesn’t want to disappoint his old friend. He says goodbye to Makakai, the uplifted dolphin, and leaves for the meeting. Jacob drives to Tijuana, one of Earth’s many Extraterrestrial Reserves, established to control the influx of E.T. refugees.

Earth is in the middle of a conflict of belief. It has been discovered that the universe is populated by multiple species of beings who have been “uplifted” (given sapience) by other species of beings. On Earth, there are humans who believe that humanity is unique, and had evolved on its own, as Charles Darwin had written in On the Origin of Species. These believers are known as “Skins” and show their affiliation by wearing “caveman” attire. There are other humans, known as “Shirts”, who believe that there must be a species out there that uplifted humanity, as Erich von Däniken had written in Chariots of the Gods. Although he tends to remain neutral, Jacob Demwa is a Shirt. In fact, Jacob works for the Center for Uplift, which has been uplifting dolphins and chimpanzees.

Among the humans and E.T.s at Fagin’s meeting is Doctor Dwayne Kepler, of the Sundiver Expedition. Jacob had heard of Sundiver, a team based on Mercury, researching the Sun by sending humans into the solar chromosphere in specially designed ships. Jacob learns the reason he’s at the meeting: Fagin has recommended him for the Sundiver Expedition. (But, Jacob wonders, why would a parapsychologist be needed to study the Sun?)

There is evidence that the Sun may be “haunted”. That’s why Jacob is needed. Soon, Jacob Demwa is a passenger on a ship heading to Mercury.

There are many questions: Are these sightings actual beings, or merely optical illusions? If they are beings, are they intelligent? If they are intelligent beings, are they the patron species that uplifted humans? If they are humanity’s patron species, why don’t humans remember them?

For the majority of the book, at least eighty percent of the 799 ePage eBook, Jacob Demwa is stationed on the planet Mercury, along with a team of humans, E.T.s, and an uplifted chimpanzee, working toward solving the mystery of the Ghosts in the Sun. It eventually becomes another mystery, involving the death of a Sundiver crew member. There is more to this novel than just those two mysteries – there is a lot more. It took me weeks to read it.

Sundiver is a long and complex book, full of ideas and thoughts. It introduces us to multiple extraterrestrial species, their histories, and their societal norms. Being the first in a series, Sundiver spends a lot of time building a new universe.

Sundiver is a story of science fiction, with some hard science. I don’t know if the curved mirrored surface of the Sundiver ships, with their refrigerator lasers, would actually work, but the book convinced me that it could. (Still the overall technology felt dated, with computers controlled by dials, and computations read on paper printouts.)

It’s also a story of political intrigue.

I enjoyed it a lot.

Why I chose this book:

I stopped reading through a list of “books set on a different planet” as soon as I saw the name David Brin. A few months ago, my friends Kelly and Louie asked me to read Kiln People, by David Brin. I loved the book, and I was excited to read another book by this author.