A sequel of sorts to Startide Rising, The Uplift War continues the story of Earthlings under siege in a galaxy of ancient, hierarchical aliens.
In Startide Rising we learned about a dolphin-crewed ship under attack after a major discovery. Here, we see the Earth-leased colony of Garth under siege by a group of bird aliens called the Gubru who want to hold the planet hostage to exhange for the dolphins' information. The central story is more-or-less that simple, but there are several intertwining subplots that Brin juggles throughout. Garth is a planet with a large neo-chimpanzee population, and we learn about the intricacies of chimp uplift, including the controversial eugenics program enforced against them. We see the development of a guerilla resistance (or gorilla resistance - ha!). We watch the complex triumvirate marriage that leads the Gubru, and we finally get to meet the prankster Tymbini, humanity's closest allies. We also discover information about the mysterious Garthlings on the ecologically devastated world - and it's here that Brin presents his best twists, especially after I initially feared that he was repeating a subplot from the previous Uplift novel. Brin also works to add more romance this time around, and we get two love triangles: one chimp, and one human/alien.
It's a very fun novel that works on a lot of the same levels as Startide Rising (one of my favorite Hugo winners so far). It's well-written and thoughtful. There's some solid speculative science, nice details and highly likable characters. And, it's fast-paced and action-packed. It also shares a lot of the earlier novel's flaws - a reliance on contrivance and deus ex machina to resolve all plot issues being the worst - and those flaws felt magnified here for a few reasons. This is the third Uplift novel, and my willingness to ignore the issues diminishes each go around - not to mention that I found neo-chimp culture far less interesting than neo-doplhin culture. And, this novel is two hundred pages longer. It feels appropriately epic for it's 600+ page length, but it doesn't feel more epic than the shorter Startide Rising...
I'd still give the Uplift books a big thumbs up overall, but if you only want to read one (and I do think they would work okay independently), I'd recommend the second. When I finish this award-winning novel project, I think the second set of Uplift books (which struck out at the awards) will be high on my "to read" list.