Brightness Reef

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Brightness Reef
Brightness Reef Cover.jpg
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
AuthorDavid Brin
CountryUnited States
SeriesUplift Universe
GenreScience fiction
PublisherBantam Books
Publication date
October 1995
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback)
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3552.R4825 B75 1995
Preceded byThe Uplift War 
Followed byInfinity's Shore 

Brightness Reef is a 1995 science fiction novel by American writer David Brin, the fourth book of six set in his Uplift Universe (preceded by The Uplift War and followed by Infinity's Shore). It was nominated for both the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1996.[1]


Starting around the year 930 C.E., and continuing until the 23rd century, Beings of eight patron-class races illegally settle on the planet Jijo. They are called sooners, a term from US history. In the Uplift stories, the term describes those who illegally settle on a world that has been ordered to remain fallow so that the natural ecosystem will recover and native intelligences may have a chance to develop. A world is fallow when it has no lifeforms that are intelligent or originated on another world. The eight races are: g'Keks, Traeki (similar to Jophur), Glavers, Qheuen, Hoon, Tytlal (also known as noor beast), Urs, and Human. By the beginning of the novel, the Glavers have partially regressed to pre-sentient animals and the Tytlal have successfully disguised themselves as wildlife.

The novel begins with the discovery of a badly injured stranger. The stranger is nursed by Sara, daughter of Nelo the Papermaker. The stranger cannot speak and does not seem to recall his origin. While Sara oversees his recovery, the story shifts to her two brothers, Lark and Dwer. Lark is a widely known biologist and a heretic: he preaches a belief that only by becoming extinct can the members of the Six races be redeemed for their ancestors' sin of settling on Jijo. He believes this is best accomplished by forbidding breeding of the races. Dwer is a master hunter who serves the Council of the Six Races by keeping members of all sooner races from going beyond the Slope in an effort to limit the impact they have on the environment of the planet. The other two main characters are the young Hoon adult and keen writer Hph-Wayuo, called by his chosen nickname Alvin, and the traeki High-Sage Asx.

While on a mission for the Council and being followed by an annoying noor called Mudfoot, Dwer encounters a teenage girl, Rety, who was raised in a human tribe living in the forbidden lands beyond the Slope. She is chasing a robotic bird she discovered spying on her tribe's hunting party. Dwer tries to capture her but she escapes and continues tracking the bird. Dwer follows her and they both become ensnared in the domain of a crazy mulc-spider. The spider attempts to capture the two humans and the robot, but is seriously damaged when a second larger robot arrives and shoots down the robotic bird. In the flames and confusion, Dwer and Rety are rescued by Lark.

The robotic bird's origins remain mysterious, but the second robot came from a starship that landed near the Glade of Gathering, a forest clearing where the annual Gathering festival is being held. Several humans emerge from the starship and proclaim themselves servants of the Rothen — the secret patrons of Humanity. The Rothen representatives (also called Daniks) are very secretive about their purpose on Jijo, but they request the assistance of the council of Sages in their exploration of Jijo, and the council provides the assistance in an attempt to discover what the Rothen are hiding. Lark is employed as a biologist to escort the Danik researcher Ling as she surveys Jijo's biosphere.

On the southern coast of the slope, Alvin and his friends Huck (a g'Kek), Pincer-Tip (a qheuen) and Ur-ronn (an urs) receive unexpected assistance from Uriel the smith in completing their summer project: a submarine to explore part of the Midden — an undersea subduction zone that destroys the form of anything placed on it. The Midden is where each of the races on Jijo sunk their starships, and where the races still continue to deposit the bodies of their dead and non-decomposable trash (all of which are called "dross"). In return for her assistance, Uriel requests that Alvin and his friends locate a hidden cache of galactic technology.

Rety recovers from her injuries after the robot firefight and is sent to the Glade of Gathering where the council and a Rothen shuttle reside. When the council concludes that the Rothen may destroy all sooners on Jijo to keep their existence and activities secret, Rety is drafted to help humans from the Slope join her family's illicit colony east of the Rimmers (a local mountain range). Rety, loathing the idea of returning to her impoverished (and abusive) clan, adopts a small male urs (yee) as her 'husband' and together they steal the remains of the robotic bird she tracked from the Sage studying it, and join the Rothen — using the bird as a bartering chip.

Dwer, also recovered, is sent to lead the expedition over the Rimmers without Rety's aid. When the expedition arrives at Rety's tribe, they discover Rety and the Danik pilot Kunn subjugating the human tribe and a recently captured group of urs. Rety and Kuhn are trying to learn the source of the robot bird from the tribesmen who first saw it.

The members of the expedition start to develop a plan to free the urs when Kunn learns the information he sought and departs. He leaves Rety with a robot to protect her until he can return. Using a gun (made without any metal) the expedition members attack the robot and damage it. When the robot fires back, Dwer climbs aboard to damage its weapons pod. He's still on the robot when it begins to retreat; also on the robot is Rety and the noor Mudfoot.

The mute stranger and Sara travel to Biblios — the great library of Jijo — where Ariana Foo, a retired human sage, attempts to discern the stranger's origins. After the stranger recognizes music from Earth, Ariana is convinced he is a member of the galactic Human race.

The stranger and Sara then depart for the Glade, but are ambushed by a pack of urs and wild men. The stranger disables many of the urs using sleep pills and knowledge of the native fauna. After fighting the wild men and the remaining urs, the stranger, Sara, and their companions worry that they won't be able to escape Urrish retribution, as the Urs can travel faster than they. Shortly thereafter, the sound of hooves signals the arrival of women riding horses (thought to be extinct on Jijo) in the company of friendly Urs.

In the Glade, two Rothen depart their ship to greet the denizens of Jijo and ask to participate in a ceremony to see the Holy Egg — a rock-like Jijoian artifact of great religious and spiritual importance to the Six Races. The Rothen also claim they sent the Holy Egg to Jijo to protect Humans by pacifying the other races. This causes immediate fracturing between humans and the other races, but the ceremony continues until a heretic blocks the way and claims the Rothen must leave or the Holy Egg will dispel the Rothen from the planet. The Rothen leader, Ro-kenn says the heretic has no power to stop him, but soon after there is an explosion down slope and the Rothen research station and several Rothen robots are destroyed.

A quick investigation reveals the Holy Egg did nothing — the heretics planted and ignited explosives beneath the shuttle. The second Rothen, Ro-pol, and several Danik servants are dead. In a fit of rage, Ro-kenn points to a fleck in the sky and says it is his ship decelerating from orbit to bring retribution.

In the course of several arguments between the council sages and Ro-kenn it is revealed that the Rothen intended to use the Holy Egg to transmit thoughts of hatred to the participants and turn the Jijoan peoples against one another. Following this realization, the Jijoan militias assault the remaining Galactics and manage to capture Ro-kenn and his remaining Danik servants.

The story ends as Asx witnesses the arrival of a second galactic ship that easily disables the Rothen cruiser. Preparing to negotiate on the behalf of the six, Asx watches in horror as the hatch opens to reveal piled stacks of rings. These are the Jophur, religious fanatics who were engineered from the Traeki. They are enemies of all other races, and have come to Jijo.


  1. ^ "1996 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-17.

External links[edit]

The Uplift series
Sundiver (1980) | Startide Rising (1983) | The Uplift War (1987)
Uplift Storm trilogy
Brightness Reef (1995) | Infinity's Shore (1996) | Heaven's Reach (1998)