Uplift Universe

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The Uplift Universe is a fictional universe created by American science fiction writer David Brin. A central feature in this universe is the process of biological uplift.

His books which take place in this universe are:

There is also a short story, "Aficionado" [1] (originally titled "Life in the Extreme"), published in 1998, which serves as a prequel to the series as a whole (it also serves as a part of Existence, an unrelated work by Brin), and a novella, Temptation,[2] published in 1999 in Far Horizons, which follows on from Heaven's Reach. He also wrote Contacting Aliens: An Illustrated Guide to David Brin's Uplift Universe, a guidebook about the background of the series.

At least one more Uplift book is planned by Brin, as he has stated in 2012 that Temptation "will be a core element of the next Uplift novel... and answers several unresolved riddles left over from Heaven's Reach."[3]

GURPS Uplift is a sourcebook for a science fiction themed role-playing game based on the Uplift Universe. It includes a few stories that happen in Jijo after the end of Heaven's Reach.


In the Uplift universe an intergalactic civilization called the Five Galaxies, comprising a multitude of sapient races, has existed for billions of years. This civilization is perpetuated by the act of "uplift", in which a "patron" species genetically modifies a pre-sapient "client" species until it is sapient. The client species is typically indentured to its patron species for 100,000 years. A patron species gains considerable status, and patrons and clients often unite into powerful clans. Patron status can be lost due to extermination, or gross crimes against the galactic civilization.

It is generally accepted in this universe that the process of uplift was initiated at least one billion years ago by a species known only as the Progenitors. Humanity is therefore an anomaly – a species with no apparent patron race. Whether humanity truly evolved independently, or whether it was criminally abandoned by an unknown patron early in its uplift, is a topic of fierce debate. Most of humanity believes itself to be a "wolfling" species that emerged into sapience solely through natural evolution, without genetic manipulation by a patron species. This belief is considered heresy and ridiculous by most of the galactic civilization and has made most of the galactic powers enemies of EarthClan. The fact that humanity had already uplifted two species (chimpanzees and bottlenose dolphins) when it encountered the galactic civilization gave humanity patron status, which is one of the few lucky turns it has had in its difficult position as pariah in the galactic civilization. This saved humanity from the likely fate of becoming client to another race through forced adoption or being punitively exterminated for the environmental damage done to the Earth and its native species.

Humanity and its clients are collectively known as EarthClan. Humanity in the Uplift universe is not a dominant nor a technologically advanced species – it is centuries, even millennia, behind the great galactic powers and has several enemies capable of exterminating it entirely.

The civilization of the Five Galaxies has several "Institutes", which are bureaucracies that specify how species deal with each other and the uplift process. One of the most significant of these is the Library Institute, the repository of all knowledge. Humanity prides itself on using the Library as little as possible. For instance, instead of drawing upon the highly refined starship designs available in the Library, humanity tends to develop its own (generally vastly inferior) vessels. Humans feel that this is a way to exercise their own independence and creativity, and it occasionally allows them to find solutions to problems which have in fact surprised more powerful races.

The Institute of Migration determines what planets can be colonized and under what environmental restrictions, primarily to ensure that suitable races can still evolve for later uplift. The Institute also ensures the separation of the hydrogen-breathing and oxygen-breathing orders of sapient life. Other intergalactic institutes regulate the uplift of sapient species, navigation, warfare, etc. Bureaucrats are recruited from all races but are expected to put the interests of their bureau before that of their race and maintain strict neutrality; however, this does not always happen.

The civilization of the Five Galaxies is made up solely of oxygen-breathing species. This civilization is aware of, but by tradition rarely if ever interacts with, the other orders of sapient life, which include those which are hydrogen-breathing, transcendent, mechanical, memetic, and quantum. There is also a special designation for hypothetical orders of life which could also exist but have not been discovered.


Unlike most other races, humans and their clients regard creativity as very desirable – the others take the view that everything useful has already been discovered, so it would be more efficient to search the Galactic Library for whatever they need. EarthClan are also considered odd for using archaic technology in addition to the more advanced Galactic technology, or sometimes preferring primitive technologies that they understand to more advanced ones that they don't yet understand. Most notably, EarthClan utilizes calculus, which is unknown and mistrusted by galactic society. All other races simply apply brute-force, finite-element analysis to any problem due to their ability to apply as much computing power as may be needed to model all phenomena.[4]

Social behavior[edit]

Most Galactic "clans" are rather feudal and sometimes exploitative, and place strong emphasis on etiquette and especially on deferential behavior by members of "subordinate" races towards members of "superior" races. Hence they often regard EarthClan's informal speech as insulting and the humans' egalitarian treatment of their Neo-Chimp and Neo-Dolphin clients as foolish, if not outright offensive.[4]


Most of EarthClan speaks Anglic. Galactics have several specialized languages:[5]

  • Gal One: Purely mathematical and similar to Morse code. Extremely slow.
  • Gal Two: Bridging language.
  • Gal Three: Squeaks and honks. Favored by the Gubru.
  • Gal Four: Sonar based.
  • Gal Five: Grunts and growls. Used by the T'4Lek.
  • Gal Six: Hisses. Synthians and Thennanins.[4]
  • Gal Seven: Tone language. Tymbrimi.
  • Gal Eight: Hoots and honks. Jophur and Rosh.
  • Gal Nine: Chiming, syncopated. Kanten, Linten, Siqul.
  • Gal Ten: Fluting, sonar-like. Brothers of the Night.
  • Gal Eleven: Bridging language. Cautious, often redundant. Used between different Orders of life.
  • Gal Twelve: Throaty, used by the Soro. 2 billion years old.


The following planets feature in the books, from the many thousands of inhabited planets in the setting:

  • Calafia: A water-world inhabited by humans and Neo-Dolphins, currently occupied by the Soro. The name may refer to Calafia, a mythical Black Amazon.
  • Cathrhennlin: A Tymbrimi university world.
  • Deemi: A world leased to humans on the condition that they run the Galactic prison located there. It is bathed in ultraviolet radiation. Most of its biosphere is aquatic.
  • Garth: The main setting of the novel The Uplift War, which depicts its invasion by the Gubru. The planet was leased to EarthClan after its ecology was devastated by the Bururalli species, and is inhabited by humans and Neo-Chimpanzees. Its star is called Gimelhai, and its main city is Port Helenia.
  • Horst: A disaster world, assigned to Humanity less than six generations before the Streaker crisis, and populated by primitivists.
  • Jijo: The main setting of the novels Brightness Reef, Infinity's Shore, and Heaven's Reach. It is a planet orbiting a carbon star in Galaxy 4, illegally inhabited by refugees from ten species: humans, chimpanzees, dolphins, Hoon, G'Kek, Urs, Traeki, Glavers, Qheuen, and Tytlal. It is also used as a refuge by the EarthClan starship Streaker. Brin uses the mix of species to explore commonalities of the sapient experience; for example Hoon Alvin Hph-Wayuo is a humicker, an enthusiast and imitator of human culture.[6]
  • Jophekka: The homeworld of the Jophur, sapient and ambitious sap ring stacks.
  • Juthtath: A Tymbrimi world.
  • Kazzkark: Minor planet, where an important base of the Navigation Institute gathers data from E-Space.
  • Kithrup: The main setting of the novel Startide Rising, where the EarthClan starship Streaker takes refuge from its many pursuers. It is a metal-rich, watery world orbiting the star Kthsemenee. It is inhabited by the pre-sapient Kiqui, and serves as the recuperation home for the psionic Karrank%.
  • NuDawn: A pre-Contact colony (whose name may be a pun with Aurora - New Dawn) where an incident with Hoon inspectors brought Jophur to massacre the human colonists.
  • Oakka: A "green-green" world, where the air is difficult to breathe. There was a Library branch there, but its inhabitants were corrupted and attacked the Streaker in an attempt to capture it.
  • Omnivarium: A world inhabited by birds that mimic any sound, a fact discovered when the birds started mimicking the sounds of explorers performing coitus.
  • Tanith: The location of the nearest full Galactic Library branch near Terra.
  • Urchachka: A very dry planet, homeworld of the Urs.

Alien species and humans[edit]


EarthClan is the name of humanity and their clients (an animal or plant species being uplifted) in David Brin's Uplift Universe. They are named for their combined homeworld Earth.

In the books, humanity is an insignificant race, having no known Patrons (a species responsible for uplifting them) and having mostly primitive technology. Humans have two (confirmed) clients and are referred to formally as "a-Human ul-Chimpanzee ul-Dolphin". However, in being Patrons, humanity has unknowingly protected itself from being forced into becoming a client of an older race.


Humans in the Uplift universe are surprisingly baseline. Advanced augmentative technologies exist, but appear to be too expensive or socially frowned upon to be in widespread use. So, while cybernetics, advanced genetic engineering, and other technology capable of creating trans-humans exists, they are not in widespread use, as very few characters are portrayed using such technologies.


Chimpanzees are the first clients of humans and are the most "complete" in that they are closest to full sapiency. They are Stage 2 clients but almost became Stage 3 when the Gubru invaded Garth.[7] Neo-Chimpanzees like music, specifically percussion. They are embarrassed by situations which remind them of their earlier status as "smart animals", especially about nudity, tree-climbing and above all losing their ability to speak when under stress.[4]


Dolphins are the second clients of humans, and are some of the best pilots in the Five Galaxies because their aquatic origins give them excellent instincts for 3-D maneuvers. They are also important in planetary warfare because most Galactics are unaware of the strategic potential of the sea. Neo-Dolphins are Stage-2 Clients, and recently got their own starship, Streaker (Streaker's discoveries later caused controversy among the oxygen-breathing sapient species). Neo-Dolphins are at a relatively early stage of uplift, and this has several consequences which are important in the plots of the stories: the optimal genetic mix for Neo-Dolphins has not yet been determined, and some of the newer genetic mixes become dangerous to colleagues when under stress; there are significant differences between older and younger Neo-Dolphins, in particular older individuals find it more difficult to speak; and they have to struggle against tendencies to slip into atavistic behaviours such as the "Whale Dream" and rescue fever (which leads them to beach themselves).[4]


Neo-Gorillas were at a very early stage of uplift when the Galactic Uplift Institute ordered humans to halt the process, because they were concerned that humans could not manage so many uplift projects at the same time. Some humans secretly continued the project on the small colony-world of Garth. Neo-Gorillas have some understanding that they are being uplifted, and chose the Thennanin as their "patrons" at a ceremony on Garth. This is politically very important, as the conservative and conscientious Thennanin are a major military power and the Neo-Gorillas' choice converts the Thennanin from enemies to allies of EarthClan. After adoption by the Thennanin, the Neo-Gorillas are termed "Garthlings."[7]


Dogs have been mentioned as a possible client of humanity in several books, but their final adoption has not been confirmed.

Other clans (of aliens)[edit]

The Glaver[edit]

The Glavers are a small race, reptilian in appearance with opalescent skin, their bulbous eyes are independent of each other, and swivel in a way disconcerting to most binocular races. They are primarily quadrupedal with limited bipedal capacity. The Glavers' primary organ of manipulation is their prehensile tail, using its forked end to tackle more subtle tasks. However, the tail is weak in musculature, and so a use remains for the strong forelegs function as rudimentary hands for gripping and manipulation. These are clumsy and unsuited for any task more complicated than grasping a stick or handle and are used to tackle any heavy task the Glaver requires done. Glavers are capable of eating and digesting both plant matter and small insects, but are incapable of digesting meat. As this would indicate, Glavers have no canine teeth. They also lack incisors, relying entirely on crushing food matter between their large molars.

Glavers have been amenable to technological and academic exchange, and have been supportive of growing Terragen involvement in the fields of linguistics and inter-order communication, negotiation and trade. They are a moderate people. Glavers are militarily neutral in the Alliance for Progress.

The Glavers long name is Glavers ab-Tunnuctyur ab-Buyur indicating that they had been uplifted by the Tunnuctyur who in their turn had been uplifted by the Buyur, the last tenants of Jijo. At some point in their past, the glaver species incurred a terrible debt with the Zang, the most powerful of the hydro-species, a debt far too great to pay off with property or service. The cause for the debt is unknown; but the magnitude is well reputed. In payment, the Zang took the only things the glavers had left to offer: themselves. As result, some went the path of redemption and became exiles on the planet Jijo as part in their attempt to repay this debt. They were the third of the exile races to arrive on the planet, but due to their devolvement little of their history is known since this devolution occurred before the arrival of the humans on Jijo.[8]

The Jophur[edit]

The Jophur are a fictional extraterrestrial race in the Uplift Universe. Physically, they are a stack of waxy, living rings. Each ring serves a different purpose, and they connect to each other to form a single being by chemical means via an electrically conductive, sap-like substance that flows down the center to bind the stack together. A "master ring" provides a strong sense of individuality to each stack and enforces this with corrective electrical shocks to non-compliant rings.

The Jophur were originally the traeki, intelligent but often indecisive because of internal debates between the rings that formed each individual. Their patrons, the Poa, asked the Oallie to engineer the traeki further to increase their effectiveness. The Oailie created "master rings", shiny black rings (often described as "silvery") that created a strong sense of self-identity. The newly invigorated Jophur, as the traeki with the new master rings were called, quickly became a strong, vigorous force in the Five Galaxies.

According to various books in the series, most prominently the trilogy that followed the characters of Startide Rising, the Jophur quickly began a genocide and eradicated all but a small group of the original traeki, with the exception of a small "Sooner" group that settled on the planet Jijo in the fourth galaxy. "Sooner" is a term from United States history, and is used in the Uplift stories to describe illegal settlers on worlds that have been declared fallow, i.e. to be left uncolonized so that native intelligences may have a chance to develop naturally. The Jophur became fanatical adherents of one of the galaxy's religious ideologies, and exterminated many races they regarded as "heretics" – including the g'Kek, which also survived only as a "Sooner" group on Jijo.


Kiqui are a pre-sapient amphibious species first discovered on the planet Kithrup by Streaker's crew, who persuade them to be uplifted as clients of the humans. If this goes ahead, the Kiqui would become humanity's first extraterrestrial clients.

Plot outline and major themes[edit]

Ecology and stewardship of genetic diversity are major themes in the Uplift books. Religious orthodoxy and the behavior of static societies are also themes.

The first book in the Uplift series, Sundiver (1980), is essentially a detective story and occurs only decades after humanity's first contact with the Five Galaxies. In this story mankind discovers the sun's inhabitants and a plot to overthrow a patron race. This is the only novel to directly involve Earth.

The second book, Startide Rising (1983), occurs centuries later. It follows the Earthclan amphibious spaceship Streaker (crewed by uplifted dolphins and their human patrons) which has discovered a colossal derelict fleet. Streaker is pursued as rumors spread throughout the Five Galaxies that the ship has found the remains of the Progenitors.

The third book, The Uplift War (1987), occurs around the same time as Startide Rising but in another part of the galaxy. An intergalactic war, sparked by the events of Startide Rising, results in a successful invasion of the EarthClan colony on the planet Garth, heavily populated by uplifted chimps.

In 1995 Brightness Reef was published, the first book in a new Uplift trilogy. The "Uplift Storm" trilogy (excluding the first book, which solely focuses on Jijo) follows the survivors of the spaceship Streaker as they continue to evade the various galactic powers. Along the way they encounter a hidden planet which has been inhabited by six races which have illegally settled and dropped out of the civilization of the Five Galaxies. They eventually make contact with the other orders of life. The second and third books in the new Uplift trilogy are Infinity's Shore and Heaven's Reach.

In Heaven's Reach, the series sums up with conclusions on the nature of life in the universe and revelations on the motivations of the oldest species in the Five Galaxies. Further explanations are provided on the Streaker's continuing mission, Earth's fate after invasion, and the nature of galactic life in the overlapping conspiracies of galactic civilization.

The short story "Aficionado" or "Life in the Extreme" is set earliest of all the currently written work and gives an account of the early days of the human uplift program before Contact. The contents of this story have since been reused as part of the unrelated novel Existence, making its position in the uplift universe uncertain.

The novella Temptation was set just after the ending of Heaven's Reach, and tells what happened to some of the characters from the trilogy after the main story ended.


Below is a summarized timeline for events detailed in the Uplift Universe, which corresponds to the Gregorian Calendar:[9]

Date Event
2212 Contact with Galactic civilization
2246 Sundiver incident
2489 Events of Startide Rising
2492 Post Uplift War

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "DAVID BRIN: Aficionado". www.davidbrin.com. Retrieved Jun 20, 2020.
  2. ^ "DAVID BRIN: Temptation". www.davidbrin.com. Retrieved Jun 20, 2020.
  3. ^ "THE UPLIFT NOVELS". Retrieved 2012-02-28.
  4. ^ a b c d e Brin, D. (1983). Startide Rising. Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-23495-1.
  5. ^ Brin, David; Lenagh, Kevin (2002). Contacting aliens : an illustrated guide to David Brin's uplift universe. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books. pp. 23–24. ISBN 9780553377965.
  6. ^ Brin, David (October 1995). "chapter 1". Brightness Reef. Bantam Books. ISBN 0553100343.
  7. ^ a b Brin, D. (1987). The Uplift War. Phantasia Press. ISBN 0-932096-44-1.
  8. ^ [*Glaver at Alliance for Progress Encyclopedia, encyclopedia of the Uplift Universe
  9. ^ GURPS Uplift, Second edition, p.9 and Contacting Aliens, pp. 7–14

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)