The basic premise at the beginning of The Delphinus Chronicles is a good, solid and believable piece of sf extrapolation. A supercomputer (known as Simon) in an experiment designed to test a language acquisition program does what computers do best - which is anything but what you expect them to do. Before it can even begin to learn English Simon picks up the stray signals from the noisy neighbours next door and learns their language.
‘So what’, you’re thinking, ‘Simon learns Spanish?’ Well, not exactly, because Simon’s loud-mouthed neighbours are dolphins and, boy, have they got something to tell us!
And, no, it isn’t a request to stop using those damn tuna fishing nets that kill hundreds of dolphins a year. I don’t want to say what they do have to tell us because that would spoil most of the book for you (but it might be something to do with aliens…)
So, the first thing to say here is that I kind of enjoyed The Delphinus Chronicles, in an undemanding and easily readable fashion. RG Roane writes in a simple and familiar style that’s lucid, if occasionally a bit clunky. But the book falls down on two important points: number one is that everything happens too quickly. The themes and ideas aren’t developed to the degree they could and should be. I wanted The Delphinus Chronicles to take some time to engage with the inherent possibilities thrown up by communication with intelligent dolphins, not turn into just another techno-thriller of the week.
David Brin’s massive (and still ongoing!) Uplift sequence features intelligent dolphins too and there they’re a fascinating, integral part of the story. Unfortunately not only are Roane’s dolphins constrained by having to ‘speak’ through printouts from a very impersonal computer interface but we almost never actually see them, so that important sense of communicating with an alien species is sadly lost. The dolphins herein don’t have to be dolphins, they could be cockroaches and we’d never know the difference since there’s no real sense of them being at all…dolphiny. A species is needed to advance the plot, dolphins are chosen and the story moves on. That perhaps sounds a bit harsh, but it really struck me as a wasted opportunity.
The human characters are handled much better than the dolphins, although, again, The Delphinus Chronicles moves too fast and is too short to properly display and develop them, which is a shame because in the time he allows himself Roane does a perfectly serviceable job of presenting his characters.
The second problem is more serious. The basic reasoning behind the story is unbelievable because what the dolphins have to tell us is, frankly, a bit silly. I won’t give away the shock revelation here but if you read the book I think you’ll see what I mean, and this is a shame because while this isn’t a fantastic book it’s not a really bad book, and it shows some genuine talent that warrants further development - and perhaps a little bit of reading about evolutionary theory…