Dr. David Brin really ought to stop wasting his time with astrophysics: he's an absolutely gifted writer.
"Startide Rising," although not the first book in his "Uplift" universe, is one of the best. In this story, you'll learn that the civilization of five galaxies is home to many races of aliens, all coexisting along with the grand tradition of Uplift: they believe that no sapient spacefaring species can exist without being "uplifted" by a patron species through genetic manipulation and breeding. In return for the gift of sapience, such a client species owes thousands of years of servitude to their patrons. Mythical progenitors who uplifted themselves started the process millions of years ago.
Enter humanity: stumbling onto this civilization in their first extrasolar spacecraft and with their own genetically advanced chimpanzees and dolphins, they throw the universe into disarray. Most everyone would just as soon have them exterminated than given them any recognition, but are prevented from doing so because of a dolphin-crewed spacecraft's discovery of a fleet of gigantic derelicts that could lead to the secrets of the fabled progenitors.
This is just the backdrop to a grand tale that Brin weaves with deft skill. Brin's characters go deep and have strong motivations and emotions. You'll find yourself thinking like a dolphin as Brin describes their language, their interactions with the human and chimpanzee crewmates, their dreams, and their flaws. They and their crewmates struggle to survive the pursuit of the civilization of the five galaxies, and you'll find yourself unable to put the book down as the story progresses.
The story itself is a rich tapestry: Brin presents the alien pursuers and their client species in brief flashes, making them more sinister. Other alien races that support humans, dolphins, and chimpanzees receive more attention and detail, and make intriguing characters.
But "Startide Rising" isn't only about character development: there's exploration of racial tension, galactic politics, artifical intelligence, spatial phenomena, and romance. This riveting story satisfies and yet leaves the reader hungry for more.
Luckily, there are a few other stories out there set in the Uplift universe. And if we're lucky, there'll be more to come.