In the Uplift universe an intergalactic civilization called the Five Galaxies, comprising a multitude of sentient races, has existed for billions of years. This civilization is perpetuated by the act of Uplift, in which a "patron" species genetically modifies a non-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 a rare 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 sapiency solely through natural evolution, without genetic manipulation of 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 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 mankind.
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, which is 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 generally feel that this is a way to exercise their own independence and creativity, and it occasionally allows them to find solutions to problems which surprise 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 sentient life. Other intergalactic institutes regulate the uplift of sentient 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 of oxygen-breathing species. This oxygen-breathing civilization is aware of, but by tradition rarely interacts with, the other orders of sapient life, which include hydrogen-breathing, transcendent, mechanical, memetic, and quantum. There is also a designation for Hypothetical orders of life which could also exist.
Originally part of Wikipedia article.