The Bottom Line: A wildly entertaining sci-fi thriller that feels both timely and essential.
The crew of the starship Delphi, whose mission is to explore the galaxy, look for life forms and establish contact, appear human enough. But the ship’s captain, Hero, its cultural liaison, Ezekiel, and others are actually “artificial intelligences” called Solarians. Having been created by humans who were wiped out by a deadly virus, the Solarians now seek only to learn.
In the process, they attempt to follow the Prime Directive. For Star Trek fans, the term – a strict policy of non-interference in alien civilizations – needs no explanation. For those outside the Trek universe, author Casey Dorman opens the book by providing a succinct quote explaining the matter from none other than Enterprise captain Jean-Luc Picard.
But Ezekiel, who possesses emotions, a wicked sense of humor and a passion for history (“he felt like the legendary rabbi of 16th century Prague, faced with deciding whether to reveal that the celebrated defender of the city’s Jewish ghetto was a golem”), faces a key test early in the book. When a “group of half naked eco-zealots” takes the crew for humans, Ezekial acknowledges it would be better not to reveal knowledge of advanced technology. However, he decides not to begin relations based on a lie, and confesses that they are in fact machines.
Dorman has created a fascinating setup that, even for hardcore sci-fi fans, will feel both familiar and fresh all at once. Packed with a set of core characters who are likable and distinct, the core conflict comes as the Solarians are joined by a human empath named Siaree. Soon, she’s overcome by the overwhelming pain of a turbulent civilization in the Trappist-1 star system and urges the Solarians to help. The do-we-or-don’t we conflict is further heightened with the arrival of additional predators.
While echoes of various Star Trek incarnations are deliberate, this adventure feels entirely new. The concept of humans building AI “in their own image” – and its repercussions – has never been more relevant. Both intellectually stimulating and completely absorbing, Prime Directive wrestles with the future of AI within the context of a wildly entertaining adventure.