By Mike Glyer: Dave Dobson’s space opera Daros advanced to the second round of the Self-Published Science Fiction Competition after gaining a high score from Team At Boundary’s Edge. What does Team File 770 say? As one the judges, I say I like it a lot, too.
On the way to the planet Daros with a cargo of trade goods, sixteen-year-old Brecca Vereen is briefed by her father about a mysterious artifact they’re smuggling to a contact below, one that will earn them a lot of credits. But that plan goes by the boards when they arrive and are fired on by mysterious alien invaders who are attacking the planet. Brecca rescues the illicit artifact and jettisons in a life pod to an uncertain fate below.
Brecca rapidly goes from being a child in danger to a prodigy in charge. It helps that she crosses paths with a hidden alien spaceship which houses an AI named Lyra.
Where Lyra comes from they have worked out a way of balancing an AI’s personal rights with the mission of assisting the beings who invented them. The AI has to be convinced that whatever the being asks them to do is more-or-less a good idea. And while they are deciding, they freely voice their opinions about the reasons offered. It’s a unique visioning of human and AI interactions, and leads to consistently entertaining dialog between Brecca and the AI.
There’s a third important character, Frim, part of the crew aboard the Zeelin flagship. The invading Zeelins are a race of intelligent aliens with one thing in common with Starship Troopers’ Bugs — as soon as they are hatched from eggs they are ready to fulfill whatever job they’re intended for, which might be a position in the crew of a military spaceship. Frim is a born spaceship navigator. But Frim may not be in that job too long, because the Zeelins are committed to giving evolution a helping hand by immediately executing and replacing any worker who’s to blame if things don’t go perfectly.
However, in further contrast to the Bugs, the Zeelins are not entirely a race of villains; some are secretly rebels against the rule of evolution-in-action. Frim becomes one of them.
The book’s point of view alternates between Brecca and Frim, and they each encounter others who help or hinder their goals, which in Brecca’s case is to stay alive, find and rescue her father and other crewmates, and maybe even do something about the invasion with Lyra’s help. Frim also wants to survive, and do something to derail the Zeelin mission – but what? The author advances their stories with a continual stream of inventive developments that he extrapolates in an interesting way. That mysterious artifact plays a part, too.
This is a stand-alone novel and, as I have learned from reading other SPSFC entries, it really helps guarantee that all the major story elements a reader gets hooked into following will have a resolution by the end of the book when the author doesn’t suffer divided loyalties from knowing they are trying to launch a series. Dobson entertains his readers and ties up the important loose ends in this very successful coming-of-age story.