When you imagine humanity’s first contact with an alien, what do you picture? For me, it’s the optimism of classic sci-fi: ethereal beings slowly stretching out long-fingered hands from a glowing ship, a sign of peace and acceptance. Seth Dickinson doesn’t share my vision. In Exordia, his energetic, suspenseful melange of alien invasion and military action, Earth sits squarely in the middle of an intergalactic power struggle. If the aliens don’t get us, our own nuclear fallout might.
Anna Sinjari, a Kurd living in New York City, sees an alien in Central Park, basking on a rock in broad daylight. And Ssrin—the alien—needs her help, having been shot by another faction of beings. For some reason, Anna feels drawn to Ssrin, which is something the alien calls surendure: two souls existing as one. Anna begins to think of Ssrin as a friend, but their new partnership is barely formed when disaster strikes. Will Anna and Ssrin be able to fend off other alien agents and help save the world?
Exordia’s first act is its most successful. Anna and Ssrin’s initial interactions are personal, hilarious and thought-provoking. Once the broader storyline kicks in, however, it can be a struggle to keep up, so impenetrable are some of Dickinson’s ideas. If you are someone who loves a monumental level of specificity when it comes to military command structures or the complex metaphysical value systems of aliens, this is the book for you. Dickinson’s obsession with detail greatly enriches the atmosphere of Exordia, which rockets across many points of view and locations as various team members look for clues to unravel the mystery. But at times, the numerous technical terms and jargon practically wash over the reader.
However, Dickinson has crafted a number of very human stories in a book ostensibly about aliens. Trauma, morality in the face of disaster, forgiveness, guilt, lost love and the bond between parents and children all find their way to the page. Yes, these people are witnessing and trying to survive the craziest moment in the history of Earth, but their connections to one another ring true.
While some may wish it spent as much time with its characters as it does exploring its many fascinating ideas, Exordia is undoubtedly impressive. But there’s no question that it will be many sci-fi fans’ favorite book of the year, especially those willing to surrender to it, and be consumed.