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Prime Directive

Entry updated 13 November 2019. Tagged: Theme.

Item of Terminology popularized through the original television Star Trek, in which the Prime Directive – also known as Starfleet General Order #1 – prohibits interference with the "normal" development of a planetary or other culture; inevitably this is violated several times in the series and its sequels. Jack Williamson first introduced the term to sf in "With Folded Hands ..." (July 1947 Astounding), but with a meaning far removed from noninterference: his Robots insistently give priority to the final clause of their programmed directive, "To Serve and Obey, And Guard Men from Harm." (see Laws of Robotics). Poul Anderson's "The Live Coward" (June 1956 Astounding) features a secret Prime Directive – so named – forbidding the lawmen of its interstellar Patrol to "kill any intelligent being". In Arthur C Clarke's A Meeting With Medusa (December 1971 Playboy; 1988 chap dos), the human protagonist's First Contact with an alien species on Jupiter is explicitly governed by Prime Directive constraints.

In tales involving Forerunners and their relationship to the species they may have Uplifted, something like a Prime Directive may be evoked, usually to justify the secrecy of their role. Though their secret status is finally divulged to a select few, the Arisians in E E Smith's Lensman sequence (see his entry for dates) do not reveal their true selves, nor the Godgame they are playing with the species they have created, so as not to impose a fatal inferiority complex upon their descendants. Not called so as such, the general principle of noninterference also makes an earlier appearance in Olaf Stapledon's Star Maker (1937), in which "pre-utopian" worlds are "left to work out their own destiny. [...] Great care was taken by the Symbiotic race to keep its existence hidden from the primitives, lest they should lose their independence of mind." [DRL]

see also: Laws.

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