Lynn: Greta Gustafsen Stuart is the Duchess of Halifax and Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy. Since the age of 5 she has lived in one of the Prefectures controlled by the UN and Talis, the AI controlling Earth. Greta is the future ruler of a superpower. She is also a hostage. Should her mother, the Queen, go to war with another country, Greta, and the child of the opponent, will be killed.
This is the premise of Erin Bow’s fascinating new book, The Scorpion Rules (Sept. 2015). It is set in a future Earth that had been ravaged by climate change, drought, starvation, disease, and a series of wars. Talis, the AI the UN had put in charge of “conflict abatement,” took over.
“I saw the plague pits, I saw the starving armies, and eventually I . . .
Well, it was my job wasn’t it? I saved you.
I started by blowing up cities.”
All of which led to Talis’s first rule of stopping wars: make it personal. And now, 400 years later, Greta is a seventh-generation hostage who knows what to expect and how to behave. If she can survive until her 18th birthday, she will live. In the meantime, she and her small cohort study, work on the farm to produce their own food, and keep a tight hold on their thoughts, fears and dreams. Into this rigidly controlled world comes a new hostage, Elian, who doesn’t know the rules. He fights back and attempts to escape, bringing punishment down on the others. What is worse, though, is that his country and Greta’s are on the brink of war.
What price should be paid to preserve humanity?
Bow writes brilliantly in this highly charged series opener. She does so many things well, from vividly sensory world-building to a tightly structured plot that doesn’t quit. The characters really shine and their voices are richly drawn and immediate, including Greta, the natural leader, with her calm dignity and scholarship; the brash, impulsive Elian; and the loyal Xie. Almost stealing the show, though, is the AI, Talis, whose slangy dark humor is a mind-jarring contrast to his utterly ruthless actions. “By city number seven—Fresno, because no one’s going to miss that—I had everyone’s attention.”
And aside from the sheer, gripping power of the story, Bow provides readers with a LOT to think about with themes and questions that settle in for the long haul. What price should be paid to preserve humanity? What defines “human” and can an artificial intelligence meet that definition? Could technology achieve something better? What is the nature of love, of war, of friendship? Has humanity abrogated its right to make decisions about our world due to our destructive actions? All of these will resonate with teens looking for an intelligent, gripping book.
Don’t miss this one!
Cindy: Talis is the best AI character since Mimi in David Macinnis Gill’s Black Hole Sun. Perhaps it’s just that I like my AIs with a healthy dose of snark! Humor does help when you are dealing with war and death. Despite some of the familiar dystopian elements, the surprising plot twists will keep readers guessing and turning the pages. I have students waiting to grab my copy out of my hands after I made the “mistake” of telling them about the book I was currently reading. We’ll be playing rock, paper, scissors for it tomorrow. May the odds be ever in your favor. 😉