Last weekend, I had a wonderful time at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, TX. One of the most enjoyable authors I heard speak was Erin Bow, author of The Scorpion Rules. Her reading of the prologue was so captivating that I immediately rushed to the book tent to purchase the book and have her sign it. Really- I heard a lot of authors read sections of their books last weekend, and Erin Bow was by far the most most intriguing, most emotive reader of them all. You know how a good audiobook sounds- well, that was Erin Bow. And she couldn't have picked a better way to introduce her book to new readers than through the voice of Talis, the AI overlord that now rules the world.
The Scorpion Rules takes place many generations in the future, after climate change has eliminated the ice caps and disease has ravaged whole populations. When widespread war breaks out, (of course people started shooting, because that's what passes for problem-solving among humans. See, guys, this is why you can't have nice things...) Talis puts a stop to our impending extinction by implementing a system of mutually assured destruction. Then he takes hostages: one beloved child from every leader of every nation.
As he says, Talis's first rule of stopping wars: make it personal.
And so he does. He creates compounds around the globe with the children of all the world leaders. When those leaders fail to peacefully solve their disputes and declare war, their children are killed, the idea being that it is a price they aren't willing to pay. For four hundred years this system has been in place when we meet Greta and her friends, the Children of Peace. When a new general is chosen in part of what used to be the United States, a new hostage is delivered. This is when we begin to see all the dirtier bits of what is required to maintain world peace.
This book was wonderful. It has a strong message about the evils of war and our human (perhaps) inability to maintain peace.
There is a sense in which war is nothing but ritual: the magical change of blood into gold or oil or water.
I love that statement. She goes on to discuss the "morality of altitude" and how bombs dropped from planes allow those dropping them to ignore the loss of life. Talis insists on making it personal. He says,
If you want blood, then I want it all over your hands.
Later he says:
"Back in the day, it was always the children of the poor who fought the wars, always the Nobodies that died when the Somebodies decided that a scrap was worth snarling over. It changed things when the Somebodies got a little skin in the game."
The idea that casualties of war are just numbers on a ticker rather than real lives is barbaric and Talis intends to put a stop to that. While Greta is the main character of this novel, it is Talis's voice that I loved. He is terrible and awful, but also the one who saves us from ourselves. And in a dark, morbid way, he's really funny. Erin Bow does a wonderful job of drawing the reader in and then making that reader completely unsure of right or wrong, up or down.
I really liked this book, but this is why I hate getting in on the beginning of a series. This book was only just released a month ago. Who knows how long I will have to wait for the next installment to find out what happens next. I prefer to wait to the end of a series and then read it all at once. Unfortunately for me, I just couldn't make myself wait. And I really don't think you should wait either.
I'll leave you with the quote that begins the book and explains the title:
"We may be likened to two scorpions in a
bottle, each capable of killing the other, but
only at the risk of his own life."
--J. Robert Oppenheimer,
the scientific director of the Manhattan Project,
which developed the atomic bomb