Erin Bow’s The Scorpion Rules
tells the story of what happens after the singularity. Sometime presumably in the near future, increasingly horrific natural disasters and a series of gruesome wars swiftly reduce the human population at an incredible rate. In order to save humanity from itself, the UN turns to artificial intelligence for a solution. Talis - the AI entrusted to help end the wars - goes about this in an unexpected way. In short order, he destroys several cities and brings the world’s political figures to their knees, installing himself as the leader of the world. Under Talis’ rule, the world returns to a hostage system of ensuring peace. All world leaders must offer up their children to serve as a Child of Peace until the age of 18. If their country goes to war, the child dies. Against this backdrop, we move forward 400 years and pick up the story of Greta Gustafsen Stuart - the destined Queen of the PanPolar Confederation and its current Child of Peace. Greta’s life and future are hurtling toward uncertainty as her country moves toward war.
This had all the trappings of a book I would really enjoy reading. It’s such a solid concept for a good sci fi novel. It just never got there for me, though. I didn’t feel anything for the human characters, not even sympathy and only a tiny bit of interest in what happened to them. I certainly didn’t feel anything for the AI’s - and I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to feel. Scared? Awed? Humored? Not sure. The world building wasn’t there for me either - I couldn’t visualize the prefecture or the new structure of the world, I couldn’t really even picture the characters other than one was Asian and one was farm-boy big. And finally, the plot - for all its promise - fell totally flat. By the end I just wanted to be done. There were so many smaller conflicts that rose and fell with so little importance that by the end I just didn’t care anymore. One or two of those things is forgivable when it comes to sci fi, in my opinion, because I’m reading it for pleasure. But when all of them fail to get off the ground, it’s not fun anymore.
One thing I’ll give it kudos for is a lesbian relationship! That was a surprise, especially given that it’s not so much as hinted at in the book synopsis (hmm...marketing bias?). I thought that was great, we need more diversity in the relationships in YA novels. I went back and forth on how I felt about the Xie-Greta-Elian love triangle because a) I was like wtf Greta stop leading them both on, and b) it was clear that the real fire was with Xie so I was confused by why Elian was even in the mix. But I’ll chalk it up to an exercise in how sexuality is confusing, especially when you’re just coming into your own and trying to figure out what you like.