The Scorpion rules, by Erin Bow

The Scorpion rules Book Cover The Scorpion rules
Prisoners of peace #1
Erin Bow
YA, Science fiction
Margaret K. McElderry Books
Sep 22 2015

In the future, the UN has brought back an ancient way to keep the peace. The children of world leaders are held hostage—if a war begins, they pay with their lives.

Greta is the Crown Princess of the Pan Polar Confederacy, a superpower formed of modern-day Canada. She is also a Child of Peace, a hostage held by the de facto ruler of the world, the great Artificial Intelligence, Talis. The hostages are Talis’s strategy to keep the peace: if her country enters a war, Greta dies.

The system has worked for centuries. Parents don’t want to see their children murdered.

Greta will be free if she can make it to her eighteenth birthday. Until then she is prepared to die with dignity, if necessary. But everything changes when Elian arrives at the Precepture. He’s a hostage from a new American alliance, and he defies the machines that control every part of their lives—and is severely punished for it. Greta is furious that Elian has disrupted their quiet, structured world. But slowly, his rebellion opens her eyes to the brutality of the rules they live under, and to the subtle resistance of her companions. And Greta discovers her own quiet power.

Then Elian’s country declares war on Greta’s and invades the prefecture, taking the hostages hostage. Now the great Talis is furious, and coming himself to mete out punishment. Which surely means that Greta and Elian will be killed...unless Greta can think of a way to save them.

The above blurb describes one side of The Scorpion rules.  It fails to describe at least half of the novel I read.   Who's surprised by a YA dystopia anymore? Turns out, I am!

See, there are a lot of belligerent goats.  I like belligerent goats.  Tending them are the children of the world's nation leaders. They are held hostage by the AI who decided this would be part of a system to discourage warfare - now, you have to have a child in order to be allowed ruling power, and that child will be held hostage, so he or she can be the first to die if the parent goes to war.  These are children who know death can come knocking any day.

Humans are, evidently, slow to learn, and warfare still comes out looking necessary in order to gain scarce resources like land and drinking water.  Some of these goat-tenders will die.

You might be wondering, "what about the nearly-genre-required love triangle?!"

...I'll tell you, the ingredients are there, but the cook didn't put them together quite the way one might expect.  I'm an old grump, and I thought this was delightful, so there you go.  Oh, you can slap a "queer"-tag on it too, if that's relevant to you.

Oh, AIs.  Neural uploads, even.  These are some of my favourite things, which probably contributes to my high opinion of this book.

While reading, I was unaware this was a series starter, which warrants two comments:   1) The story wraps up and doesn't leave lots of threads hanging for what will be the next volume, and that is a great service to readers (who may be old grumps fed up with things called "Series starter" when in fact they're more like "One book, part one").    2) I honestly thought this would have to be a stand-alone, given the ending - I thought oh, it'd be amazing to get the story that comes after this,  and then I went to goodreads and found out that I am going to get to read the story that comes after this.  Awesome!


Bookburners episode 1: Badge, book and candle, by Max Gladstone, Mur Lafferty, and more

Bookburners episode 1: Badge, book and candle Book Cover Bookburners episode 1: Badge, book and candle
Bookburners #1
Max Gladstone, Margaret Dunlap, Mur Lafferty, Brian Francis Slattery
Sep 16 2015
e-book, serial

Bookburners is to be a 16-part serial,  where each "episode" is meant to be a 40-50 minute read, similar to the average length of tv series episodes.   I've read the first episode, Badge, book and candle.

Sal Brooks is a cop who's had a bad day, grim images stuck in her mind, really not in the mood for a surprise visit from her little brother, who isn't even making sense. He's all kinds of cryptic,  and in some kind of trouble, and being followed by his trouble, as Sal soon finds out.

The bookburners are after him.  But who are they?  What did Sal's brother do to stir them?  Why hasn't Sal heard of them before?

...I can say this much: Having read this first part, I'm going to follow the serial to the end.  I get vibes of tv shows like Leverage,  and there's a whiff of Max Barry's excellent novel Lexicon,  though it's vague enough that I can't really explain how I make the association. (Well, "action and important books" is a sufficient link, I guess.)

The writing team features, among others, Max Gladstone and  Mur Lafferty, and I certainly trust those two to provide a good urban fantasy adventure.

Bonus points for being a serial I can actually follow as it goes along! (Being a non-US person means being barred from this kind of thing, more often than not.  I never had access to Scalzi or McGuire's stuff while it was being serial-published, for example. However, I might still have to wait for a collected edition, because geography also adds a little fee to the whole bringing-thing-to-kindle procedure. It is little, but little x 16 is not so little anymore.)

In any case - yes, recommended! Magic! Fun!


(I do apologise for how late I was in making this post - there are things to blame, such as idiot computer, but blah blah whatever. See you for the upcoming read-a-thon!)


The Flux, by Ferrett Steinmetz

The Flux Book Cover The Flux
'Mancer #2
Ferrett Steinmetz
Angry Robot
Oct 6 2015

Dear The Flux,

This is a letter, not a review, because "review" implies some kind of reasonable discussion of features and flaws,  while a "letter" can be, for example, a simple thank you-note.   Or a flailing fan letter.  A sentimental love letter.

You see where I'm going with this. I know you do, because you're smart, just like your older sibling Flex, and that's certainly part of the reason I keep babbling at people about you.  Smart and funny and terrifying.   Oh, and baffling.

Really.  You made me shout yes!  and no!  and what?!.   There was giggling, too.   I, the reader, am a quiet person with a squeaky-tiny voice - all this shouting and arm-flailing, then, is no everyday matter.  You are an unusually charming book, and you trigger unusual responses.

Of course, Flex introduced me to your magic system, and I fell instantly in love.  You have expanded upon this, raising eyebrows at me as I read, talking about magic as geekdom and geekdom as love - and loneliness.  I was scared for a while you were going to get awkward and pushy and forcefully declare a message,  but, you know, I think you did just fine. A little bumbling, perhaps, but not enough to raise my eyebrow in return.   I was too busy loving your characters.

(Thank you for the catladymancer, by the way. I'm about the right age to come into my own 'mancy, and I think I can see where I'm headed.)




Forgive me, I'm still a little starry-eyed, stumbling on words, trying and failing to make complete sentences about all of your qualities and accomplishments.  Roses are red, violets are blue, Valentine is kick-ass, and Paul Tsabo is too.  Um.


In Flex,  drugs and drug-making was a big part of the story - this is magic that can be sold as a pill, after all - and, oh, Paul hasn't quite gotten out of that scene. But this isn't where we find the antagonists in the Flux.    This time, the antagonists soar in from the sides, and set fire to a lot of things - but mostly, the conflict comes from the insides of people.  Characters who've had experiences they don't know how to cope with, don't know how to share with others, ramming against tall walls of fear and resentment and incomplete images of the world.   How do you go about raising a nearly nine year-old girl with easily-lethal magic power and a bad case of PTSD?   How can you ever have love and intimacy when you know your own flux won't hesitate to home in on anyone you hold dear and smash them to pieces?

We get a little glimpse of the Big Scary;  the otherworldly buzzsects, creatures swarming outside, waiting for the fabric of our reality to tear up and let them in.  I believe these guys might feature heavily in the next book, which I'm already convinced will be spectacular.

Dear book about passion-become-magic, that thing I said about myself as a catladymancer, I don' think it's true. I think the specific joy of knowing you'd read the book you're reading rather than do anything else possible, such as eat a double cheese whopper or visit the shark aquarium or make waffles for Ted Danson,  that's the 'mancy for me.    You provide that burst of joy.  Thank you,  the Flux,  now will you go tell the Fix to hurry up?