It’s the future, and AIs rule the world. Talis, one of the first AIs, was charged by the UN to stop the wars sparking all across the globe after too many natural resources disappeared and conflict swelled proportionately. They didn’t expect him to take control of all the satellite systems, start blowing up cities, and lay down a hostage system for the sons and daughters of all world leaders. The rule is simple, Talis says. If you go to war, your children will die.
These “children of peace” are reared away from their families, clustered together in isolated schools where they learn history, obedience, and dignity. They know their lives may be forfeit at any moment, no matter how much their parents love them. They know that if they act out or try to escape, they – and the others of their age at school – will be punished (ie tortured). And if they survive to adulthood, they will rule, and their own children will become hostages in their place.
That is the setup of this book, which is the beginning of a series. I won’t talk about the actual storyline at all, because this is the sort of book that is best going into with minimal information. Bow does a great job at introducing the characters and world through the very narrow viewpoint of Princess Greta of the Pan Polar Confederacy. There is a lot of moral quandary that comes up, and the AIs were a fascinating amoral lot. The story was compelling, and the characters are interesting, though a tad unbelievable at times honestly. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next story.
For me, though, the most interesting thing about this book was the world-building. Of course, it’s impossible to say how one might act if the world was governed this way by machines. However, I can’t imagine acting in some of the ways some characters act. Here are some examples (kept vague and spoiler-free!):
1. Imagine you rule a country and your child will die if you declare war or allow war to be declared on you. You have a bond with your child, because of course the machines wouldn’t just ship your kids off wholesale and let that bond wither. Another country needs something unreasonable from your country, or vice versa. If you can’t reach a reasonable agreement, you have a choice. Either let some of your population die off because you can’t get them what they need, or you go to war knowing your child will die. Notably, you also know that the AIs will not let war last, and there’s a good possibility they will step in, destroy a lot of your country, and force you to make peace anyway. Okay. Here’s the thing: I can’t picture any reason at all that would induce me to go to war. What would it matter if a couple hundred thousand strangers in my country’s population get sick or die, if the child I loved would be safe? Heck, those strangers would probably die anyway if the AIs step in once war started. I see no point in trying to save resources. Maybe that just means I’m a bad leader, but frankly, I doubt most leaders would sacrifice their families for their country…
2. Imagine you’re a hostage, and if you misbehave, you will be tortured, and so will others around you. You have zero chance of escape beyond living to your eighteenth birthday. Nothing you do to defy your situation will change it. It will only hurt you and other people. Would you fight against the system, fruitlessly, at your own and others’ costs? Personally, I can imagine fighting fruitlessly if, for instance, my country went to war and I was being dragged off to my death. In that situation, I’m going to die anyway, so I might as well try to live. Otherwise, thought? No. I’d behave like a good hostage and hope my parents kept me safe. I certainly wouldn’t do anything that would cause my peers to be tortured. Sheesh.
Anyway, there were a few things in the world-building, like those vague examples, that made me wonder about the particular exploration of human ethics. And even though I disagree with some of the things Bow did through her story, I can also see that perhaps my point of view is simply my own. There are many different kinds of people in the world who might have many different kinds of reactions to this kind of world. The exploration itself was fascinating. I’m looking forward to seeing it through new eyes in the sequel.