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The Scorpion Rules
By Erin Bow

Discussed September 2016

Buy The Scorpion Rules from

Dramatis Personae

The Children of Peace:

  • Greta Gustafsen Stuart
  • Li “Xie” Da-Xia
  • Elián Palnik
  • Gregori “Grego” Kalvelis
  • Han
  • Thandi
  • Sidney Carlow

The Cumberland Alliance:

  • Wilma Armenteros
  • Tolliver Burr

The AIs:

  • Michael Talis
  • Ambrose Devalera

The Pan Polar Confederacy:

  • Queen Anne


  1. Did you finish the book?
  2. Did you like the book?
  3. The Scorpion Rules is set centuries in the future, but humanity, despite vast technological advances, chooses to live a primarily low-tech lifestyle. Did the specific trade-offs made by this environmentally conscious society make sense to you? Did you enjoy the contrast between high and low tech, or would you have preferred more orbital shuttles and fewer goats (or vice versa)?
  4. Did you find the politics of The Scorpion Rules plausible? Do you believe the Prefecture system would have the effect described?
  5. Greta’s personal philosophy is heavily influenced by classical stoicism, and particularly Marcus Aurelius, whom she references several times. Did you find her stoicism frustrating or intriguing? Does her understanding and implementation of stoic principles change over the course of the book?
  6. How did you feel about the characterization of the other Children of Peace? The Prefecture gathers together children from a diversity of cultures and ethnicities; do you feel the children were successfully portrayed as individuals, or did any succumb to stereotyping? Did you understand why they looked to Greta as their leader?
  7. Did you find Greta plausible as a queer woman just discovering her sexuality? Were you surprised when she declared that she loved Xie, not Elián, or did you find the resolution to the love triangle adequately telegraphed? Did you pick up on Han and Gregori’s relationship?
  8. In The Scorpion Rules, Class Two AI refers not to a computer-generated intelligence but to a human consciousness that has been transferred to computer storage. How did you feel about this non-standard definition? Did you find the AIs convincingly characterized on the border between human and inhuman? Did you understand what was meant by “skinning,” and did you find it believable that so many AIs would have failed for the reasons described?
  9. Talis is consistently gendered male, but in The Scorpion Rules, the body he occupies is female. How did you feel about the way his gender was portrayed? Do you believe that a sense of gender would persist in an AI long after the death of its original body?
  10. On her blog, author Erin Bow notes, “Where the American government has ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,’ the Canadian government has ‘peace, order, and good government.’ The Scorpion Rules is what you get if you take that idea way too far.” Are there ways in which The Scorpion Rules is a distinctly Canadian book? Could you see it just as easily being written by an American author? What aspects felt foreign to you (or familiar, if you’re Canadian)?
  11. How do you feel The Scorpion Rules compares to other books within the YA dystopia subgenre? Did you find it a comfortable fit for that subgenre, or are there ways in which it violates genre conventions?
  12. Are you interested in reading the sequel?

The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (available at

What then is that which is able to conduct a man? One thing and only one, philosophy. But this consists in keeping the divinity within a man free from violence and unharmed, superior to pains and pleasures, doing nothing without purpose, nor yet falsely and with hypocrisy, not feeling the need of another man’s doing or not doing anything; and besides, accepting all that happens, and all that is allotted, as coming from thence, wherever it is, from whence he himself came; and, finally, waiting for death with a cheerful mind, as being nothing else than a dissolution of the elements of which every living being is compounded.

A summary, excerpted from

The second century CE Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was also a Stoic philosopher, and his private Meditations, written in Greek, gives readers a unique opportunity to see how an ancient person (indeed an emperor) might try to live a Stoic life, according to which only virtue is good, only vice is bad, and the things which we busy ourselves with are all indifferent. . . . Marcus wrote for his own moral improvement, to remind himself of and render concrete the Stoic doctrines he wanted to live by, such as that the world is governed by Providence; that happiness lies in virtue, which is wholly in one’s power; and that one should not be angry at one’s associates but regard them as siblings, offspring of the same God. . . .

One must modify the doctrines that inform one’s impulses and actions, that is to say, one’s beliefs about good and bad. How will this help? Marcus says, for example, that if we believe that pleasure is good and pain evil, then we will be resentful of the pleasures enjoyed by the vicious and the pains suffered by the virtuous. And if we are resentful of what happens, we will be finding fault with Nature and will be impious . . . . The key idea in piety is that the cosmos as a whole is providentially designed, and so is as good as it can be, and so its parts are as good as they can be, and so our attitude towards every part ought to be acceptance—or as he sometimes puts it more strongly, love. . . .

Marcus says that one should be concerned with two things only: acting justly and loving what is allotted one. He fleshes out ‘acting justly’ in terms of acting communally, and adds that wherever one is, one should live as a citizen of the cosmic city. Appeal to the idea that the cosmos is a city allows him to say that we should do well for all humanity, for we each have a citizen’s duty to contribute to the welfare of the whole cosmopolis. Conversely, anyone who does not contribute to the communal goal is acting seditiously; one may not even hate one man, for this rends the community. . . . Marcus simply denies that there is ever any conflict between the good of the individual and the good of the whole community of which that individual is a part. . . .

Marcus often tells himself, ‘erase your impressions.’ . . . Marcus means ‘assent only to objective and physical descriptions of externals’. What Marcus is telling himself to erase, Hadot says, is value-judgments about everything external to his character. . . . The goal is not to regard things in the world as stripped of value, but rather, to see each thing’s true value, which is determined by considering its contribution to the whole cosmos.

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