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Children of Doro by M. L. Clark is a Stress Busting Festival pick #sciencefiction #scifi #spaceopera

Title: Children of Doro

Author: M. L. Clark

Genre: Science fiction, space opera, philosophical sci-fi

Book Blurb:

Have you ever made a ship's AI proud? Really, truly proud? Captain Alastri has. She's a child of Doro, a frontier world governed by a temperamental AI that represents the thoughts and feelings of all its citizens. Never heard of it? Well, it did get destroyed, which is where her ship's AI steps in, to regale us with how Alastri's past led directly to this catastrophe. When Alastri was 17, she witnessed a failed mediation between the ever-wronged citizen Ceres and Doro's governing AI. That day didn't just reveal a range of competing philosophies. It also led to treason, the loss of her ship, and the destruction of her home 25 years on. Connecting the dots from that day is the only way Alastri can hope to prevent further disaster for her system. And yes, this she does, most splendidly—at least, if you can believe a ship's ridiculously proud AI.



Captain Alastri of the late Planet Doro showed no surprise when a mutiny aboard the Essence of Dawn found her forced into an escape pod instead of murdered alongside an even 50% of the crew. It was not that Alastri took this act of clemency for granted, as a right afforded her by Partnership rank and station, but rather, once it happened, as established fact: the inevitable collapse of all possible cosmic outcomes to a single result. In all the time that I have observed Alastri, either directly or through records from periods outside my immediate purview, I have never found her to do otherwise with the circumstances of her adult life.

I can also predict with a high level of confidence that, if someone were to ask Alastri if she was thankful to the instigator of this mutiny for his act of clemency, the corners of her eyes would crease, her lips would flatten, and a sinking quality would come upon the long draw of her cheeks: for this would seem to her a baffling question, on par with asking if she was thankful to each quark for its spin, each neutrino for its voyage through the stars. Then, on further descent into this question’s mysteries, its possible answers would confound her even more.

For instance: Yes.

A common enough reply for her species (human), but one that takes as its premise, for them, an act of contrast. “Giving thanks”, on Alastri’s part, could never simply mean “for being spared”, but would also contain “while many crewmates and friends among them were not”. Here, AIs differ from most animal-intelligences, because for us the problem better approximates that of a weighted random-number generator with two possible outcomes: {0} or {1}; {dead} or {alive}. The odds of anyone being spared in any given encounter with mortal peril are loosely comparable to the results of a two-sided toss[1], but animal-intelligences do not interact as efficiently as random-number generators. A closer analogy might be to a series of output positions—238, in this case: each cognizant of all the rest; each possessing an added characteristic of {hope} that the {life} value will continue for itself; and each capable of other qualitative responses {grief, despair, anxiety, guilt, … } when other output positions receive the undesired {death} value, even when those other output positions have minimal bearing on the algorithm that will determine one’s own.

This is the calibre of difference that makes the philosophies of animal-intelligences difficult for AIs to parse, except for when specific beings, like Alastri, demonstrate a higher-than-usual capacity for bypassing overactive impulses for pattern-generation: when one among them can sustain the notion of unconnected events transpiring even in close proximity. For Alastri, the {0} outputs that accompanied her receipt of a {1} on the Essence of Dawn were neutral facts, however much she mourned the crewmates associated with them, and only if asked to be thankful for her {1} in light of those 119 preceding {0}s would her processing become more typically human. Only then would the exercise, for her, gain a moral component: an added calculation pertaining to whether she could remain a being of value[2] if she decided that the receipt of her {1} after witnessing so many {0}s merited a positive output, like the quality of {gratitude}. This “calculus” of conscionability varies from person to person, and species to species, but for Alastri, its invocation where unnecessary proved an agitating affront.

But also: Yes.

The same answer, only now spoken to affirm belief in an even more bewildering premise: that Alastri could even say with confidence that the mutineer’s choice had been one of clemency. For all she knew at the time, he might have sentenced her to live precisely to do her greater harm, knowing full well her species’ predisposition toward measuring the value of individual output positions in direct relation to those around them. If the leader of this massacre had spared her only so as to leave her haunted by her species’ relentless re-processing of undesired outcomes, then any output of {gratitude} for sparing her life would be even more morally suspect: tantamount to presuming that her life held a greater (non-numeric) value than those of the 119 lost, when it was perhaps even the least of the 238.

But what could she have done differently, in the lead-up to this disastrous outcome for our crew? Refused the arriving refugees? On what reasonable grounds at the time? Or perhaps she should have refused her assignment from the outset? Refused to join the crisis team patrolling the Dusky Smear, a debris field in place of what had once been Planet Doro? Based on what compelling foreknowledge? I can construct many holo-sims in which Alastri makes choices that bypass the mutiny entirely, but all require decision-making far outside her probabilistic norms.

Or maybe: No.

A bold answer, though not unheard-of among animal-intelligences. However, it would suggest something as grievous for sentient beings as it was melodramatic: namely, that Alastri was not in fact thankful to be alive; that she would have preferred to die with half her crew. For many in her species, this could be seen as akin to resenting the dead, or at least to not honouring their memories by treasuring “the gift” of continued consciousness that she had received from the same sentient beings who had wrested it from so many others in her care.

Or, No—but this time glibly: No, because if our mutineer had known I’d have to answer such absurd questions if I lived, it’s even clearer that he didn’t let me go as an act of mercy after all.

Yes, now I see it: This last answer would have suited Alastri best. Relative calmness did not preclude her from the practice, at times, of a particularly {snide} and biting wit.

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What’s your favorite way to combat stress?

Oh, there’s nothing better than a good walk—but with a caveat! Sometimes when I’m already stressed, I tend to pace more than actually walk: storming the sidewalks in my neighborhood with my mind furiously reviewing whatever’s got me all worked up. And trust me, those sorts of walks don’t help at all.

So what makes a good walk? Slowing down. Intentionally grounding oneself by paying attention to the little details, the familiar fixtures of your block: the smell of the air. The sound of the wind through the trees or the rush of tires on wet pavement in the rain. The way critters all around you move through their world, too.

Another key part of a good walk is connecting with your locals. Do you have a healthy enough relationship with the shopkeepers, baristas, building managers, security guards, and street cleaners along your route to greet them? Do you live in a place where it’s normal to smile and say good afternoon to passersby?

If so, lean into those little points of human contact. If not, make friends with a tree instead, or a flowering bush, or a painting or statue in a storefront or public corner. There’s some very good research that highlights the value to our overall wellness of everyday connection in our communities. One might speculate as to causation—maybe it lowers our stress levels by inviting us to feel safer in our surroundings? Maybe it’s the simple act of connecting with any fellow being in a positive way that brings out a surge of healthier biochemical reactions? But either way, what a difference it makes to be reminded that our stressors—whether from work, or finances, or health, or relationships—are just one part of our brief time on this planet.

Every moment we’re alive is a rare and precious opportunity.

Breathe out. Slow down. Make the most of it while you can.

Why is your featured book a stress busting read?

You know, I’m sure many folks might not think of a science-fiction novel set on a far-flung world as a “stress busting read”, but this is no normal space opera. I was inspired by The Brothers Karamazov, and I wanted to write a piece that draws from that classic text’s deep philosophical questions about human nature, harm, justice, and the quest to do better with our one and precious lives.

This book has a narrator that regales us in the story of Alastri, who had one eventful day when she was 17 that, 25 years later, would bring about the destruction of a whole world. Our narrator, her ship’s AI, tells us about all the people she met when she was 17, and all the different ideas about life that were colliding then in one intense, failed mediation between an angry citizen and its cynical government. Then we follow the mystery, a quarter century on, to figure out who “killed” a whole planet, and how Alastri can heal the source of that great and ruinous harm.

Children of Doro has a lot of challenging content—a whole planet’s destruction, and a lot of trauma among its survivors!—but what makes it so different from a lot of “shoot ’em up” space operas is that this book focuses on how we can heal ourselves, and our societies, when everything goes wrong within them. And it’s also about the power of the stories we tell ourselves to achieve those better ends.

So if you’re looking for something that’s not careless about violence, something that really sits with the idea that, yes, the world is a mess—but that it can also be made better… maybe, just maybe, my Dostoevsky-in-space reflection on human nature will lighten the load, and inspire positive thinking in your own, cluttered corner of our oh so hurting world.

(If not, though, I still stand by my recommendation of a good walk!)

Giveaway –

One lucky reader will win a $75 Amazon US or Canada gift card

Open internationally. You must have a valid Amazon US or Amazon CA account to win.

Runs May 1 – 31, 2023.

Drawing will be held on June 1, 2023.

Author Biography:

M L Clark is a writer of speculative fiction and humanist essays, with a background in literary histories of science and a deep love for the challenges of living in a world of over eight billion. Canadian by birth and ancestry, Clark is now based in Medellín, Colombia, where a writing-centred life is routinely mitigated by opportunities to be more fully present in that wider, messier fray of human striving.

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Unknown member
May 25, 2023

Deep breathing works


May 05, 2023

Yoga & reading!


N. N. Light
N. N. Light
May 04, 2023

Thank you, ML, for sharing your book in our Stress Busting Book Festival!

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