M.L. Clark wrote one of my favorite novelettes of 2022, so when I saw that she was releasing a deeply philosophical indie space opera, I figured it was well worth checking out. Might’ve taken me a while to get to it—the TBR never sleeps—but I finally was able to make a hole in my schedule big enough for a chunky sci-fi and picked up Children of Doro.
In her author’s note, Clark explicitly draws inspiration from The Brothers Karamazov. I don’t know much about it except that it’s both a classic and is famously long, but if it spends most of the book agonizing over the moral formation of the main characters, it may not be too far off. Children of Doro is narrated by an AI seeking to explain the causes behind the complete destruction of the planet Doro. And so it dives deep into the history of the key players, excavating the events that led them to be the way that they were, before moving forward in the second part of the novel to describe the events immediately surrounding the disaster.
Evident from the first page is how the book really commits to the AI narrator. It’s a stylized narration, with enough eccentricities to clearly distinguish it from a human narration but not enough to break immersion. It’s also a very careful, slow-building narrative with copious footnotes and dedication to sussing out both the preconditions and the consequences of every major action—though the AI certainly brings its own biases to the table. For my tastes, it was a little bit too slow, and the opening half felt a lot like reading nonfiction, with its careful introduction of the setting and each major player, followed by an explication of how their practical philosophies developed.
But for all that it’s a slow build, that dive into moral formation and practical philosophy is essential for the primary project of the book, as evinced in the second half. Here the action picks up, leading the reader to the inevitable destruction of Doro, and its aftermath. And the action makes for an enjoyable bit of space opera. But real heart is an exploration of the conditions that made such a ghastly event possible. How does one live in an unjust society? How does society shape its own villains? Is there any purpose in striving when one’s best actions are distorted or swallowed up by a larger and uncaring system?
It’s a story dives deep into heady topics, diving right into the complicated morass of political and moral philosophy, with some engagement with existentialism on the way. It’s careful and thought-provoking, and it tells a pretty good sci-fi tale to boot. This definitely won’t be a book for all readers, with its stately pace and philosophical focus. But readers who have been looking for this sort of book may easily find a new favorite.
Recommended if you like: slow-building, philosophical sci-fi.
Can I use it for Bingo? It’s hard mode for Self-Published and Published in 2023, and it also Features Robots.
Overall rating: 13 of Tar Vol’s 20. Three stars on Goodreads.