Book Review of Neil Shusterman's Scythe and Thunderhead

The Thunderhead has never been more relevant than it is right now. I'd love to know what Neil Shusterman thinks about the developments in AI.

Neal Shusterman’s¬†Scythe¬†and¬†Thunderhead¬†are two must-read novels for fans of dystopian fiction. Set in a world where death has been conquered and society is ruled by a group of “Scythes” who are responsible for keeping the population under control, these books follow the story of two young apprentices as they navigate the complex and dangerous world of the Scythedom. The Scythes are the only group of people outside the jurisdiction of the all knowing, benevolent AI computer, that rules humanity, called the Thunderhead.

It is in Neil Shusterman’s¬†Scythe,¬†we meet Citra and Rowan, two teenagers chosen to become Scythe apprentices, a position that comes with the power to decide who lives and who dies. As they learn the ways of the Scythedom, they become embroiled in a power struggle that threatens to tear apart their world. Of course, a dystopian novel doesn’t mean that a bit of romance can’t be thrown in!¬†

In Thunderhead, the sequel to Scythe, the story picks up where the first book left off, with Citra a fully-fledged scythe and Rowan a vigilante scythe figure, murdering corrupt scythes who have broken the laws of sycthedom. As Rowan, and Citra (who becomes known as Scythe Anasatasi), try to navigate the dangerous politics of their world, they must also contend with the growing threat of a rogue Scythe who is determined to bring down the Scythedom.

Shusterman’s writing is compelling and thought-provoking, offering a deep exploration of what it means to be human. It investigates the complex ethical dilemmas that arise when mortality is no longer a concern. The characters are well-developed and relatable, and the plot is full of twists and turns that keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Book Club Questions on Scythe and Thunderhead

  • What did you think of the concept of the Scythedom, and the idea of a society ruled by those who have the power to decide who lives and who dies? Do you think this is a realistic portrayal of a future society, or purely fictional?
  • The characters of Citra and Rowan are both complex and well-developed. Which character did you relate to more, and why?
  • One of the central themes of both¬†novels is the concept of mortality and its importance in shaping our humanity. Do you think a world without death would truly be a utopia, or would it lead to other problems?
  • The Scythedom is portrayed as a corrupt and flawed institution, despite its initial purpose of maintaining balance in society. What do you think this says about power and its ability to corrupt even the best intentions?
  • The character of the Thunderhead is a central figure in the novels, and represents a benevolent and all-knowing AI computer, that is tasked with maintaining order in society. Do you think this is a realistic portrayal of AI, or is it purely fictional?
  • The plot of both novels is full of twists and turns that keep the reader engaged. Were there any plot twists that particularly surprised you?
  • Both novels explore complex ethical issues such as the value of life, the role of power and corruption, and the importance of mortality. Which ethical issue resonated with you the most, and why?
Neil Shusterman is a prolific author for young people, but as an older person, I also enjoy his books.

Book Club Questions on Scythe and Thunderhead (if you haven't read the book).

  • The concept of death is central to the book. What do you think a world without death would be like, and how would it affect society as a whole?
  • The scythes are responsible for maintaining population control in the book. Do you think this is a realistic way to manage population growth, or are there other ways to address this issue?
  • The book raises the question of what it means to be human, particularly in the face of technology that can eliminate death. How do you define humanity, and do you think it’s possible to lose our humanity in a world like the one presented in¬†Scythe?
  • Power and corruption are important themes in the book, particularly as it relates to the Scythedom. How do you think power can corrupt even the most well-intentioned people or institutions?
  • The idea of an all-knowing AI, known as the Thunderhead, is also introduced in the book. Do you think this is a realistic portrayal of what AI could be like in the future, or is it purely fictional?
  • The book explores the concept of choice, particularly when it comes to deciding who lives and who dies. How important do you think choice is in shaping our lives and our society?
  • The characters in the book are faced with complex ethical dilemmas. Can you think of a time in your own life when you had to make a difficult ethical decision? How did you approach the situation?

Personal Response to Neil Shusterman's Scythe and Thunderhead

The first time I read Scythe was a few years ago when I was working as Head of Libraries. I found it engaging, but didn’t really look beyond its suitability for teenagers and young adults. This time round I was fascinated with the power and the role the Thunderhead played in the book. it couldn’t have been more timely as I heard of the advent and immediate impact of Chatgpt, providing so much knowledge at one’s fingertips.

The Thunderhead in the novel, is a benevolent omniscient ruler of humanity. The Thunderhead’s algorithims are such that they know exactly how much freedom to give humanity in running its own business. Consequently it doesn’t interfere in some areas and of course, the scythes rules themselves and are beyond the jurisdiction of the Thunderhead. It comes as no suprise then, that they are the group prone to in-fighting being led by greed, avarice and ambition. The inability of humanity to learn from its mistakes is powerfully explored in this fabulous series. 

If you are a  reader who enjoys thought-provoking stories that explore complex ethical issues, then this series is the one for you. Having read the first two books I can’t wait to finish the trilogy, I have a feeling that the best is yet to come! 

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