Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Terra Ignota #1
Publisher: Tor Books (May 10, 2016)
Length: 432 pages
My Rating: 3 stars
Ambitious. Complex. Thought-provoking. Ada Palmer’s debut novel, Too Like the Lightning, is all those things and more. The book truly an intellectual piece of science fiction literature, not only in its themes (political, societal, philosophical, and religious) but also in the ornate, elegant, and nuanced writing style. Demanding your full attention, this novel’s complete depth cannot be appreciated without devoting time and effort to first consuming it before slowly sorting and digesting all its potent ingredients.
Taking place in the 25th century, the narrative is largely the first-hand accounts of Mycroft Canner (though, as a government edited recount, its complete accuracy is somewhat in question) supplemented by information garnered by use of electronic trackers that allow Mycroft to see and hear events involving other individuals. And while it might seem that Mycroft is the protagonist here, he constantly emphasizes that he isn’t, but, rather, that a gifted thirteen-year-old named Bridger is. This youth able to bring inanimate objects to life with a touch.
Bridger’s ability might sound more”fantastical” than “science fiction” to some, but have no worries: This is a sci-fi story all the way. This world four hundred years in the future filled with an evolved society where independent nations do not exist but rather small hive groups, digital clothing is the norm, genetic tracking is routine, robotic cars race about, and a new form of criminal slavery even exists inside the law. Humanity still recognizable, but politics, science, entertainment, moral values, and the meaning of life itself evolved tremendously from our current time. All of these things combining to create a lush, detailed tapestry for this social sci-fi epic to play out.
What sets Ada Palmer’s work apart from other social science fiction works is the deeply intellectual aspect of this book. The author having used her extensive knowledge of European history (She is employed in the History Department at the University of Chicago.) to create an Enlightenment-era subculture, which permeates the narrative as a whole. The worldbuilding itself an opportunity to play out the author’s fascination with the way ideas and technology create historical change within societies and shapes not only the society itself but its view of the past. This seamless coupling of futuristic Earth with such ancient thinkers as Voltaire and Bacon making the social upheavals a devilish brew indeed.
When picking up this novel, please do understand it is not a quick, space opera romp or even a hard science fiction spectacular. Rather, Too Like the Lightning is a complicated, nuanced volume; its independent yet interconnected plot threads involving philosophy, social upheaval and brutal politics which require determination and fortitude to brave to the end. The mysteries and secrets not fully resolved, but set up to be unveiled in the sequel, Seven Surrenders.
In short, Too Like the Lightning is a breathtaking work of speculative literature, worthy of inclusion with other social science fiction classics. The immense thought and brilliant presentation by Ada Palmer worthy of any awards she might garner for it. However, make no mistake, this is a serious and weighty story, whose scope and complexity will frighten many readers away and leave others underwhelmed — especially those who wish their reading to allow them an escape from the struggles of societal change already going on in our world rather than immerse themselves in its disturbing depths further.
I received this novel from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.