Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer

About the Book

Tor Books is proud to launch the first novel in a new political science fiction series, Too Like The Lightning by debut novelist Ada Palmer. Palmer’s unique vision mixes Enlightenment-era philosophy with traditional science fiction speculation to bring to life the year 2454, not a perfect future, but a utopian one, described by a narrator writing in an antiquated form to catalog the birth of a revolution. The result is The Iliad meets I, Claudius mixed with the enthusiasm of The Stars My Destination and Gene Wolfe style world building.

Mycroft Canner is a convict. For his crimes he is required, as is the custom of the 25th century, to wander the world being as useful as he can to all he meets. Carlyle Foster is a sensayer–a spiritual counselor in a world that has outlawed the public practice of religion, but which also knows that the inner lives of humans cannot be wished away.

The world into which Mycroft and Carlyle have been born is as strange to our 21st-century eyes as ours would be to a native of the 1500s. It is a hard-won utopia built on technologically-generated abundance, and also on complex and mandatory systems of labeling all public writing and speech. What seem to us normal gender distinctions are now distinctly taboo in most social situations. And most of the world’s population is affiliated with globe-girdling clans of the like-minded, whose endless economic and cultural competition is carefully managed by central planners of inestimable subtlety. To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell. To them, it seems like normal life.

And in this world, Mycroft and Carlyle have stumbled on the wild card that may destabilize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life…

Perfect for fans of Jo Walton, Robert Charles Wilson and Kim Stanley Robinson, Too Like The Lightning is a refreshing change of pace from the current trend of gritty, dystopian novels. Much like Homer telling of heroic deeds and wine dark seas, Mycroft Canner’s narration will draw you into the world of Terra Ignota—a world simmering with gender politics and religious fervor just beneath the surface, on the brink of revolutionary change.

423 pages (hardcover)
Published on May 10, 2016
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve been putting off writing a review for this book for an absolutely ridiculous amount of time. I was so excited to read it, and now that I’ve read it, I honestly still can’t figure out how I feel about any of it. I read a lot, and I read a lot of very diverse books, and this might be the first book I’ve read where I feel like the whole thing might have completely flown over my head.

That makes it seem like I hated the book, and I really didn’t, it’s just a horse of a different color, and I think that could be off putting to some readers. Whatever you expect this to be, it won’t be that. The first thing you’ll notice is the writing. The best way I can describe it is thick. While that sounds weird, it’s true. There are a lot of words, and they mean a lot of different things in different situations. This book is full of layers, and the writing style is sort of archaic (that’s stated up front, so it’s not really a shock). It takes some getting used to. It made me feel like I kind of had to mentally chisel through the surface to get to what is really going on underneath.

Now, that’s not really a big deal. Like I said, the novel is up front about its unique writing style, and it’s absolutely beautifully done. Once I got used to how Palmer wrote, I really enjoyed that. There’s an art to words, and she is a skilled artist, that’s an absolute fact. However, it is unique, and it did serve to make me feel a bit distant from the book overall.

This is one of those books where I can tell the author probably spent years and years and years planning, creating, and writing this novel. This isn’t something that is easy to read, and it certainly wasn’t something that was easy to write. There is a lot here, and the entire process of putting all of this to paper sort of boggles my mind.

Too Like the Lightning is one of those complex sort of novels that is hard to even put into words in this review. So much is going on. It’s political, mysterious, science fiction, and plenty existential. In fact, there were a lot of conversations in this novel that focused on philosophy and various existential topics. This is incredibly deep, very thoughtful, and packed full of so much commentary. It’s a little light on the plot, but that’s made up for on the nature of many of the themes that are being played with. It’s an intensely intelligent novel. This isn’t something you want to read for its light, enjoyable nature. This is the sort of book you want to read when you need to think deep thoughts.

The future world that Palmer has laid out is far different than our own, almost completely unrecognizable. It’s got plenty of SciFi aspects, but it’s also based in a sort of utopian world. It doesn’t take long to realize that not everything is as lovely as you’d think it would be. The characters all illuminate different, but important aspects of this world and the society they inhabit, and really shows some of the benefits and problems of this foreign, haunting world.

The best part of this book, in my humble opinion, is the world building. I really haven’t ever seen it done any better than this, and the possibilities with what Palmer has crafted are endless. But damn, if you’re out there to study some books that have fantastic world building, this one needs to be at the top of your list. It needs to win world building awards (Are there any? If not, we need to create some just so this can win it.) And like I said before, everything about this book has been crafted with tons of thought, and absolute attention to just about every detail you can ever imagine. Political systems, religions, governmental systems, lifestyles… everything. It’s strange, and different and completely memorable.

But this book did leave me a bit confused. It’s so very, very good, but the writing style was hard for me to get used to. The plot was a bit light, but everything else about this book was so heavy, heavy, heavy. I think the best way to enjoy this novel, to really appreciate it, is to read it slowly over a period of quite a few days. Really spread this one out, and savor each word. You’ll appreciate it more. I think my biggest issue was trying to read it so fast that it overwhelmed me.

Too Like the Lightning was stunning, but challenging. This is a very heavy book, but one that, I think, is essential to read. Read it slow. Savor each word. Take your time to absorb it. Some works of art require time to fully appreciate. This is one of them.


3/5 stars


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