RogerBW's Blog

Too Like the Lightning, Ada Palmer 11 June 2017

2016 Hugo-nominated science fiction, first book of Terra Ignota. Even in a techno-utopia, there are people who are unhappy with the rules.

That's assuming you can hack your way through the writing style to get to the story. It's a conscious imitation of eighteenth-century novels (as the world is an imitation of the culture of the Enlightenment), with additional massive dumps of made-up words and no explanation; I don't mind bring thrown into the middle of things and expected to work out what's going on, indeed as an SF reader that's an experience I actively look for, but in this case before we even start to learn anything about the world we're being told about a child who can quite literally do anything he can imagine… and apparently nobody finds this terrifying. And then it's back into the thickets until the next thing happens.

It's not that the book is slow-paced; indeed, you can miss something important by skimming a paragraph. It's that there's never any narrative momentum, because the moment things begin to happen there's an authorial aside. Much of the point of the book, which certainly isn't the plot or the characters, is a heavy-handed parody of current trends in inclusive language and trigger warnings: Palmer has interesting things to say here (particularly as to how a "good enough" solution can be much worse in the long term than continuing to struggle for perfection, which I suppose justifies the way all the powerful characters turn out to be male when their gender is finally signalled reliably), but she says them at much less length in various interviews.

There are sample chapters on Read them. If you actually like them, you might get on with the book. I found it excessively self-satisfied and deliberately over-complex, like The Name of the Rose right down to the title that has no apparent relevance to the story, only here there is an actual story struggling to get out, set in a world interestingly different from our own. I'd have liked to have read it.

Followed by Seven Surrenders. This work was nominated for the 2017 Hugo Awards.

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See also:
The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco

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