Author: Ada Palmer
Category: Science Fiction
Publication Date: May 10th, 2016
This is definitely a book that your experience with reading and your tastes when it comes to book will make or break it for you. Too Like the Lightning has a lot to offer. It is rich and complex and Ada Palmer’s vision of the future is incredibly unique and, in some ways, beautiful. This book could probably be described as a work of art.
The writing imitates that of the 18th century because many of the ideas that are being explored in this story were also explored by many Renaissance philosophers. The story moves along very slowly, in part because of this writing style. Things always seem to be talked about but not much actually happens until toward the end. More time is spent exploring philosophy and ideas than anything else. While this may work for some people, it is possible that other readers will not like it based on this because it can be a chore to get through at times even though the writing is superb.
The story itself kicks off with the theft of something called a Seven-Ten list. These lists are articles that all of the major newspaper publications of the world publish periodically that rank the most influential people in the world. This theft and the technology used to accomplish it spark an investigation that the narrator hints will change the world.
The world is a much smaller place in this imagined future. Transportation technology has advanced to a point that it takes less than 4 hours to completely travel around the world. Because of this nations as we know them are obsolete. In their place are the seven Hives. Each person can choose which Hive to belong to: the Masons, the Humanists, the Cousins, the Utopians, the Brillists, and the Servicers (although being a Servicer is not exactly “chosen”). Each has it’s own hierarchy and laws and the heads of each interact with each other in the same way you would imagine heads of state interacting but each does not govern a specific geographic area, only the people under its rule.
Due to it having caused some of the worst wars in history, religion has been banned. Spirituality and one’s beliefs thereof are incredibly private and individualized. One of the seven Hives of the world are the Cousins or sensayers whose job it is to study philosophy and all the world’s religions and then have sessions with individuals to help them form their own thoughts on life, death, “what does it all mean” kind of thing. They are kind of a combination of priest and therapist.
What seems like commentary on a contemporary issue is the characters’ referring to other individuals as the gender neutral “they” rather than the gender specific “she” or “he.” To make matters confusing though, the narrator would refer to characters with specific genders then go through explaining why they were describing a person and the “rules” never seemed to be consistent. It was unclear (to us at least) what message the author was trying to convey about gender politics.
I am the type of reader that if something does not make sense it will distract me throughout the remainder of the book and ultimately take away from what other attributes a book may offer. The Seven-Ten list was that something that did not make sense in this book.
I just couldn’t figure out what it was. I even went back and reread passages two and three times where it was brought up and I just couldn’t get why it was so important. I understand that it is an article that the major newspaper publications write that lists people…but how these people are decided to be put on a list kind of eluded me. Is it just the most influential people in a Hive/in the world? And why is a particular newspaper’s ranking of these people so damn important? Why does everyone freak out about its theft? There is actually a lot more freaking out about the theft than the device used to perform said theft which kind of has much bigger ramifications.
All these questions just jumbled about in my mind the whole time I was reading and it kept me from focusing on other, fantastic things that this story has to offer.
While I was reading the book, I thought that maybe me and it simply weren’t a good fit. I had a hard time really enjoying it for the aforementioned reason. Now that I have had a few days to look back on it though, this book just explored so many things and was so different and well written that I can’t help but kind of love it. I love philosophy and things that make you think and that ask hard questions (I think if I lived in this world, I would have been a sensayer) and this had that in spades.
I personally do not enjoy being interrupted every few paragraphs by the author to explain one thing or another, that most of the time felt pointless. The old 18th century writing is boring and at most of the time makes me feel like the book is trying to get me look into a social situation. While education of the people on issues are great, generally I read fiction for the fun of the story, not to learn a lesson.
That being said, this futuristic world is fascinating in many ways. With no more countries and no religion it is a interesting look on how the world could be. The setting is so interesting, and the fact that I had to finish this book for the review, are the only things keeping me reading this book.
If you are a fan of this style of writing, I fully recommend this book. If you are like me and don’t enjoy this style or you are unsure, give this book at least a chapter or two to see if it can grow on you.