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May 13, 2016
Too Like the Lightning By Ada Palmer
Macmillan Tor Sci Fi & Fantasy Pub Date: May 10, 2016
I have never before encountered a novel quite like Too Like the Lightning. It is a must read for any student of philosophy, particularly those who enjoy speculative fiction. Too Like the Lightning is not your run of the mill scifi novel. Although there is action, much of the novel involves the complexities of politics and conflicts of a philosophical nature. Parts read more like a political thriller than the average scifi novel.
The world of Mycroft Canner is vastly different from our own. It is a utopia, albeit far from perfect. Countries as they are today no longer exist. After the numerous wars caused by religion, religious practice is outlawed, while individuals are encouraged to develop their own system of belief. The world is post-gender, with every individual male and female referred to as them and they in order to perfect equality. Sensayers play the role of psychologists and priests, counseling individuals on spiritual and philosophical matters. Members of similar ideologies live together much like members of a clan or extended family. War and conflict are meticulously avoided through political and social maneuvering. While alien to our own modern sensibilities, the system works.
There are two things that drastically upset the status quo. First, there is Bridger, a young boy with the inexplicable ability to bring toys and other inanimate objects to life. Mycroft, amidst his other duties, struggles to hide and protect Bridger. Second, a stolen document appears in the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’, drawing unwanted attention to the bash, endangering Bridger. The document itself is of minor importance, but the political ramifications of the theft are many, particularly since the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash’ is responsible for the worldwide transport system. The ability to travel effortlessly and speedily from one side of the world to another is essential to the stability of their social and governmental system.
Readers with a background in philosophy will enjoy seeing how the ideas of various philosophers such as Diderot and Voltaire are implemented, and examining the questions that arise. The novel is thought provoking in the extreme, although rather dense at times. While Too Like the Lightning is an excellent book, it is not a good choice if you are looking for a quick, light read. The only disappointment I had is that the novel ends about midway through the tale. I can understand that because otherwise the novel would be impossibly long. It’s already 432 pages in print form. Needless to say, I am anxious to read the continuation - Seven Surrenders.
I received a copy of Too Like the Lightning from the publisher and netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review.
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 labelling 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 competion 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 destablize the system: the boy Bridger, who can effortlessly make his wishes come true. Who can, it would seem, bring inanimate objects to life...