Too Like the Lightning (by Ada Palmer) = 4/5

Too Like the Lightning is a sweeping science fiction epic mystery set in the utopian society of the 2400s. It is a fascinating future, where the planetary government is split across different Hives, which in turn have their own rules and social mores within the territories they control. There are self-driving cars, Lunar settlements, genetically-designed humans, and more. The story is (mostly) narrated by a Servicer (basically a slave to all mankind), Mycroft Canner, as he tries to protect a child with miraculous abilities from discovery while simultaneously trying to satisfy his duties to all Earth’s Hives. Gender is an incredibly fluid concept considered entirely outdated, for the most part; nevertheless, when gendered pronouns are used, it is to label a person’s behaviors and actions more often than their physical sex.

Confused already? Understandable. I was on the metro and only a few pages into Too Like the Lightning when a random guy made eye contact and started asking what I thought of the book. There’s a sharp learning curve, we agreed, “but stick with it. It’s totally worth it and sooooo good!”, he told me.

He was right.

Ada Palmer herself peaked my interest in this book; she was on a panel about writing sci-fi utopias at Balticon a year or two ago, and I was very impressed by what she brought to the conversation, the far-future utopia she imagined, and her evident passion for research. In short, I wanted to read whatever story a mind like hers could, and had, created.

I’d recommend Too Like the Lightning for those looking for an intellectual challenge (not the hard-science kind) and/or a plausible distant future society. Palmer’s worldbuilding is clearly done with a historian’s care–future societal norms or changes are entirely plausible when one considers how much our own societies have (or haven’t) changed over the centuries. Philosophers figure prominently, and there’s even several dialogues between major characters that take place in Latin (translations provided parenthetically).

TL;DR: Too Like the Lightning presents readers with a wonderfully complex, puzzling utopian world and challenges them to understand their own conceptions of the ideal society through an engaging science fiction mystery

Review originally written 8 August 2017

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