Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer (Books 2018, 1)
The worst thing about this book is that it tells you, two or three chapters from the end, that it’s only the first half of the story. Now, I knew there are two other books in the series, but I expected the first book to be at least capable of standing alone. Turns out it isn’t: the ending leaves us hanging right after the big reveal.
The other worst thing about this book is that I’m not really that compelled to read on. I mean, I probably will, but it’s not like when I read Hyperion, say, and had to scurry around the city trying to find a copy of the second volume.1
After all the fuss about it not being published in the UK, and me not being able to get it, I had high expectations. Probably too high, as it turns out.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s by no means a bad book, and it’s astonishingly accomplished for a first novel. I did enjoy reading it. Its true weakest point— ignore all that complaining above — is that it can be a little bit hard to understand the world she creates. Not impossible, though, and Palmer does go to some efforts to explain it with minimal infodumping. Or at least with infodumping disguised as a conversation with the reader, which works quite well.
It’s about four hundred years in the future, and since the Church War some two hundred or so earlier, the world no longer exists as countries in the way that we know them. Instead people are members of one of seven “hives,” which they can choose to align themselves with at majority. Or not: some people are hiveless by choice.
Countries mean less at least in part because of super-fast international transport by “cars,” which I think are probably suborbital rockets or similar. Though they may have a more advanced propulsion system. The most confusing thing is probably that the leaders of the seven hives are characters and each of them has several names. For any given one of them, each of the others might know them by a different nickname, and the narrator uses these interchangeably. It gets hard to keep track of who’s who.
Global warming appears to have been conquered, or ameliorated to the point where it’s not a major concern. In fact it seems to be very close to a post-scarcity society. People only work at things they want to, and seem to be able to live OK without having to work.
Apart from “Servicers,” that is. Our narrator, Mycroft Canner, is one of these. People convicted of sufficiently serious crimes can end up as one of these. They are essentially public slaves. They are required to work for seemingly anyone who asks them, and are paid in food and board — and occasionally other treats such as cinema tickets. But they have no other way to get these things.
I found it quite a disturbing an idea; though it would almost certainly be better than being in prison; and at least they don’t have the death penalty.
That’s not the most disturbing thing in the book. But I’ll say no more about that.
As I write about it, my estimation of it is going up. Isn’t that strange? If I write enough about it I’ll probably stop to download Seven Surrenders, the next volume.
Oh, yes, as I said, it says it’s “the first half” of Canner’s story; but there are two more volumes. Are they both short, or is the third one more standalone? There’s only one way to find out.
But I have a stack of other things to read first. Also I realise I have no idea what the title has to do with the story. 📖
- If memory serves: it was a long time ago, and it may not have happened exactly like that. ↩