Too Like the Lightning: intricate worldbuilding, brilliant speculation, gripping storytelling
Ada Palmer -- historian, musician, librettist -- debuts as a novelist today with a book called Too Like the Lightning, a book more intricate, more plausible, more significant than any debut I can recall.
Palmer's 25th century is in the midst of a long and carefully maintained peace, a peace that came only after the Church Wars, when religion nearly destroyed the world. Religions have been abolished, no grouping of more than three people may discuss religious subjects. The advent of ballistic, supersonic flying cars have eliminated space as a constraint on human grouping, all but abolishing nation-states in the process.
Humans belong to post-geographic affinity groups, some very large (Humanists, Utopians, Mitsubishi, Masons, and more), others much finer-grained: fans of a given sports-team, adherents to a philosophy, members of a trade guild or a hobbyist association. Every person is a minority of one, and majority has been abolished, taking with it the oppression of the many over the few. Even gender has ceased to be a meaningful category, though certain perverts insist on the use of gendered pronouns to describe themselves. Families are gone, replaced by group houses called bash'es, where child-rearing and other familial functions are shared by many adults and their children. Also all but gone is the penal system: instead of sending those who steal and murder to prison, they are turned into work-servants, "Servicers," whom any person may command, and who may only eat food given to them in return for their service.
Mycroft Canner, the book's protagonist and narrator, is one such criminal -- in fact, as we learn, he is a contender for the most notorious criminal of his age, whose brilliance and savagery has made him the confidant of every leader of every strat, and a trusted helper for the most important bash', the elite family who manage the flying cars whose smooth running is critical to the literal survival of 25th century society.
Palmer writes science fiction like a historian, maneuvering vast historical forces deftly, plunging effortlessly into their minutae and detail, zooming out to dizzying heights to show how they all fit together. Her acknowledgements cite Alfred Bester as an influence, and that's no surprise -- few writers can trump Bester for the sense of a world that contains within it all the other worlds of all its inhabitants. Palmer, though, may have exceeded the master.
Too Like the Lightning manages to be several books at once: a serious philosophical treatise; a murder-mystery whose surprises buffet the reader like cold slaps out of nowhere that feel inevitable in hindsight; a piece of historical theory in narrative form; a thought-experiment about gender, nationality, identity and bigotry; and a gripping personal story whose players are likable, flawed, sexy, and sometimes terrifying.
If you read a debut novel this year, make it Too Like the Lightning.
Too Like the Lightning [Ada Palmer/Tor]
Asaf Hanuka is a celebrated Israeli cartoonist whose astonishing, surreal illustrations serve as counterpoint to sweet (sometimes too-sweet) depictions of his family life, his complicated existence as a member of a visible minority in Israel, the fear he and his family live with, and his own pleasures and secret shames — a heady, confessional, autobiographical brew that has just been collected into The Realist: Plug and Play, the second volume of Hanuka’s comics.
SOG’s $60 Sync II “wearable belt buckle” multitool isn’t the only multitool/buckle on the market, but it does add a couple very sensible innovations, like a clip-on/clip-off base that lets you use your tool without taking off your belt, and a squared-off form factor (like a pair of folding travel sewing scissors) that adapts the […]
Stories matter: the recurring narrative of radical Islamic terror in America (a statistical outlier) makes it nearly impossible to avoid equating “terrorist” with “jihadi suicide bomber” — but the real domestic terror threat is white people, the Dominionists, ethno-nationalists, white separatists, white supremacists and sovereign citizens who target (or infiltrate) cops and blow up buildings. That’s what makes Brian Wood’s first Briggs Land collection so timely: a gripping story of far-right terror that is empathic but never sympathetic.
Boasting an IPX6 waterproof rating, the Trakk Bullet Ultra Compact Waterproof Bluetooth Speaker resists dust and heavy rainfall. It’s currently available in the Boing Boing Store.The Trakk Bullet offers the same wireless convenience as other portable speakers, but few are built as tough as this one. Its utilitarian construction is designed to be a totally low-maintenance […]
The Ticwatch 2 Active Smartwatch is a simpler take on an active wearable that raised over $2m dollars on Kickstarter and is currently offered in the Boing Boing Store.Somewhere in between the single-day battery life and platform-specificity of the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices, there exists the Ticwatch. Instead of trying to shoehorn another […]
Loot Crate is a subscription service that delivers a box of curated pop culture goods to your doorstep. To sample their geeky wares, you can order a single mystery box exclusively from the Boing Boing Store.Each month Loot Crate sends you 6-7 unique items and apparel, including collectibles, books, and t-shirts. Pulling inspiration from all […]