Book Review: Too Like the Lightening, by Ada Palmer

10 May 2017 - by: Jamie

This book reads like Dan Carlin; of Hardcore History fame; quoting the Greek historian Herodotus. This is emphasized by the fact that much of what the book's fictional narrator, Mycroft Canner, says seems impossible. One cannot help but wonder how much of Mycroft's telling is true and how much is embellished; either by Herodotus' dramatic flare, or by Mycraft's own madness. My verisimilitude concerning this fictional person's sincerity is probably the highest praise I can give to this book, and to this brilliant author.

I have never studied philosophy, but I get the impression that one educated on the topic would understand much more nuance in these pages than I. This book makes me want to study philosophy, not just to understand the story better, but because it has genuinely awoken a fascination within me. I find anything that's not science-fiction or fantasy very difficult to read, so this book got the gears in my mind turning like no other fiction has before.

Every word in this book seems carefully chosen, and every sentence seems of utmost importance. It's certainly not difficult to read or to follow, but it makes you want to read slowly, and understand the depth of meaning on every page.

I love that this story takes place several hundred years in the future, yet it is not a dystopia. This is incredibly refreshing, when these days so much future-fiction is dystopian. It contains many wonderful things that we should hope for in our future, but also reminds us of the ever-present nature of mankind - in a loving way, sometimes erotic, and sometimes violent. This book contains both a celebration and a grimoire of humanity.

Another aspect of this book I must praise is the challenge to our contemporary notions of gender, presented in a manner which apologizes to readers of a future where gender is not something so casually discussed as to identify it constantly with pronouns. The apology is also for us, because the singular 'they' is used regularly here. It is slightly jarring at first, but soon becomes rewarding, even becoming annoying when 'he' or 'she' is used. There is no agenda here except perhaps to force into your mind the context which will help you understand this future.

One piece of advice: there comes a time when Mycroft will beg you to continue reading. Listen to him, gentle reader, though the kind part of you will want to stop.

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Jamie Unrau

Jamie is a writer, programmer, and maker from Vancouver Canada.

See more of his blog posts here.