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Too Like the Lightning: A Novel (Terra Ignota) Paperback – January 24, 2017
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From Publishers Weekly
Palmer's fiction debut is the ambitious and colorful first installment of her Terra Ignota series, following the political intrigues of Mycroft Canner, a convict who, as punishment for his crimes, becomes the servant of all he meets. The setting is a richly depicted future where gender is concealed, people live in carefully coded sects, and theology is pick-and-choose. Mycroft is tasked with hiding a child whose existence could cause chaos; this is no easy feat, and he and those around him are soon plunged into the world of high politics. Palmer's prose is written with an Enlightenment sensibility, deliberately dense and ponderous. This stylistic decision can be engaging, especially in the tÃªte-Ã -tÃªtes between Mycroft and the reader, but the heaviness detracts from what might otherwise be an engrossing plot. Mycroft is a witty unreliable narrator whose own biases color the world brought before the reader; it lurches between hellish and utopian. Palmer proves that the boundaries of science fiction can be pushed and that history and the future can be married together. Agent: Amy Boggs, Donald Maass Literary. (May)\n --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
"This is the kind of science fiction that makes me excited all over again about what science fiction can do. Lots of books can knock you over and leave you reeling and dazzled when you're fifteen, but it takes something special to do the same thing to you at fifty. Too Like The Lightning and its sequels do that, over and over again."--Jo Walton
"The best science fiction novel I've read in a long while, and it stands as powerful evidence that the sf genre is still a treasure box overflowing with wonders."--Robert Charles Wilson
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Top Customer Reviews
My biggest gripes are with the plotting and pacing. I love the philosophical and speculative tangents, but they thoroughly bog down the pacing for handfuls of pages at a time. You may not even understand the purpose behind their inclusion until you are brought back into the unfolding action, half a chapter later. The plot itself hinges on statistical projections that I find very difficult to believe (either in their recurrence or their stability). Furthermore, the fate of the world's population seems to hang on the actions of a "few" - maybe 20 central characters, but a very small fraction of the whole. This stretches credibility as well.
I'm okay with suspending disbelief for the sheer wonder of exploring so many historical and philosophical ideas, borrowed from Voltaire to Diderot to de Sade to Rousseau. And much of this feels like reading a 25th century story couched in the language of 18th and 19th century writers, an oddball style, but one that Palmer is able to pull off. There are surprises midway through and at the end that I did not anticipate but which were lurking there all the while - well done on that score. This novel is certainly worth reading, but it misses making my "7-10" list of favorites, and I would definitely consider carefully to whom I would recommend it.
Some fantasy and science fiction books do their worldbuilding in a deliberate and transparent way. Others throw the reader in the deep end, as some language teachers use nothing but the language to be learned in their classes. This immersion method demands enough attention and perseverance of the reader that I often don't take the trouble. Somehow, this time, Palmer sucked me in. I worked at figuring out what was going on and in what context. When the narrator occasionally deigned to explain something more clearly, it came as a relief and a reward.
This method ensures that by the time the reader encounters some truly disturbing revelation, that reader will have invested enough time and effort, and become sufficiently entangled in the plot and characters, that it's difficult to step away. Nor could I be content with ignorance as to how the very intriguing central premise would play out in the end.
Now that I've finished this book (apparently a Book One of two or more) and can step back a bit, I find aspects of this future world somewhat implausible. And the next book, due out in February 2017, may be almost as much work as this one. But I'm still hooked. February 2017 will be a long time coming.
The concept for this world-building story is great--a person's thoughts physically alter the world--and I had high hopes for reading it based upon the cover jacket reviews. I thought I was in store for an alternative version of "The Lathe of Heaven." However, after trying multiple times to read it, I had to give up. The plot is obfuscated by overly complex language and narrative, and repeated changes in story dialogue. For example, the author is often speaking through the perspective of a character, who is them-self telling the story in written form. This character explains the current issues in the world, where discussion of religion, gender, and other topics is discouraged or outright illegal. Thus they repeatedly change sentence structure and focus, leaving the reader often lost. The complexities of the society are not explained sufficiently, early in the book, such that the reader can stay engaged.
To quote the derogatory phrase that is sometimes applied to high-concept architecture that is neither practical nor pleasing to the eye and heart: "how unique it is; it must have won an award."
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