Too Like the Lightning (Terra Ignota)
4/5 (this is me leaving some room for the rest of this series). I read this months ago while traveling, and also explaining this book takes many many words, so let me shorthand. Futuristic post nation state post organized religion sorta post gender science fiction about powerbroking and politics and miracles. And really, really awesome. Have some bullet points.
• I think the SF field is going to bend around this series, once it's done. Just a feeling. And I'm personally looking forward to all the books that are going to be fans of this series and arguing with this series and really mad at this series. Not just that I think some of those books are going to be good books, but also that I think it will all take us through some philosophical territory that I'm looking forward to.
• Remember how I complained that the linguistic gender stuff in Ancillary Justice
was fun but kinda pointless? Yeah, this book is set in a culture where the polite pronoun for everyone is ungendered, and it is doing so much stuff
with that, I probably lost track. Our narrator plays with gender occlusion and disclosure in hilarious and pointed ways. You end up in the end with a pretty clear idea of who is supposed to be what gender, but very little certainty that you are right, but a lot of certainty that being right is so not the point. Because fundamentally, gender in this book is about performance of a gendered role – often a gendered stereotype – and the narrator is therefore generally uninterested in what is actually in people's pants. It's great, and I look forward to future developments, and I also think this Strange Horizons reviewer
really did not get it (that review does give a much more detailed picture of the worldbuilding than I do, though, along with what I consider a spoiler).
• This book fucks with genre. It's science fiction that uses the word "miracle" with deliberation. And the miracle in question – animating objects like toy soldiers with a touch – is jarringly weird
in this secularized, very sciency future. I struggled with this for a while, until a twist introduced a particular kind of ridiculously terrible, over-the-top violence into the book, into this society that barely knows what murder is anymore, and I went 'ah' and started looking for other pieces that don't fit. That break the pattern in your head, break your assumptions, make you uneasy and unhappy the way the word "miracle" made me uneasy and unhappy. If this society makes it through the whole series intact, I am going to be very very surprised.
• I laughed. Out loud, unexpectedly, and very ungracefully, in the middle of a sidewalk. It was at the word "Jehovah." Oh, how I laughed. You'll know it when you see it.
• A lot of specfic set in the future is anchored unmistakably in the twenty-first century. Like there are two points in history – today and the speculated future – and the only work of worldbuilding is to draw a line from here to there. This book draws its line instead from the nineteenth century (mostly), which makes for an entirely different and richer experience of created history. Not a totally new idea – Robert Charles Wilson tried this in his Julian Comstock
, but this is far more successful.
Next book in December, please and thank you.