Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

Tor Books, © May 2016
ISBN 9780765378002
Hardcover, 432 pages, $11.42

Several hundred years in the future, Earth—and human civilization—is completely unrecognizable. Religion has been outlawed. Gender pronouns are eradicated, as is a binary gender system. Select criminals are no longer imprisoned. Instead, they are put to work as Servicers in whatever capacity best benefits society. Cars fly. In fact so many cars fly at breakneck speed through Earth’s skies that they have to be controlled by overarching tracker systems to eliminate the crashes; but this technology allows humans to live in one land and work in another even halfway around the world, and commute every day. Countries and nationalities are gone, replaced by Hives. People’s homes are communal. In this global culture, royalty has returned, and politics reign supreme.

But there’s one individual in this setting that doesn’t fit the mold, a young child who possesses the ability to bring things to life—toys, pictures, the dead. His very presence holds the potential to upset the precarious balance of culture and society. Only a few know of his existence, and they intend to keep it that way for as long as possible.

The worldbuilding in Lightning is extraordinary, the prose outstanding, the characterizations compelling. Palmer has woven a mighty, complex web here and absolutely deserves the Hugo nomination her tale received.

However, I did not finish the book. There are a number of issues that confused me as a reader (such as the fact that the narrator adds back in gender associations in random fashion, even though the rest of the story does not use them). But I think it was the political convolutions that did me in on the plot. Which is weird. I adored Dune and all the books that followed in that saga (at least the eight or ten I read). However, I couldn’t follow Lightning’s Gordian thread. At 51% of the way through the novel, I still had no clue what the heck was going on. I wanted to understand it. I tried to understand it. But in the end, I have a very limited amount of time to dedicate to reading, and this just wasn’t worth it to me—especially when I read in another review (trying to find out if was just me) that this is book one in The Terra Ignota series, and that nothing really gets resolved in Lightning. It’s all set-up.

So at slightly more than half-way through, I set it aside and moved on to something else. I am clearly not a member of its intended audience, but that takes nothing away from its merit.

Now. All that said, please please don’t give this book a pass based solely on my opinion. Look at other reviews before you decide (here’s one; here’s another) or, better yet, borrow it from the library and try it out yourself. Plenty of other readers rave about this story, although not one I’ve seen will say it’s an easy read. It’s work. This is a heavy story, laden with meaning that is building to something massive. Hence the weighty narrative. And if that’s your thing, Lightning might be right up your alley.

3 thoughts on “Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer”

  1. I’m afraid I wasn’t tempted to read this one, even before I got to your difficulties with it, but that’s because the genre doesn’t much interest me. I never made it further than 50 pages into Dune.

    What impressed me and kept me reading your review was the clear and specific way in which you outlined both the novel’s strengths and its weaknesses. It didn’t make me want to check out the novel, but it did convince me that I’d like to read more of your book reviews 🙂

    1. Thanks Dean! I have a very limited amount of “free” time (TIME is a 4-letter word). This isn’t the first time I’ve put a book down for one reason or another. There are too many other great possibilities out there to finish a read only for the sake of completion!

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