Saturday, July 1, 2017

Too Like the Lightning, by Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning is one of the Hugo nominees this year.  The awards seem to be back on track, and we've had strong entries so far in All the Birds In the Sky and Ninefox Gambit.  This is another worthy entry.

I'll say up front, though, that it takes some work to read and appreciate this book.  The setting is several hundred years in the future after the Church Wars nearly wiped out humanity.  What has been settled on is a system of Hives, approximating old political regions and tightly interlocked.  There is freedom of belief, but preachers and proselytizing are no longer allowed.  In their place, we have sensayers, people who help interpret your beliefs and educate you about others.  They seem like a mild parody version of Unitarian Universalists.  People live in 'bashes, extended group homes for both life and work.  The focus of the story is the Saner-Weeksbooth 'bash, in charge of the entire network of self-driving cars.

The story is told mostly by Mycroft Canner, currently a Servicer--someone who has committed a crime severe enough to warrant forbidding all material possessions and working only for meals.  Canner is an incredibly talented fellow so his services are much sought after, at the highest levels.  Canner has discovered a miracle--a child who can himself perform miracles--and has brought it to the S-W 'bash for assistance.

The first half of the book is a dense slog through scene-setting.  Awkward combinations of ethnic names, acronyms, and characters slowly sort themselves out.  The Saner-Weeksbooth 'bash is weak, having lost its senior members in a freak rafting accident, and now they are trying to deal with a miracle as well. 

Perseverance pays off, as things really pick up in the second half of the book.  One is by turns horrified and rendered thoughtful, and then those get blended.  It's a fine piece of work, and I won't say anything about the second half to avoid spoiling it.  I will say that the book does not stand on its own--it is the first of the Terra Incognita series, and has a cliffhanger ending.  In the end I enjoyed it and it edges over into 4 stars.

No comments:

Post a Comment