Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning

Too Like The Lightning

Ada Palmer

Too Like the Lightning is a strange book. At times, it is a difficult book. It is also a very, very good book. A work of science fiction, for sure (we’ve got flying cars, people) it’s also much more than that. It’s an attempt to transport enlightenment ideas about social organization, personal freedom, and democracy into a future of flying cars, hyper surveillance, and profound changes in to the ideas of gender, religion, and work.

Oh yeah, and it’s written in a style that is part Voltaire, and part Isaac Asimov.

Like I said, it’s weird. I loved it.

The plot of a book like this is almost beside the point, but suffice it to say, there’s a mysterious break in at one of the world’s most important locations, a hidden child with supernatural powers, and a narrator who is much more than he seems at first. But really, who cares about the plot? I didn’t I cared about the careful construction of the political ideas of the various governments, the fascinating life stories of the novels main characters and the very thoughtful explorations of how the future would handle issues like gender (they is pervasive, yet people still assign genders internally) and religion (you can have it, but don’t talk about it).

Palmer has clearly spent enormous amounts of time building the backstories of her characters and her world, much is left unsaid here, forcing the reader to piece it together. But you can tell that what is left out is intentional, a prompt for the reader to make the connections, it certainly isn’t because it hasn’t been thought through. It has, trust me, she’s just not showing all her cards (yet).

This is a novel, yes, and fairly successful one from a plot perspective. But more interestingly, it’s an elaborate thought experiment using Palmer’s expertise in philosophy and the renaissance (she teaches history at Chicago) to imagine a future world that is both utopia and nightmare. The first in a planned series, I can’t wait for the rest.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Comments (



  1. 2016: My Year In Books | Milo and the Calf

    […] have chosen from among the many, many wonderful books I read this year including Family Life,  Too Like the Lightning, Distant Star, the Fifth Season  and People in the Trees, but I’m choosing Winter in the Blood, […]

  2. Review: Palmer’s Seven Surrenders | Milo and the Calf

    […] The second book in Ada Palmers incredible Terra Ignota series. This one picks off exactly where Too Like the Lightning ended, and moves along at a blistering clip through scores of plot revelations, and extended […]

%d bloggers like this: