It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace.
It is almost as if Ada Palmer has reviewed the words of John Lennon's 'Imagine' and posed the question 'well what if there WAS no religion? What if there was nothing to fight over? How would that world work?'
And so in the world of 'Too Like the Lightning', in the middle of the 25th Century there are no proselytizing religions. Belief is purely a private matter, for discussion of the individual with their counsellor (sensayer). Three people, meeting together and talking of God constitutes a Church meeting, and is proscribed by law. The 'Church Wars' saw to that.
Nation states are no more, with humanity affiliated instead into seven Hives of the like-minded, whose globe spanning clans have also replaced the nuclear family with the bash'(from the Japanese i-basho), groupings of four to twenty friends, rearing ideas and and children together in their private havens of discourse and play. Masons, Humanists, Gordians, Cousins, Utopians, Mitsubishi, Europeans and the Hiveless all have a role to play.
Fundamental to the function of the world is the existence of cheap, rapid and reliable transport. The Mukhta, the really truly flying car connects the world and obliterates distance. one can live in Chile, work in London, and be home in time for dinner.
The Saneer-Weeksbooth bash' has the responsibility for maintaining and controlling the system which manages the cars. Hundreds of millions of lightning fast transits every day. They are the most important people in the world.
Into the bash' comes Mycroft Canner, our unreliable narrator. Mycroft is a 'servicer', fated to make himself useful as punishment for initially unspecified crimes in his past. Mycroft relates the events of a very critical seven days, days on which it seems, the fate of the world will depend. Palmer cloaks Mycroft's commentary in prose reminiscent of the 18th century, which is appropriate, because she has cherry-picked and warped the ideas of the Enlightenment to build this world for our enjoyment. The subject of the story begins with the investigation into the theft of the 'Seven-Ten List', which is quite simply, a selection of the 'most influential' personages in the world. The theft it seems, may be associated with the Saneer-Weeksbooth bash'. But more importantly, the bash' has a secret. The boy Bridger, who it seems, can make wishes come true....
There is a lot to like here. The story is new and inventive, and after initial orientation, the tone of the narration works well. It is rare to find a story of utopia, rather than the dime a dozen dystopias which are the currency of near future fiction these days. Of course, below the surface, perhaps it is not so perfect after all.
I did however, find it hard to comprehend why the 'Seven-Ten List', even if stolen could be of much consequence, given that these lists are the opinions of a journalists and commentators. Whilst the world is well conceived, it focuses exclusively on the lives of the elite and influential, without giving a glimpse of how the ruled pass their lives. And, perhaps not surprisingly, since the Enlightenment is largely a European idea, it is overly Eurocentric. Africa and South East Asia seem to have disappeared, whist the Mitsibushi hive is seemingly the ghetto for inscrutable orientals.
The sequel, 'Seven Surrenders', is released in December 2016, and is much anticipated