Monday, January 03, 2022

Book: You Say You Want A Revelation?

Perhaps the Stars by Ada Palmer, Tor Books, 2021

Provenance: Purchased from Amazon.Com. The first three volumes were available as trade paperbacks, but I could only find the American edition in hardback. Receiving it, I can see why - it is a massive tome, longer than its predecessors.

The Review: This is the final book in Palmer's Terra Ignota series. Books one and two are reviewed here. Book three is here. Go read those reviews, because it gives the best summary I can come up with about how we got to a future world of rational actors who are going to kill each other over valid reasons. As noted previous, it is impossible to give a detailed review without spoilers, so consider yourself warned. 

So, here's where we are. The world's population is divided into non-national Hives, which are now pitted against each other. The cassus belli is the arrival of a god. Not the god of this universe, but a god from somewhere else, who seeks to flush out the god of our reality by remaking the world. Some of the Hives support this - they are the Remakers. Some do not. They are the Hiveguard. Now, not all the Remakers are fighting for a complete remaking, and not all Hiveguard are united either. And there are factions within each Hive that disagree with what their parent Hive is doing. AND there are smaller groups which are neutral, but not really neutral, as it is revealed. AND it turns out there is another subtextural war going on between those who want to go see Mankind spread throughout the solar system and those who want to psychohistory our way to a better existence on earth.

So, yeah, it is confusing. And as the war progresses just gets moreso. The allies from the previous chapter are revealed to be enemies, the enemies of the next chapter turn out to be allies, apparent victories are really defeats, and defeats turn out to be victories as far as ultimate goals are concerned.This is not "You can't tell the players without a scorecard" in that you are provided with a scorecard at the start of the book and by the time you're halfway through, it is untrue. That chapter there? Never really happened. Or maybe it did. Plus, the fact that everyone calls everyone else by different names deepens the confusion.

Which is OK, in that book moves through these twists and turns with the expertise of Odysseus moving between whirlpool and monster. Our unreliable narrators become even more unreliable. We have two - Mycroft and the 9th Anonymous. Well, kinda. Like everything else in this future, it's complicated. Lemme leave it at that. It is one of those books that have to be paid attention to, to be conquered, to be scaled, to pull away its understanding. 

Everyone here is a hero. Everyone is a villain. Everyone does bad things for supposedly good purposes. Each of the Hives is not a monolith, but riven with its own subfactions and rebellions. There is war on multiple levels, by multiple prime actors, and individuals change sides swiftly. Things that are presented as very good things when they occur are later reveled to be very bad things. 

This book challenged me. I am no student of philosophy, so if you tell me that a particular philosophy is X or Y, I will believe you. I've got the wiki-version of most philosophers, boiled down to a few choice points. But I can tell you that while the earlier books belonged to Voltaire and Hobbes, this one belongs, blatantly, to Homer, as Mycroft identifies all manner of roles from the Iliad to the various players. 

Once upon a time we referred to Dune and Lord of the Rings as being "unfilmable" - their scope and depth was too much for the screen. Now, portioned out over several movies and backed up with supercomputer animations, they have been filmed. Ignota has that challenge now, in part because of its nongendered/gendered nature of all the characters. Characters have swapped gender identifications throughout the story, from a non-gendered they to either he or she, depending on who is talking and what they are talking about.

One thing that is interesting is that over the course of the publication, out language has moved to the point that singular They is no longer as weird as it  once was. Palmer points out that this is flaw in her future, by assuming that the eradication of noticed gender differences stymies gender equality (sort of like, since we now use the term Ms, equality has been achieved).

In one of the earlier reviews, I pointed out how a lot of the presented Utopia of the book is progressive, liberal, and ultimately wrong. Now I feel there is a stronger religious element to the book as well lurking not-too deeply under the surface. JEDD, the Alien God, is taken at face value as a god without too much demand of credentials. Bridger, the young mutant (?) with the power to create anything, seems very much the much the miracle worker, who ultimately transforms himself to fit a more savage world. And Mycroft's super-ability, reworked by Bridger, involved imbuing and transforming others. So I wonder if JEDD, Bridger, and Mycroft can be interpreted as the Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. 

This is a tough series to scan properly, and Palmer's style harkens back to Gene Wolfe's ability to be completely clear and opaque at the same time, along with Herbert's tendency to delve deep into political discourse. (Indeed, the Alien God JEDD in many ways is an echo of the Kwisatz Haderach). It is a rewarding book, in that it encourages me to think more about what has happened, and even now, two weeks after finishing it, I am still considering what lessons it holds.

More later,