Dec 08 2019

Seven Surrenders by Ada Palmer

Of the predecessor to Seven Surrenders, Too Like the Lightning, I wrote that Palmer directly tackles the problem of how different far-future humans will be from present-day people. As Mycroft Canner, her unreliable narrator, says near that book’s beginning, “You will criticize me, reader, for writing in a style six hundred years removed from the events I describe, but you came to me for explanation of those days of transformation which left your world the world it is, and since it was the philosophy of the Eighteenth Century, heavy with optimism and ambition, whose abrupt revival birthed the recent revolution, so it is only in the language of the Enlightenment, rich with opinion and sentiment, that those days can be described. … It will be hard at first, but whether you are my contemporary still awed by the new order, or an historian gazing back at my Twenty-Fifth Century as remotely as I gaze back on the Eighteenth, you will find yourself more fluent in the language of the past than you imagined; we all are.” (Too Like the Lightning, p. 7)

Seven Surrenders

The people of four hundred years hence are both familiar and strange; the future, too, is a foreign country, and they do things differently there. One thing that the people of the future largely thought they did not do was sanction violence to uphold the systems of their societies. They thought that such things had been dispensed with after the final wars of religion. The Hive system of choosable law and government, at once cornerstone and keystone of the current Enlightenment, were meant to preserve autonomy and bring the benefits of plenty to all of humanity.

Seven Surrenders picks up immediately from the end of Too Like the Lightning and shows, among other things, the violence inherent in the system. Not only has the present peace been a masquerade, some key people have been preparing to win, and perhaps even instigate, a new war. By the end of the book’s tumultuous events, each of the seven Hives has surrendered an important part of its autonomy and self-understanding. The introduction promises that the present order does not hold, although that transformation has to await The Will to Battle and the forthcoming Perhaps the Stars, which complete Palmer’s Terra Ignota series.

Although Seven Surrenders is also a middle book, it concludes the first part of the set, and contains transformations of its own thus avoiding some of the typical middle-book problems. The world is familiar enough from Too Like the Lightning, so the reader spends less time figuring out the world and more time seeing it develop and change. The sprawling cast of characters is likewise familiar, so it is simpler to follow their metamorphoses. And there are plenty of those, with many new connections revealed, alliances broken, and reversals suffered. It isn’t the beginning of the end, but it is the end of the beginning.

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