WIRED Book Club: Too Like the Lightning Is Teasing Us, and We Love It
Ada Palmer, you beautiful tease! Just when the story begins to take shape, silvery threads hardening into a web of extraordinary design, you cut us off. Too like the lightning, indeed. But don’t get us wrong: Even the grumpiest among us was won over by this magnificent—what do you call it, a novelized treatise? “Book” seems insufficient. So realized is the final result, even in this first of two volumes, that the mind struggles to apprehend the totality of the accomplishment. When we speak to Palmer next week, we’ll ask her how she did it, but in the meantime, let’s confront the book’s last third: everything we learned, and everything we didn’t.
On a scale of 1-10, how cliffhangery was the ending for you?
Lexi Pandell, Assistant Research Editor: Between the revelation about the assassinations and Saladin finally joining up with Bridger, it was pretty close to a 9 for me, maybe an 8.5. If the second book was out right now, I’d dive in.
Jay Dayrit, Editorial Operations Manager: 10s across the board! Way too many cliffhangers. It felt little like The Name of the Wind, one long setup. Enjoyable, but basically a setup for the second book. When Saladin and Bridger’s path of finally cross, I was fully prepared for an epic throw down, but it ended with what appeared to be a simple abduction. Saladin does not know what he’s dealing with. Poor, trusting Bridger. That’ll change come the second book.
Peter Rubin, Senior Editor: I’d jump in just as Lexi would, but I’m going to clock that cliffhanger as a 7. It helps that we knew it was coming, but there were enough answers given—or at least new questions whose answers we could look forward to—that the ending felt less like we were leaving our favorites in peril and more like the moment when the A-Team suits up and rolls out. There’s plenty of subterfuge left to chronicle, but given the comparatively rollicking pace of this last act—Saladin on the prowl, Tully back from Mars, the goings-on (and -in) at Madame’s Sexhaus—I was satisfied by the time I got to the last page. Simply put, we know much more about much more.
Jason Kehe, Associate Editor: Frankly, I was expecting some WTF-level cut to black. Like literally: Depressed, hormonal Bridger touches a drawing of a black hole, and BANG. So the ending we got felt comparatively tame. Sure, tons of threads dangle, like sashes from a well-rounded Hive influencer, but we kinda-sorta know whodunit and why. Well, that’s not even true, but whatevs. I’m putting it at about a 6.5, as any higher would suggest I’m disappointed, when I somehow feel very satisfied. But I second Lexi—I need the second book now. (Also, was I mistaken that this was a planned trilogy? Love that it’s a duology. Like, I had to verify the word “duology” because who even writes those nowadays?)
Katie Palmer, Senior Associate Editor: I got majorly thrown off by the ending. Did everyone else know this wasn’t going to be a single self-contained novel? Because for the last 50 pages or so I kept on asking “How on Earth can Bridger fit into this by the end?” and then just felt horribly disappointed when I realized I wasn’t getting an answer yet. Cliffhanger score of 15, and I’m not happy about it.
Now we know why the bash’ was Saneer-Weeksbooth, and not Saneer-Leakproof.
Kehe: I was happy poor Cato, who seemed so suspicious this whole time, wasn’t solely responsible (and in fact has been abused and exploited to within an inch of his sanity/life). As Papa and Martin point out, nobody in that house has their head on quite right. Kiiiinda coinkidinky that Mycroft finds his way to the ONE BASH’ full of fellow family killers, no? Also, who the eff are the TWINS?!
Rubin: Props to Guildbreaker for becoming Martin Casecracker on this one. Also, I’m loving the emergence of Papadelias. Remember how last week I said that J.E.D.D. MASON reminded me of the detective from Death Note? Well, now we’ve actually got a single-minded detective hot on the trail of a string of mysterious deaths. Make this an anime series now.
That was one hell of a third act for our boy Mycroft. How does Carlyle’s final revelation about Canner change the way you think of his morality?
Pandell: It makes sense. This is a world where morality is not supposed to be a factor. That’s, after all, why religion has been pushed into the realm of living-room philosophizing for the wealthy in favor of science, rationality, and belief in human accomplishment. But J.E.D.D. didn’t eliminate Mycroft’s desire to kill—he just can’t carry it out himself. But that’s what everyone’s favorite Voldemort-looking, eyelash-less, ear-chomping weirdo Saladin is for.
Kehe: Is it horrifying-bordering-on-psychopathic that I have the hots for Saladin? Oh God, I should probably take that back.
Pandell: Ahem. I mean, if the smell of marauding, goats, and gunpowder is your thing …. Though, gotta admit, Mycroft’s descriptions still made him seem rather titillating.
Rubin: I find it hard to believe there’s not a Chuck Tingle book about Saladin yet.
Kehe: Thank you. Maybe a quickie at Madame’s, is all I’m saying. (He calls me Jaycee, I call him Sally.) But on the subject of Mycroft’s morality, has anything really changed? We knew SOMETHING happened to his brain; J.E.D.D. doing some voodoo mind-scramble is as good an explanation as any. And until we know exactly why Mycroft killed his bash’mates 13 years ago, I think his psychology/reliability is still a wide-open question. Which is an odd thing to say of our narrator for 429 pages, but think about it: We still have no idea what Mycroft is really about. Also, contrary to Martin’s convictions, he MUST know about the Saneer-Weeksbooth conspiracy.
Dayrit: In a world stripped of religion, philosophy is everyone’s moral compass. Yet there are puppet masters everywhere. Pretty nifty trick whatever J.E.D.D. Mason did to Mycroft Canner to suppress his violent urges. How will he do the same to seven billion people? Yes, Mycroft is as ambiguous as ever, but I do think he’s working some sort of long con. Why maintain the front of subjugation, fiddling with his cap all the time?
Palmer: Oh for sure; I think Mycroft is 100 percent the instigator of this political plot, which he initiated as soon as he met Bridger and realized his potential to swoop in and change the world (maybe) for the better—at the expense of a few dozen, hundred, thousand lives, whatever. But I also think we’re not paying enough attention to Thisbe here. She’s holding so many more strings than her bash’mates thanks to her connection with Bridger, and let’s be honest, she seemed mighty comfortable at Madame’s for a first-timer.
Kehe: And let’s not forget Mycroft still has some secret way to circumvent tracking, which is NOT the Canner Device, even though it probably IS the Canner Device (for which he only ever “had the packaging”—huh??) but for the sake of his story he can’t come right out and say that so he’s doing some clever doubling back reverse psychology “look over there!” move and we’re all being manipulated and wait couldn’t Bridger just magic a new Canner Device into existence? Or some related tech that would help Mycroft in some way? That kid worships Mycroft (scary?), which makes Mycroft the most powerful person literally in the entire world.
Who is Comte Déguisé? “Reader” clearly knows, so it feels only right that we hazard a guess.
Rubin: So when I got to that part, I thought “oh, it’s the Humanist vice-president guy who claims he’s proxy for the Anonymous!” in some sort of man-behind-the-curtain play. But then, after going back to find that that said proxy was saddled with the banal name “Brody DeLupa,” which is basically the name of a heel in the unfilmed fourth season of Veronica Mars, I’m stumped. It’s someone we’ve met, else Canner wouldn’t tease us so. But whose charisma can match Ancelet’s? Who has the trust of Hive heads and Humanists alike?
(TOO LIKE THE) LIGHTNING ROUND!
Describe what Canner Beat sounds like, using 21st-century reference points.
Pandell: It’s a mash-up: I imagine the lyrics and tone of “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” by The Decemberists mixed with the thumping beat of “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
Palmer: Just this.
Rubin: So this is partially 20th-century, but in my mind it’s a mix of Paul Hardcastle’s “19” and DJ Assault. (I’d link to his work, but this is a family site.)
Dayrit: EDM in a gay nightclub.
If you were a set-set, what variety would you be?
Kehe: Whoa, bleeding-heart Nurturist here. Take your child abuse ELSEWHERE, monsters.
Dayrit: Ugh. I would never want to be a set-set. Out of all the characters in the book, they lead the most miserable existence. We are well on our way there. VR headsets are the first step.
Rubin: Flash. I don’t even know what they do, but I’m down to do it.
It’s time to claim your hive. Please declare allegiance now.
Pandell: I have a deranged affection for the Mitsubishi and I certainly have some Utopian sensibilities. But, deep down, I fancy myself a Humanist: A perfection-seeking, exercise-obsessed, arts-loving wearer of fabulous boots (with blades hidden inside in case someone gets on my wrong side, natch).
Kehe: Gordian, with a smellcrafting hobby and private Cannerite leanings. I’ve also been spotted in the Flesh Pit under invisible Griffincloth sheets because my family can’t know.
Palmer: As a science writer I’d have to resign if I identified as anything but a Utopian, and I’m pretty stoked that my Hive will support my unreasonable obsession with badass cloaks.
Rubin: I might covet that sweet sweet griffincloth, but with their vizors and their dreamscapes, the Utopians feel like a D&D group gone wrong. So, my ego says Humanist. Those custom boots are just too fresh.
Dayrit: When I was younger, I would have been a Humanist. I was a dancer. I cared about fashion. Now, I’m most certainly a Mitsubishi: all business, goal-oriented, uptight. Now I’m bummed, seeing what I have become. Can I change Hives?
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