Monday, March 20, 2017

Seven Surrenders

As I mentioned last time, I was greatly looking forward to "Seven Surrenders" by Ada Palmer, 2017, 366 pages, the sequel to her "Too Like The Lightning, blogged here. I finished reading it yesterday, and it did not disappoint.

There have been several long articles on these books, 4 in the Crooked Timber blog by 4 different authors and 1 at

The writing is as dense as it is in the 1st book of this series. The main plot thread from the 1st book becomes intertwined with 2 other plot threads. All are mostly resolved by the end, along with out 2 potentially messianic characters. I don't remember a book that ended like this one does: after lots of action, there is a very long expository chapter on the effect the action will have on each of the 7 hives of the story.

I will go and put a "Spoiler Alert" in here. I don't think the spoilers are very bad, but I do want to mention some specifics from the novel.

*********************** SPOILER ALERT ***********************
So the main plot thread is the outing of a system by which strategic assassinations have been used to maintain peace, and further the interests of 3 of the hives, for 250 years. The last wars 250 years ago were the Church Wars. At the conclusion of these wars organized religion was banned, and as the worst religions practiced suppression of women, gender discrimination, in the broadest sense of the word, was also banned. But, humanity was not ready for the elimination of gender.

The 1st new plot thread that gets added in is one family's attempt to convince the world that war will be coming - that humanity is still too immature for permanent peace. The 2nd new plot thread involves the mother of one of our messiah possibilities running a brothel with both religion and gender which she uses to ensnare the leaders of 6 of the 7 hives. This character, Madame, seemed to me to be the historian Dr. Palmer herself, who apparently is a big fan of the 18th century. In chapter 20 (of 22) as she is explaining her plan, she gives a long declamation. Here's some:

The Eighteenth-Century aristocracy seduced, betrayed, and corrupted itself until its world self-destructed into revolution. I didn’t have to destroy you, Cornel. I just turned all of you into Eighteenth-Century aristocrats and let you do it yourselves.


I love the Eighteenth Century. I fell in love reading about it at Senseminary, that great moment when humanity realized experiments didn’t just have to be done with sciences, they could be done with morals and religion, too. I wanted to do that, run an experiment like the American Experiment, or greater. I couldn’t resist the chance to finish what my heroes started, not just the humanitarians like the Patriarch and the romantics like Jean-Jacques, but the underbelly, La Mettrie, Diderot, de Sade. The Enlightenment tried to remake society in Reason’s image: rational laws, rational religion; but the ones who really thought it through realized morality itself was just as artificial as the aristocracies and theocracies they were sweeping away.

The Enlightment was indeed a great time in human history, but I want us to keep looking forward, forward.

Dr. Palmer's future world is one of the most interesting in Science Fiction in quite a while. Her attention to gender issues point out the changing times we live in now, and I think raise issues about the extent to which gender stereotypes can be eliminated. Lots of interesting thoughts.

Minor complaints. 1st, I found myself being repelled by the notion which lot of the characters seem to buy into, that there is a monotheistic-type god for every universe. I don't really want to spend much effort, if any, examining my own antitheism.

There was also a small swipe at science I noticed, after engineers reverse an opinion in the face of new data (how science works). A little sniping from the Liberal Arts side of the university, perhaps? I'm sure that Dr. Palmer is too educated to not have a better understanding of the Scientific Method than this. [snark]Or should we generally be distrustful of science fiction and world-building done by a liberal arts type?[/snark]

Oh, miraculous chameleon, Science, who can reverse your doctrine hourly and never shake our faith! What cult ever battered by this world of doubt can help but envy you?
So many other books to read, but this series will definitely get a reread when all 4 are out.

No comments: