Notes Ignota: Part the Fifth

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine, except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Page 43 Chapter the Fourth: A thing Long Thought Extinct
•    ‘The simile of the three insects’ – is, as Mycroft explains, a metaphor by Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan polymath. It appears in his book ‘The New Organon’ and refers to the ant, the spider and the bee. The original ‘Organon’ was the book by Aristotle dealing with logic and syllogisms. Bacon’s book was an attempt to look at ‘modern’ scientific reasoning including induction. This what Bacon said:

Those who have handled sciences have been either men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant, they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes a middle course: it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests it by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy; for it neither relies solely or chiefly on the powers of the mind, nor does it take the matter which it gathers from natural history and mechanical experiments and lay it up in the memory whole, as it finds it, but lays it up in the understanding altered and digested. Therefore from a closer and purer league between these two faculties, the experimental and the rational (such as has never yet been made), much may be hoped.

•    Mycroft changes Bacon’s version a tad by changing the experimenter into the Encyclopedist, which is interesting given the Diderot references but the basic criticism is the same. Collecting either raw data or facts doesn’t get you anywhere by itself. Likewise ‘dogma’ i.e. theory gets you nowhere by itself. You need to be the bee, collecting AND synthesising i.e. theory and experiment together, one informing the other. Good point Francis.
•    ‘Thomas Carlyle’ – ha, spotted this coming 🙂 This though is a fictional future person of history but neatly, a ‘great man’ who reshaped history. Future-Carlyle has his own ant, spider, bee simile – people need to be in groups that have qualities of both nations and corporations aka ‘hives’. Palmer does well to make it sound utopian rather than sinister.
•    ‘Petrarch’ – 14th-century humanist Italian writer 1304-1374 He helped re-popularise the works of Roman writers such as Cicero, Virgil and Seneca
•    ’Seneca’ – A Roman stoic philosopher and playwright. One of Seneca’s plays was ‘The Trojan Women’ which features Queen Hecuba after the fall of Troy.
Page 44
•    ‘I caught up with tomorrow’ – Mycroft crosses the international date line when flying from Chile to Indonesia. The events in the chapter are therefore on March 24 rather than March 23.
•    ‘lotus blossoms’ – blossoms again, this time the lotus. An important symbolic flower in both Hinduism and Buddhism, nature, divinity, beauty and the soul.
•    ‘As March becomes ever the lamb’ – an English saying about the month of March ‘In like a lion and out like a lamb’ referring to the switch in weather in temperate Northern Hemisphere England. Mycroft is well aware that the saying has little application in southern hemisphere Chile or equatorial Indonesia, but is using it to point at the (Japanese) spring fashions.
•    ‘hoari’ – a Japanese kimono-like jacket. ’cheogori’ a style of Korean clothing. ‘sherwani’ – an Indian style frock coat i.e. fashion from three different Asia cultures.
•    ‘floral patterns bloomed’ – see!
•    ‘as the eastern cherries bloom’ – bloom, flower, blooms, blossom etc
Page 45-47
Page 48
•    ‘branch of plum blossom’ – I’ll just note these now without comment
•    ‘Danae Marie-Anne de la Tremoille Mitsubishi’ – In Greek myth, Danae was the mother of Perseus. She was made pregnant by Zeus who appeared in the form of a rain of gold. Yes, stop sniggering ‘a golden shower’. One of Zeus’s weirder inceptions.
•    ‘a woman’s antique kimono, birds and blossoms in golds, peaches and blues’ – clothing from Japan’s Edo period.
•    ‘the face on Earth most likely to launch a thousand ships’ – a common reference to Helen of Troy.
Page 49 -51
Page 52
•    ‘Gyges Device’ – As Mycroft goes on to explain, the ring of Gyges is a fable/thought experiment from Plato’s Republic. A man finds a magic ring in a tomb that grants him the power of invisibility. Thus invisible, how will he behave knowing that he can get away with all sorts of crimes? It is also discussed by Cicero in ‘De Officiis’. While Plato had issues with poetry, he remains one of the most imaginative, entertaining and readable philosophers, in part by his use of dialogues to present contrasting views (although Socrates always wins the argument) but also because of his colourful use of myth. The Republic is Plato’s extensive work on the nature of the ideal state – of particular relevance to Mycroft’s society and also the inspiration for Aldus Huxley’s dystopia Brave New World. Karl Popper regarded Plato’s political thinking as the root element in authoritarian politics opposed to an open society i.e. as photo-fascism/totalitarianism. In a follow-up to The Republic, the dialogue called ’Timaeus’ introduces Plato’s most lasting contribution to fantasy fiction and pseudo-history: Atlantis. I’ve got a real love/hate thing for Plato – he was brilliantly wrong about everything.
Page 53
•    ‘La Patriarch’ – Mycroft condescendingly explains that this is a reference to Voltaire. As we’ll keep meeting Voltaire it is worth spending a bit more time on him. Although quintessentially a man of a later era, these days we would describe his breadth of interest as a ‘Renaissance Man’. He is most famed for his writing but he was also a populariser of science and a keen experimenter who worked with Émilie du Châtelet, who herself would help shape European notions of science. Again, while a giant of French culture, he was also something of an Anglophile who helped popularise Shakespeare in France and who saw Issac Newton’s work as a pinnacle of rational inquiry. His political and religious views are less easily categorised: he was dissatisfied with the absolute monarchy of France but sceptical and wary of democracy. He favoured religious liberty but also pushed anti-Semitic and anti-Islamic views, arguably as part of a general critique of religious belief and those who hold religious beliefs. Also, while we are on the topic of Voltaire it is notable that Rousseau hasn’t turned up yet .
•    ‘We now doubt Aristotle, understand Shakespeare only with footnotes’ – Mycroft’s rhetoric suggests an increase in the fame and reputation of Voltaire in his society, as exemplified by Danae.
Page 55

Page 56 Chapter the Fifth: Aristotle’s House
•    ‘I could have been a slave’ Mycroft keeps pointing at his servility and desire to be in the position of either a servant or a slave.
•    ‘In Aristotle’s house when he reared Alexander’ – among many other things, Plato’s former student Aristotle was the tutor of Alexander the great when Alexander was a prince of Macedonia (343 BCE). Alexander headed Macedonia’s own royal place of learning. However, despite Mycroft’s comment, he didn’t rear Alexander (who would have been a teenager when they met) and probably didn’t teach him in Aristotle’s house. Mycroft would know this and hence I think that is just part of his wider fantasy. Mycroft admires polymaths and you don’t get much more polymathic than Aristotle, whose work was taken as a broad map of all human knowledge by later medieval thinkers. Mycroft (as we see through the book) also has a thing for powerful leaders and ‘great men’ of which Alexander was the classical template which future tyrants would like to compare themselves to.
•    ‘I could have midwifed at the birth of Caesar’ – The term ‘caesarean section’ for the type of surgical birth is connected to Julius Caesar via various sources. However, as the Roman practice was only done in the event of the mother dying before the child was born and as Julius Caesar’s mother survived his birth, he could not have literally been born by caesarian section. Again, Mycroft would be aware of the discussion around the method of birth and the etymology of ‘Caesar’.
•    ’Santa Maria’ – one of Columbus’s ships.
•    ‘If we count apprenticeships as unfreedom’ – indentured labour has been compared to slavery but there are many differences. Mycroft rightly describes it as ‘unfreedom’ which is a sensible distinction.
•    ‘forged Newton’s Principia’ – Issac Newton’s seminal work on physics. ‘Forged’ here is referring to typesetting using metal type rather than creating a forgery.
•    ‘might call it Great’ – Mycroft romanticises slavery again or at least servitude. Note that he then reveals that he was busy scrubbing perfume off Thisbe’s floor i.e. he was thinking on how a slave might be part of great events while doing housework and/or hiding evidence.
Page 57-59
Page 60
•    ‘Cartesian’ – in context here ‘cartesian’ may refer to Descartes’s conception of mind-body duality. Again, it may refer to lots of things in one go.
Page 61
•    ‘the name Nurturist has faded by your age’ – In context, the name seems to be a particular viewpoint Mycroft’s society. In our time it would refer to somebody who sides on the ’nurture’ side of ‘nature versus nurture’ in how people are shaped.
Page 62-65
Page 66
•    ‘Emma Platz’ – if this is a real person then I don’t know the reference. ‘Platz’ in German is a square or open area.
Page 67
•    ‘Could you resist, day in, day out, if you could resurrect a friend?’ – this harks back to the Ring of Gyges fable i.e. even if we are good people can we behave ethically when we are given powers that allow us to take actions others can’t?
Page 68
•    ‘Aristotle – the Philosopher – reminds us’ – Mycroft elevates Aristotle and also points out the ‘nature’ side of being a human.
•    lotus blossom tower – check
•    ‘peacock’s plumes or beaver dams’ – peacock plumes are aesthetically wonderful and are part of a peacock’s mating rituals and hence an outcome of natural selection. Beaver dams are also a consequence of natural selection but note that they are a thing a beaver makes and hence are also artificial. Is a beaver dam natural or artificial or is it both? If a beaver dam is both natural and artificial then what about the things we humans make as part of our nature? Discuss. Essays to me by next Friday.
•    ‘stereocox’, ‘waldfogels vein’ – future diseases I assume.
Page 70-71 [end of chapter 5]

End of the first day.

Too Like The Lightning – Other People’s Takes

I’m still typing up notes but I thought it was time to look at other people’s reviews and takes on Ada Palmer’s book.

Intellectus Speculativus has strong issues with how gender is portrayed in the book. They make a strong case that it is problematic in a number of ways. Obviously, there is a distinction between the book’s representation versus how Mycroft deals with gender (likewise with religion) but they look at it deeper than that: I’m back to the dilemma of whether this is a *good* book or a cynical one which partly hinges on whether the society here is intended to be (somewhat) utopian, or a disguised dystopia or a future history in which we are forced to draw our own conclusions (although then why has the author chosen this world to build?).

Meanwhile, Crooked Timber has gone full-in Ada Palmer with multiple articles on the book and some broader background by Palmer  This article by Lee Konstantinou offers a positive perspective by focusing on the Utopian faction in Palmer’s world

The Book Smugglers doesn’t have a review but it does have an article by Ada Palmer about why as a historian she writes SF

The book has TV Tropes page

Strange Horizons has a review by Paul Kincaid with a strong opening “Had Too Like the Lightning lived up to its aspirations, it would have been one of the most significant works of contemporary science fiction. That, perhaps inevitably, it fails in this ambition leaves a book that is engaging, entertaining, and interesting, but that contains too many confusions and contradictions to be fully satisfying.”  I wonder if that captures the mix of feelings here – an ambitious work that for some (many?) doesn’t fulfil its ambitions?

The New York Review of Science Fiction takes a different tack and directly compares Mycroft to Alex from A Clockwork Orange

WIRED asks ‘Should this book have an index?’ well it should have a set of footnotes by the time I’m done 🙂

How much of this doubt about the book a reflection of the doubts we have about Mycroft.

Well, it certainly rates 10/10 for ‘capacity to generate conversations’. I can’t doubt ‘ambitious’ as a description and I think ‘significant’ as well. ‘Good’? Aye, there’s the rub.

{ETA, thanks to Mark, Standback and Paul W}

A different take on the gender issues from Yoon Ha Lee This isn’t a reply to Intellectus Speculativus’s piece and doesn’t cover all of their arguments but does address some.

{eta again}
And another: A discussion at on the book as a commentary on utopias without being a utopia
{personal note}
I’m also rewatching Father Ted at the moment. I feel it balances things out nicely. It’s like the exact opposite of Too Like the Lightning – everybody is overtly religious but not remotely interested in religion and never leave one tiny island.

Notes Ignota: Part the Fourth

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Page 31 Chapter the Third: The Most Important People in the World
•    Dante’s Purgatory. Dante degli Alighieri 1265 – 1321, Italian poet famous for his Divine Comedy. The Divine Comedy is in three parts, Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory) and Paradiso (heaven). Purgatory being the place in the Catholic conception of the afterlife where repentant sinners go before being admitted to heaven after atoning for their earthly sins. In the book Dante is guided by the Roman poet Virgil. Dante’s Purgatory is a mountain divided into terraces. Each terrace is assigned a sin and sinners repent that sin under guidance. At the top is the earthly paradise (i.e. another kind of utopia) the final spot before heaven.
•    ‘Krepolsky’s earliest spectacle cities’ – the top hit for the name Krepolsky is the extract of this book.
•    ‘a butler for his master’ – just noting that theme again.
•    ‘Square and compass’ – a masonic symbol intended to represent the measurement tools of stone workers. It often is shown with a ‘G’ inside, which would be appropriate given Martin Guildbreaker’s surname.
•    ‘Familiaris Regni’ – familiarise regis is a person who is part of a monarch’s entourage. This may include high ranking servants, courtiers and advisors but essentially people who speak to the king and act on his behalf.
Page 32
•    ‘Annus Dialogorum’ – years of dialogue? Actually explained later in the text.
•    ‘Sanctum Sanctorum’ – the holy of holies, the most sacred place inside a temple, in particular within the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem where the ark of the covenant was kept. Masonic tradition claims descent from the builders of Solomon’s temple.
Page 33
•    ‘Black Sakura’ – sakura is the Japanese term for cherry blossom. Blossom keeps cropping up.
Page 34
Page 35
•    ‘set-set nets’ & ‘Cartesian’ – of or pertaining to Rene Descartes e.g. ‘Cartesian coordinates’ refer to his system of rectangular coordinates. More relevantly ‘Cartesian Theater’ is a term coined by cognitive philosopher Daniel C Dennet for a view of the mind in which our we see ourselves as sitting within our minds watching the input from the outside world. Alternatively given ‘set-set nets’ it is possible this refers to the Cartesian product which isa kind of multiplication of sets. For example the cartesian product of the set {a,b,c} and {1,2,3}  is {a1,a2,a3,b1,b2,b3,c1,c2,c3}. Maybe it’s both.
•    ‘It was common in our eighteenth century’ – Mycroft shifts to a dialogue format and says that it was common in the 18th century. Given he has expected us to keep up with a wider ranging set of references, it is odd that he points out how common dialogues used to be. Most famously, Plato’s work are written as dialogues and much later works (e.g. by Galileo) often presented arguments as dialogues.
Page 36
•    ‘Utopians’ – a subset of Mycroft’s society but also a reference to Thomas More again.
•    ‘Eureka’s bed’ – ‘Eureka’ being the famous exclamation of Archimedes the famous Greek mathematician who was later killed by a Roman soldier.
Page 37
•    “Good morning, Nepos’ – nepos was latin for grandchild and then later nephew, from which we get the term ’nepotism’. Julius Nepos was arguably the last of the western Roman emperors.
Page 38
•    ‘There is not no truth in such speculation’ Mycroft claims that this ‘awkward precision’ results from Martin translating from Latin. His statement implies that there is some truth in the speculation but is expressed as a negation.
•    ‘President Ganymede’ – this is another Troy connection. Ganymede was a beautiful youth who was adopted by Zeus to serve the gods on Olympus (there is a sexual implication). Ganymede was the son of Tros, who founded the city of Troy.
Page 39
Page 40
•    ‘cherry tree blooms pink’ blossom again
•    Machiavelli – Nicolo Machiavelli 1469-1527 is of course, well known. Enlightenment thinkers such as Denis Diderot saw his infamous book ‘The Prince’ as a satire i.e. that Maciaveli was attempting to warn people about tyrants rather than write a handy manual on how to be a tyrant.
Page 41
•    ‘Ojiro Cardigan Sniper’ Cardigan is a place in Wales and the Earl of Cardigan led the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean war. The knitted waistcoat of British officers became known as ‘cardigans’. It is not really a name. ‘Sniper’ is another name-verb-name, a snipe is a bird, to snipe was to try and hunt such a bird hence ‘sniper’ for a person who shoots precisely from a distance. I don’t know if ‘Ojiro’ has military significance.

Notes Ignota: Part the Third

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Chapter the Second: A Boy and His God contd…

Page 19
•    ‘These men are called Aimer, Looker, Medic, Stander Yellow, Stander Green, Croucher, Nogun, Nostand and back there the late Private Pointer’ – most of the soldiers are named by the actions their stance suggest. Verbs to names.
Page 20
•    ‘origami animals’ – any culture with paper has some sort of paper folding arts but Japanese origami is the most famous – although cross-fertilised with Chinese and European traditions. Notably an important art form with ceremonial aspects during Japan’s Edo period 1603-1868. Yes, it is just one word but up until this point, you’ll note the references have all been to either Western Europe or the cultures that Western Europe regarded as foundational (Ancient Greece and Rome plus the Bible).
•    ‘Humanist boots’ – explained later in the text.
•    ‘Mestizo’ – a term that was used to describe a person in South America who was of mixed European/Amerindian descent.
Page 21
•    ‘anti-proselytory laws’ – numerous countries have laws against attempting to persuade people to adopt a given religion. In most cases these are laws aimed at wealthier Christian groups attempting to evangelise in other countries – this includes laws in Russia designed to help protect Orthodox churches from US protestant and Mormon missionaries.
•    ‘Chance, Providence, Fate or the whimsy of pool ball atoms’ – these seem to be the main perspectives on events in Mycroft’s society.
•    ‘Cielo de Pajaros’ – my Spanish is nearly as bad as my latin but I think this means ‘Birds of Sky’ like ‘All the Birds of the Sky’ I guess, if you want another Hugo coincidence.
Page 22
First page where I didn’t make a note. Hoorah!
Page 23
•    ‘Master, do you believe…’ – “master” here means the reader as previously established.
Page 24
•    ‘If Troy’s Queen Hecuba, impossibly mother to fifty sons…’ – Queen Hecuba, wife of Priam of Troy. A character in the Illiad by Homer obviously but also in multiple other classical works about Troy and the fall of Troy and the aftermath of the fall of Troy. King Priam had fifty plus sons (depending on your source) but Hecuba wasn’t mother to all of them. However, she did (according to legend) have lots of children most of whom ended up dead or enslaved (or enslaved and then dead) as a consequence of the Trojan wars. So Queen Hecuba is almost proverbially somebody with lots of tragic offspring. Yeah, yeah, you say, but what’s that got to do with the Enlightenment?
•    Time for some Immanuel Kant. Kant was a rare breed – a Scottish-German and one of the most insightful but unreadable philosophers ever. Here is the preface of one of his attempt to save metaphysics from scepticism:

Human reason, in one sphere of its cognition, is called upon to consider questions, which it cannot decline, as they are presented by its own nature, but which it cannot answer, as they transcend every faculty of the mind.
It falls into this difficulty without any fault of its own. It begins with principles, which cannot be dispensed with in the field of experience, and the truth and sufficiency of which are, at the same time, insured by experience. With these principles it rises, in obedience to the laws of its own nature, to ever higher and more remote conditions. But it quickly discovers that, in this way, its labours must remain ever incomplete, because new questions never cease to present themselves; and thus it finds itself compelled to have recourse to principles which transcend the region of experience, while they are regarded by common sense without distrust. It thus falls into confusion and contradictions, from which it conjectures the presence of latent errors, which, however, it is unable to discover, because the principles it employs, transcending the limits of experience, cannot be tested by that criterion. The arena of these endless contests is called Metaphysic.
Time was, when she was the queen of all the sciences; and, if we take the will for the deed, she certainly deserves, so far as regards the high importance of her object-matter, this title of honour. Now, it is the fashion of the time to heap contempt and scorn upon her; and the matron mourns, forlorn and forsaken, like Hecuba:
Modo maxima rerum,
Tot generis, natisque potens…
Nunc trahor exul, inops.
—Ovid, Metamorphoses. xiii

Yup, that’s Ovid who we mentioned earlier. “A moment ago I was endowed with the greatest things, so many sons and daughters, sons-in-law, and daughters-in-law and my husband.”

Now Mycroft mentions Queen Hecuba not to make a comment about metaphysics but about scandalous progeny. Kant though uses Hecuba as a metaphor for a mother whose children (the sciences) have gone off their own way and no longer acknowledge their mother. Of course, Mycroft is making his analogy about Carlyle whose profession and interest is…metaphysics.
Page 25 to 27
Aside from how Mycroft and others use gendered and ungendered pronouns, there is nothing specific to note here.
Page 28
•    ‘Cato’ – Cato the Younger famous Roman politician and opponent of Julius Ceaser
•    ‘At the dawn of the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas More’ – Mycroft has his centuries mixed up here. Thomas More was born in 1478 and hence did not exist at the dawn of the FIFTEENTH century. He did, however, publish his famous book ‘Utopia’ (in Latin) from which we derive the term ‘utopia’ in 1516. Mycroft meant to say the SIXTEENTH century.
•    ‘Persian judicial system’ – this is more or less as described from Thomas More’s ‘Utopia’. Technically it is a vassal state of Persia that adopts this unusual practice.
Page 29-30
•    Togenkyo – I think this is a Japanese rendition of the name of the place in the Chinese fable ‘The Peach Blossom Land’. A kind of Shangri-La like place i.e. another utopia.

That’s it for Chapter Two – other chapters don’t have quite so much

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2

Can you make a light-hearted comedy space opera about abusive parents? Um, sort of I guess. Guardians of the Galaxy is back and with an opening fight scene in which the camera sticks with Baby Groot dancing to ELO, letting the tentacle space monster fighting action go on behind, it knows that the music, wonderful images and jokes will carry the day.

It is not a substantial spoiler to say that the plot focuses on the return of Peter Quill/Starlord’s father in the form of Kurt Russell. Unfortunately, that means the primary theme of the movie is how the rag-tag gang is really a family and family, family, family. It isn’t a terrible sentiment but with Fast and Furious franchise relying on the same schtick, it feels more cliche than heartwarming in places. Worse, two key characters (Gamora and Nebula) were brought up by wannabe death god Thanos, and his misuse of both of them as weapons growing up (not depicted but described) makes for some clumsy tonal shifts amid the jokes about blowing things up.

The plot feels thinner than Volume 1 but the jokes are more frequent and most play well. You’ll all watch it for Baby Groot dancing anyway and, well why not? Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan get more a story arc than volume 1 but there is an element of a redemption arc for Nebula. There was a point where I thought she’d get her own band of space pirates and I’m kind of disappointed that she didn’t.

Review: Doctor Who – Smile

There isn’t much to say about the story in itself. The main feature is that it is a serviceable Doctor Who style SF story with a weak resolution and ending. The look and overall design, as well the cute/creepy emoji robots, mark it as recent but in other ways, it could have been a story from any era of Doctor Who.

So what’s that all about then? Stephen Moffat is many things but one thing he is is a very self-conscious producer of TV shows. He attempts to change rules and dynamics of the shows he runs, often unsuccessfully. He also tries to avoid doing a season of Doctor Who the same way twice – again often unsuccessfully.

Based on just the first two episodes it does sort of look like this time Moffat is trying to do Russell T Davis. Again, Moffat has tried to evoke past Doctor who eras before. We know that this season will have a major shout out to the William Hartnell Doctor with the return of the creepy and ungainly ‘Mondasian’ cybermen, but my sense of this season so far is more Christopher Ecclestone than Hartnell.

Is it an intentional ‘back to basics’ approach? Could be, after all, what could be more different from Moffat’s previous over-complex story arcs than shifting back to the first season of the revival? A new companion allows a new introduction to the Doctor, and with Peter Capaldi retiring at the end of this season from the role, it also marks a chance for a handover like Ecclestone to Tennant. That next week’s episode takes our heroes to Victorian London also means the first three episodes match the same pattern as the first three of the revived season 1 (ep 1: present, ep 2: far future, ep 3: Victorian times).

Notes Ignota: Part the Second

Notes on Ignota
A collection of notes and queries on ‘Too Like the Lightning’ compiled by CAMESTROS FELAPTON, at the Request of Certain Parties.

Page numbers and text are from the 2016 Tor US hardback edition. Errors and typos are mine except where indicated. The notes are not authorised by the author or editorialised by the editor. I’m speculating people! Latin translations are my best guess from Google translate and I don’t really know much Latin – corrections welcome.

Page 14 Chapter the Second: A Boy and His God
Oh, thank goodness. The story has actually started! Hopefully, this note taking lark will settle down after awhile…but not yet! The good news is, that while the novel does keep referencing things, it loops back to the same people, myths, places etc. so later chapters need shorter notes. This first page proper of the story has quite a few though.
•    ‘Carlyle Foster’ – another first name that derives from a surname (a variant spelling of the North of England town that is near the Scottish border). Most likely [later confirmed by the text] a reference to Thomas Carlyle 19th century Scottish philosopher and essayist. Carlyle expounded the great man/hero view of history (see,_Hero-Worship,_and_The_Heroic_in_History ) At times seen as a liberal, he also later became notable for his reactionary view particularly on slavery The character of Carlyle in the novel seems to be quite unlike Thomas Carlyle in most things other than intellectual curiosity.
•    ‘March the twenty-third was the Feast of St. Turibius, a day on which men honoured their Creator’ – There are several St. Turibius but the one mentioned is probably Turibius of Lima who died on March 23 1606. A Franciscan missionary who notably sided with the indigenous population of Peru (up to a point obviously – he was also trying to convert them to Christianity. The Fansciscans were one of the three major Catholic orders that swept through South America along with Spain’s invading armies. The other two were the Dominicans (aka Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition) and the Jesuits. When dragging a pair of teenagers around the churches of Cuzco I differentiated the three orders as Franciscans = Gryffindor, Dominicans = Slytherin and Jesuits = Ravenclaw. Yes, trivialising but it works surprisingly well.
•    ‘Fisher G Gurai’ – note another first name derived from a surname. ‘Fisher’ is a common name in English and in German ‘Fischer’. I note it is a noun from a verb from a noun (fish – to fish – a person who fishes) and we’ll meet other names like that (Bridger, Sniper). Don’t know why.
•    Cousin – My note here says ‘A sensayers title? Like ‘father’ or ‘brother’ for a priest or monk’ This is incorrect but it is explained later in the text.
•    ‘Thisbe’ – a main character, whose name you may recognise from the play within a play “Pyramus and Thisbe” in Shakespeare’s a Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. However, the story of frustrated lovers is actually from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One of the great trio of ancient Roman poets (the others being Virgil and Horace), Ovid notably found himself exiled by Emperor Augustus and ended up living in what is now Romania (the Black Sea port of Constanta has a very statue of him. For extra bonus trivia: the influence of Rome goes beyond statues of poets in Romania, the language is also a Romance language appropriately enough. Later writers influenced by Ovid, relevant to these notes, include Petrarch and Cervantes (and Shakespeare obviously).

Page 15
•    ‘each five centimetres tall’ – approximately two inches and suggestive of the standard 54 mm size of 1:32 scale toy soldier scale (1 inch of toy equals 32 inch of real person). Larger than the small plastic soldiers but smaller than the GIJoe/Action man style.
Page 16
•    ‘Bridger’ – another noun-verb-noun name and surname as first name.
•    ‘Voltaire’ – The pen name of Francois-Marie Arouet. The name is an anagram of Arovet-Li a latinised pun on ’The young Arouet’. In 1700, Voltaire would have been 6, so the learned crowds that Mycroft mentions would have been right to be sceptical and Voltaire probably wasn’t a wordsmith at that point or called ‘Voltaire’ but I’m just being picky. We all get Mycroft’s point. By the end of the century that 1700 presages, the dynasties of Europe would be much more worse for wear than the start including missing a few heads and/or colonies.
•    ‘Thou too, Mycroft Canner?’ – reputedly the last words of Julius Caesar after being stabbed by his former friend Brutus. Widely cited prior to Shakespeare, but the use in the titular play is probably the most famous use of it. Caeser was stabbed March 13 (the ides of March) 44 CE, i.e. 10 days and 2410 years before the setting of the story – which is nice if you like round numbers. Note that Mycroft makes us speak to him using the familiar ‘thou’ perhaps to better match the Latin (although he sticks with it). Thee’s and thou’s are now archaic in English but they lingered on in some dialects e.g. the “tha” in Northern English (increasingly vanishing).
•    ‘How can your servant answer you, good master?’ Mycroft casts himself as the servant and us as his master
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•    ‘…the priests of Pharaoh when Moses’s snake…” – I assume you all know this one but the biblical story is notable as it implies that Moses’s god was one of many gods but more powerful than the gods of Egypt. Also, in the context of the story, an overt BIBLICAL reference is possibly a tad scandalous given the way people of this era avoid things that suggest ‘cult’ associations.
•    ‘Ockham’ – William of Ockham 1287-1347 was a Franciscan monk (another one!) and logician who lived in Britain in the fourteenth century. Most famous for his principle of parsimony known as Occam’s razor.
•    ’No!’ Spanish punctuation
•    ‘a polylaw’ – explained later in the text
•    ‘a Mason’ The freemasons attempt to date their movement back to many time periods including antiquity. However, the movement really sprang up in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. In context, it’s spread through Western Europe and Britain’s North American colonies is contemporaneous with The Enlightenment.
•    ‘Sensayers live for metaphysics’ – Metaphysics is the study of being and what it is to be named after the main topic of the book by Aristotle that followed “The Physics”. By back-formation “meta’ has become a prefix to describe a subject beyond that of another, for example “meta-mathematics” is study of the structure of mathematics. Aristotle is, as you all know, the three of the big trio of Greek philosophy: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.
•    ‘the nonexistent Latin verb senseo’ – Latin, verbs turned into names and what ’sensayer’ means all appear here.
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•    ‘Mertice McKay’ – I’ve got nothing, sometimes I guess a name is just a name.
•    Romanova – looks like New Rome [text later confirms this but also looks like Romania.
•    ‘Let us create a new creature’ – which reminds me of Frankenstein aka The New Prometheus by Mary Shelley, which you all know as a central text in the origin of Science Fiction. Written in 1818, it is also a work of the Romantic aesthetic movement in the arts, which was to some extent a reaction against some aspects of the Enlightenment (e.g. Frankenstein as a man whose spirit of natural inquiry dehumanises him). In this case the ‘new creature’ is also a reaction to a social movement and comes in the form of the sensayer – a secular priest-like person. [Yes, I wrote this before Frankenstein makes a less subtle appearance later!]
•    ‘to diagram the derivation’ – ‘to diagram’ is usually applied to the grammar of a sentence than to the derivation of a name but Mycroft has a point.