Review: Doctor Who – Thin Ice

You can see all the pieces this episode is made of, Rose’s first outing to the past in the first season of NuWho in the Unquiet Dead, the gang of urchin children from The Empty Child, the imprisoned aquatic monster from The Beast Below, a hundred one greedy capitalists playing with forces they can’t control. Yet, this episode still felt fresh and fun.

Bill continues to impress as a companion and the use of familiar elements allowed the episode to build rapport with the Doctor. In particular, the script gave time for Bill to react to death and to a realisation that the Doctor is a more menacing person than she may have realised.

I’m enjoying this back to basics approach.


Notes Ignota: Part the Last

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 286 Chapter the Twenty-Fourth: Sometimes Even I am Very Lonely
Page 287
•    ‘Saladin’ There has not been much in the way of references from the Islamic world. This may seem natural given the suppression of religion but that hasn’t stopped multiple Catholic references. Also, I note the Islamic thinkers that a philosophically inclined person with an interest in Catholicism would make reference to aren’t cropping either: Averroes, Avicenna plus others whose writings on Aristotle and other matters became so important to medieval thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas, that their actual names became latinised. Actually, I don’t think Mycroft has mentioned Aquinas either, so maybe it is the suppression of theology? Anyway, Saladin, aka Sarah ah-Din Yusuf 1137-1193, the Kurdish Sultan of Egypt and conqueror of Syria, whose battles (Aleppo, Mosul) resonate today. Celebrated in many cultures but in particular Kurdish culture, his wars against the Frankish Crusader Kingdom even led to him becoming a romanticised figure in European culture.
•    ’Tully’ an affectionate name for Cicero.
Page 288
•    rose petals – more flowers
Page 289
Page 290
•    ‘Noble savage’ I was going to say “Rousseau” but Wikipedia tells me ‘Contrary to what is sometimes believed, Jean-Jacques Rousseau never used the phrase noble savage (french bon sauvage). So now I’ve got nothing to say. Well, read the Wikipedia article as it has a whole section on Rousseau not actually saying anything about noble savages. So, yes, it is a nod to Rousseau but not actually sort of. Different tack: John in Brave New World is a kind of Rousseau-ish natural man thrown into a highly managed society. Brave New World by the way is set in 2540, 86 years after Too Like the Lightning.
Page 290-294
Page 295
•    ‘Vidocq’ – as explained in the text. A real person whose exploits read like the fiction he inspired.
•    ‘Holmes’, ‘Moriaty’ – as discussed.
Page 296 End of Chapter 24

Page 297 Chapter the Twenty-Fifth: Madame’s
•    ‘Madame’s’ I haven’t discussed the gender games in the book, as I’m chasing references instead but look at the weight that is carried in that one word. In English, the association of this French word as a polite form of address for a woman (‘my lady’) is also with sex-workers and carries with it baggage about the kind of business a woman might run (and hence be hers and hence the possessive) as well anti-French British stereotypes about the French and sexuality. However, in the context of the Enlightenment, ‘Madame…’ as word association is answered by ‘Pompadour’ the brilliant figure of the French court who was a major patron of the arts and ‘behind-the-scenes’ influencer and advisor. This chapter plays on the multiple references.
•    ‘Paris was the crown and capital of all things’ – The 18th-century being the peak of France’s influence.
•    ‘birthday of the Great Sage Zoroaster’ The founder of Zoroastrianism, the Persian religion which would have an influence on Middle-eastern and Mediterranean religions. Modern Zoroastrians (such as the Parsis). Noruz is the Zoroastrian New Year and falls approximately on the Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox (i.e around March 21), Khordad Sal is celebrated 6 days later as the feast of the birth of Zoroaster. New year falling on or near the Spring Equinox is not uncommon, until 1752 Britain and its colonies marked March 25 as the legal start of the year. Iran, although now Islamic (and Zoroastrians a minority religion) still retains March 21 as cultural New Year and a fiscal one. In the UK the fiscal year starts on April 6 as a consequence of the old new year date.
•    ‘Synaxis of the Archangel Gabriel’ A feast of the Orthodox Church, which comes the day after the Feast of the Annunciation (discussed in a Catholic context above) to note Gabriel’s role in that event. Gabriel also has a synaxis (i.e. a holy day) on July 13 in the Orthodox calendar and all the angels get a feast on November 8. In context, Mycroft isn’t any religion due to societal attitudes but he does assert that he is Greek but his references tend towards Catholicism probably because of the emphasis on France and Rome in the text. Here is a fun resource if you want to see Orthodox Saints days in 2454.
•    ‘Carlyle stumbling on Bridger four days earlier’ In reviews, Mycroft is often called an ‘unreliable narrator’ and while I think that is not correct (it is Palmer who misleads us about who he is – Mycroft tells us upfront that he is Mycroft Canner, which would be rather like a narrator saying they are ‘Charles Manson’ upfront [hadn’t noticed MC v CM prior to this]) but he says some odd things about time. It is March 26. 26 minus 4 is March 22, yes, yes we are on the FOURTH day but that means the FIRST day is 3 days prior. OK, this is just me isn’t it? Yeah, well I’m right and the rest of you are innumerate [sulks, mumbling about ordinal versus cardinal numbers].
Page 298-299
Page 300
•    ‘a million loopholes’ a complaint that has been made against the Jesuits (but also other scholarly approaches to religion such as rabbinical Judaism) is their capacity to assert a strong dogmatic morality and then rules lawyer it. ‘Jesuitical’ has a secondary meaning of ‘practicing casuistry or equivocation; using subtle or oversubtle reasoning; crafty; sly; intriguing.’ and while we are there ‘casuistry’ itself has a dual meaning of both over-subtle, specious reasoning AND the discipline of applying rules and general reasoning to matters of faith and morality. Thisbe is criticising the Cousin hive here but casuistry would seem to be an element (or professional hazard) of the sensayer’s role.
Page 301
•    ‘Jehovah’  a Latinised version for the Biblical name of God known as the Tetragrammaton (4 letters) YHWH (Note that J.E.D.D. already had a four letter name – which was a hint I didn’t spot). As it stands it is also a very English name for god, popularised by William Tyndale and used in places in the King James Bible. Yahweh is more commonly used now, but in general, the biblical god is more normally referred to as Lord to avoid the taboos on mis-using god’s name.
•    ‘Heloise’ Abbess and writer 1090-1164? and most famous for being one-half of Peter Abelard & Heloise which is too long a story to disentangle here Seen as a kind of real-life tragic romance, in modern times Abelard’s pursuit of Heloise reads more like stalking and harassment. To cut a long story short she ends up becoming a nun and he ends up castrated and a monk. Abelard is a key figure in the development of logic and helped reintroduce Aristotle’s Organon into Medieval thinking.
•    ‘..Candide!” she shouted to a gawking youth above’ – Candide is the titular character of Voltaire’s most famous satire.The work follows the adventures of Candide, a young man under the care of Doctor Pangloss as he leaves a sheltered upbringing to encounter the horrors of the actual world, with Pangloss casting events in terms of Gottfried Liebniz’s philosophical optimism i.e. God must have made the best of all possible worlds and hence what occurs must somehow be for the best (see ). Voltaire uses events such as the catastrophic Lisbon Earthquake to show the absurdity of the view. Leibniz 1646-1716 is yet another polymath, a German thinker who thought about nearly everything when he wasn’t busy inventing differential calculus. The latter being a point of dispute between Leibniz and Issac Newton who also invented differential calculus – it is Leibniz’s notation that is mainly used today. Note Voltaire was a fan of Newton’s.
Page 302
•    ‘Salon Hogarth’ – William Hogarth 1697-1764 satirical painter and social commentator. Notable for his ‘Harlot’s progress’ and “Rake’s progress’ showing an 18th-century perception of moral decay.
Page 303-304
Page 305
•    ‘you are quoting Diderot’ – Diderot as discussed above. Explained in the text.
•    ‘thus is a new dark age’ – A more overt paralleling of DIderot’s efforts with Asimov’s Foundation.
Page 306
•    ‘the Philosopher’ – Voltaire calls Diderot ’the’ philosopher which is a title Mycroft reserves for Aristotle.
•    “Machiavelli, Hobbes, misunderstood Spinoza, or de Sade” – I think we’ve met them all now except Spinoza. Baruch Spinoza 1632-1677 the Dutch, Jewish lens making whose Ethics read like a geometry textbook but for metaphysics and morality. ‘Misunderstood’ here probably refers to his theological views which are much argued over. Whatever his actual views are, his writings inspired deists, agnostics and atheists.
Page 307
•    ‘Him’ – the word is capitalised as is the practice in bibles for words that refer to the biblical god (i.e Lord, God etc) as is ‘God’ although Heloise uses the indefinite article ‘a god’. Maybe Heliose used special emphasis to suggest the words should be capitalised but given this is direct speech, the capitalisation resides with Mycroft’s writing rather than Heloise. Mycroft (or his editor) is capitalising ‘him’ and ‘god’.
•    ‘Aristotle, Cicero and St. Thomas Aquinas’ – again all discussed before but Aquinas was in terms of his absence from the text. Here he is. Aquinas was a Dominican by the way.
Page 308
•    Commonplace book – a habit of early modern Europe of having a book in which to compile and collect things of note. Rather like making a series of notes on some topic.
Page 309-315
Page 316
•    Saint Francis – as explained in the text. Mycroft dons the garb of a Franciscan and here parallels his life as a servicer with that of a member of the Franciscan order. I get to say ‘Bingo’ here. We’ve had the Dominican’s quite overtly with Dominic, the Jesuits with Carlyle and now Mycroft is tagged as a Franciscan. Note that each also departs substantially from the stereotypes (Dominic loves fine things, Carlyle is empathetic rather than aloof, and Mycroft is a mass murderer and byword for violence in his society)
•    Rochester – I think we’ve met all the other people the Salons are named after. Rochester here is probably,_2nd_Earl_of_Rochester – a man symbolic of the Restoration of the English monarchy and as being the opposite of the Puritan attitudes that held sway in England under Cromwell’s commonwealth prior. Died young of a sexually transmitted disease.
Page 317
•    ‘Not really’ Thisbe doesn’t know much about Voltaire and Mycroft clearly hasn’t been explaining to her in the past about his obsession with the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment is Mycroft’s spectacles (and that of others) but not society wide.
•    ‘someone built one to God’ – we have already discussed one.
•    ‘The Marquis de Sade’ – the book has been approaching De Sade slowly.
Page 318
Page 319
•    ‘Jehovah Epicurus Donation D’Arouet’ – The last being Voltaire’s actual surname. We’ve covered the first two. Donatien is another de Sade reference. JEDD is named after the biblical god, a greek philosopher (somewhat outside of the Socratic tradition) and two contrasting figures of the Enlightenment (on respectable and one distinctly not, both with an overlap of ideas).

Page 320 Chapter the Twenty-Sixth: Madame D’Arouet
•    There are few notes needed here despite the chapter being crammed full of things. We’ve met all the players from Rousseau’s (sort of) Noble Savage to Sherlock Holmes and the discussion spells things out and explains their connections better than I would.
Page 321-324
Page 335
•    ‘When the Graff trial began…” The strike by the Utopians has a similarity to events in Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’. I doubt the Utopians are Rand devotees, but they know their fiction.
Page 336-338 End of Chapter 26

Page 339 Chapter the Twenty-Seventh: The Interlude…
Page 340-342
Page 343
•    ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ – part of a soliloquy by Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth after he hears that Lady Macbeth is dead:

She should have died hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
— To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing

As a title for a science book it seems like a depressing reference even if Cato Weeksbooth is trying to show the poetry inside. Is it a commentary on the book we are reading? The quote also forms the title of a short story by Kurt Vonnegut set in a future world in which people no longer die from old age. As a consequence, the world is overpopulated and short of food.
Page 344-346
Page 347
•    ‘the Typers’ another noun-verb-noun surname, somebody who types.
Page 349-350 End of Chapter 27

Page 350 Chapter the Twenty-Eighth: The Enemy
•    Lots of numbers in this chapter. I’m not saying they have hidden meanings but for reference I’m listing them. The numbers that have upset Mycroft and others in terms of percentages of influence of the hives are 33-67, 67-33, 29-71 from earlier chapters.
•    133-2720-0732 – the location of Madame’s. It is three sets of numbers which locate an object in 3D space, so it has a height element as well (presumably because of flying vehicles). It isn’t our current systems of latitude and longitude.
Page 351
•    27,331 – a number of customers
•    989,408,013 and 110,634,255 – figures on Humanists who want Mycroft dead. (Interesting as we’ve been told people have assumed he was executed).
•    ‘an Amazon, who…chose to grow no breasts’ reputedly the legendary Amazons removed a breast to help with their archery.
Page 352-353
Page 354
•    ‘Alba Longa’ – the ancient capital of Latium near Rome where Aeneas’s son built his capital. Emperor Domitian would later build a palace in a similar location in the Alban hills.The Pope’s residence outside of the Vatican and Rome, Castel Gandolfo, partly includes remains of Domitian’s villa.
Page 355-361 End of Chapter 28

Page 362 Chapter the Twenty-Ninth: Julia, I’ve Found God!
Page 363-376 Again many references but all things we’ve met and are also explained in the text.

Page 377 Chapter the Thirtieth: DEO EREXIT SADE
Page 378-387
Page 388
•    ‘Sarte, Confucious, Augustine’ – a more eclectic set of writers than previously.
Page 389-397 End of chapter 30

Page 398 Chapter the Thirty-first: Dominant Predator
No notes

Page 408 Chapter the Thirty Second: That There are Two
No notes

Page 419 Chapter the Thirty-Third: Last interlude…

The End of Too Like the Lightning.

Notes Ignota: Part the Seventh

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.

This post will take us through to the end of the third day. Then Part the Eighth should reach to the end of the book (tomorrow).

Page 175 Chapter the Fifteenth: If They Catch Me
•    ‘the Moriarty’ The nemesis of Sherlock Holmes whom he called The Napoleon of Crime (which I think will be the closest we will approach Napoleon as a figure). Moriarty was a professor of mathematics. The name is Irish and possibly related to Murtaugh as a different Anglicisation of Gaelic.
Page 176
•    ‘Les Miserables’ The novel by Victor Hugo set between 1815 and 1832 in post-revolutionary France. Hugo is buried in the Pantheon in Paris.
•    ‘Odysseus’ Greek hero in the Illiad and central character of the Odyssey the story of his protracted return home from the Trojan wars. Known for his intelligence.
Page 178
Page 179
•    ‘Determinists’ – people who believe in determinism, a range of viewpoints on the extent to which events are predetermined to occur. Mycroft is referring to a theological position in which God has predetermined everything.
Page 180-182 End of chapter 15

Page 183 Chapter the Sixteenth: Thou Canst not Put if Off Forever, Mycroft
•    The title is written in the style Mycroft reserves for his imagined readers. We are writing his chapter headings now.
Page 184-190
Page 191
•    ‘Robespierre’ Mycroft broaches the topic of the French revolution and the subsequent Reign of Terror and also invokes the name of noted revolutionary and head of the infamous Committee of Public Safety during the Terror: Maximillien Robespierre. Robespierre would himself be executed by guillotine by the Committee for Public Safety.
Page 192-193
Page 194
•    ‘Are both this home’s set-sets Pythagorean?’ The exchange is set up to contrast Pythagorean with Cartesian but notably, Cato sees it as JEDD Mason not knowing the right word. I’m still not clear in what sense the set-sets are Cartesian nor is it clear here whether JEDD sees the two terms to be synonymous in this context or ‘Pythagorean’ being a better description of the twins or something else. Like ‘Cartesian’ the term could mean many things from a mathematical context to a view of souls/mind/body. I mentioned the Cartesian Product earlier (essentially the resulting 2D grid generated by two sets) but there is a product that could be called Pythagorean which is the ‘dot product’ for vectors, which in a sense works the other way: turns 2D coordinate like things into a single number.
Page 195-202 End of chapter 16

Page 203 Chapter the Seventeenth: Tocqueville’s Valet
•    ‘Tocqueville’s Valet’ – Mycroft explains most of this reference in the text. Alexis de Tocqueville was a nineteenth-century French diplomat and political theorist. Notable for his book ‘Democracy in America’ his more relevant work for this story is which analysed French society in the lead up to the French revolution. For Tocqueville, the revolution suppressed aspects of French society but without transforming it, so France then lurched back to monarchy as a consequence. The anecdote about his valet relates not to the French Revolution which is looming across The Enlightenment but to the 1848 revolution(s) aka the spectre that was haunting Europe. Notably, Mycroft and Palmer are now referencing figures from French history that take us beyond the Enlightenment and to periods of revolution: Robespierre, Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (which features the 1832 June Rebellion) and Tocqueville and the 1848 revolutions. Mycroft isn’t going to mention Karl Marx* but you can’t allude to 1848 and not mention Karl Marx for which the wave of revolutionary protests across Europe helped shape his view of revolution as a historical process. Those revolutions were important to not only socialist movements but also democratic reform, anarchism and nationalism. *[Actually he does in the next chapter, thus ruining that theory]
Page 204-211
Page 212
•    ‘protagonist’ Mycroft insist that Bridger is the protagonist of the story
Page 213-215 End of Chapter 17

Page 216 Chapter the Eighteenth: The Tenth Director
•    ’71 minutes’ Just noting the time it takes to get from Cielo de Parajos to Romanova
Page 221
•    ‘Patrem Meum’ – ‘My father’ in latin.
Page 222-223
Page 224
•    ‘Francois Quesnay’ Francois Quesnay 1694-1774 a pioneering French economist as described in the text. Contributor to Diderot’s Encyclopaedia. Quesnay was an advocate of ‘oriental despotism’, a term that arose from Aristotle who contended that due to the climate people of the Orient (which at the time, Aristotle would be thinking of the near east and maybe India) were more inclined to despotism because they were smart but servile, whereas the people of the colder climbs of Europe were less smart but unruly. For Aristotle, the Greeks (surprise surprise) were from just the right climate to have the best of both worlds. The term became associated with arbitrary rulers who commanded extreme power and cultish devotion and excess. Quesnay, however, and other Enlightenment thinkers had a broader notion of the term and also of ‘the orient’. Quesnay’s physiocrats saw wealth as based on land and natural resources, and they saw China (based on their limited understanding of it) as an example of a kind of highly organised and well-managed despotism. The Quesnay reference (and perhaps inclusion in the list) is a double commentary on the Mitsubishi Hive in that they value land and are of the orient. Really, the reference is quite rude in context.
•    Adam Smith – 1723-1790 Scottish economist and smarty pants
•    Marx – Karl Marx who I discussed prematurely on Page 203
•    Morais – I don’t know who this is. Wikipedia tells me it is a Portuguese surname
Page 225
•    ‘we manage to believe and not believe’ – hmmmmm
Page 226-227
Page 228
•    ‘…the Masons are ancient…’  the paragraph refers to the contrast between Masonic traditions which date the movement back to far antiquity and documented history which basically doesn’t.
•    ‘Mithras and Orpheus’ Two examples of Greco-Roman mystery cults. Like the Freemasons, the existence and membership of such cults were not necessarily secret but the rituals involved (centred on initiation and spiritual revelation) were. The Pythagoreans also had elements of a mystery cult. Orpheus was the figure of Greek myth who descended to the underworld and that theme of descent into hell or below the earth was a common theme of a set of mystery cults referred to as Dionysian after the god Dionysus. The Orphics believed in metempsychosis. Mithras was also the subject of another Dionysian mystery cult but Mithras himself was coopted from Persia. Christianity and Mithraism were rival religions in Rome at one point and all sorts of points of comparison can be made between the two to varying degrees of credibility. The Easter story, with the ritual death, burial and rebirth has some obvious mystery cult aspect. Easter Sunday in 2454 would be in April but I briefly got excited wondering if it was in late march that year and hence around the days the story is set but, well, it isn’t.
•    Ramses and Ozymandias – Both Ramses and Ozymandias are variations on the name Ramesses and typically refer to Pharaoh Ramesses II, who did not build pyramids but did build lots of monuments many of which are still around. Ozymandias is, of course, a poem by Mary Shelley’s husband Percy Bysshe Shelly which carries a similar theme as this speech. Palmer, a historian, obviously knows that Mason is citing the same person twice but I’m not sure why she is making him do so. To suggest his speech is actually film-flam? Mycroft describes the quote as ‘fiction’.
Page 229 End of Chapter 18

Page 230 Chapter the Nineteenth: Flies to Honey
Page 231
•    ‘Gibraltar Chagatai’ – Chagatai Khan 1226 – 1242 was the second son and one of Ghengis Kahn’s heirs. Gibraltar is the tiny chunk of the Spanish peninsula occupied by Britain since 1703. The territory was formerly given to Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht which defined the spheres of influence of the European powers at the time. At that point, the royal House of Hapsburg was on its last legs as the dominant royal family in Europe and had controlled the throne of the Holy Roman Empire (such that it was) since 1438. In-breeding, mismanagement, bad luck and changing times would lead to multiple crises for them over the 18th century. Louis XIV aka the Sun King was monarch of France at the time and of House of Bourbon.
Page 238
•    ‘modo mundo’ world something? [eta] I had to cheat here and go off what the TV-Tropes page says ‘modo mound’ is a punishment used by the Utopians where somebody is cut off from media.
Page 239
•    ‘the protagonist of every work of fiction is humanity, and the antagonist is God’ – According to Aristotle, the first person to act as a protagonist was the poet Thespis (as in the term ‘thespian’ for actor) prior to whom, Greek plays were conducted only by a chorus speaking as one (about gods). So this punishment is, among other things, a kind of reversion to the roots of Greek theatre.
Page 240 -242 End of Chapter 19

Page 243 Chapter the Twentieth: A Monster in the House
•    An aside: I think there is some missing time here. Mycroft heads to Romanova in Ch 18 and on the way gets to hear the discussion (via JEDD) of the directors of the Mitsubishi Hive. Ch 18 follows Thisbe and Carlyle in Avignon and then this chapter starts with Mycroft heading back to Cielo de Parajos from Romanova (across the Atlantic). So we don’t learn what Mycroft does at the Censor’s.
•    While a lot is revealed in this chapter, specifically the horror of Mycroft crimes, I don’t have very few specific notes here. Given the repeated pointing of the text to the rituals of Freemasonry and Mystery cults which themselves contain ritual but not actual torture there may be allusions here but they aren’t something I’m going to look up at this point.
Page 255
•    ‘He chose that night, March twenty-fifth to reveal’ – ‘He’ being God. Again, lots here. Mycroft compares himself to a monster in the chapter and also questions why he was ‘made’ what he was. Given the Frankenstein connections we’ve had already, there are obvious ties between Mycroft and the monster of that story. March 25 is the feast of the Annunciation, the point nine months before Christmas day when in the Catholic calendar the Virgin Mary is told by the Angel Gabriel that she is pregnant with and by God. God’s getting people pregnant is another theme we keep meeting but it is nigh on impossible not to occur if you make references to Greek/Roman myths.

Page 256 Chapter the Twenty-first: That Which is Caesar’s
•    ‘That Which is Caesar’s’ – A partial quote from the New Testament by Jesus on the question of whether people should be paying the taxes of the Roman occupiers. Jesus gives a clever reply that operates on multiple levels. He is referring directly to the Roman coins stamped with Caesar (probably Tiberius, son of Livia) i.e. saying that the coins are already Caesar. But, the coin also counts as a graven image of somebody claiming some degree of divinity, so, at another level, he is saying to spurn unholy things for holy things and also getting one up on his religious rivals that by not paying their taxes they are holding onto to sacrilegious objection. On another level again he’s giving an answer that the Roman authorities can’t object to (‘pay your taxes’) while implying that his god is the true authority. As the answer also suggests a dichotomy between Earthly political matters and holy ones, the quote has been much debated in terms of the distinction between Church authority and secular authority.
•    ‘9A’ – Who? Somebody ‘secretly’ has added translations of the Latin without Mycroft or Martin Guildbreaker’s permission but this is within the book that has been approved for printing with their names on it? Has Mycroft not checked the proofs? As others have pointed out, that latin quote on the ersatz title page at the beginning of the book refers to a formal stage in approving a book in the Catholic Church. ’Nihil obstat’ means the book is good to go, which then the overseeing authority would add ‘Imprimatur’ i.e. let it be printed. ‘Imprimatur’ isn’t there. 9A? Looks a bit like AP backwards so maybe its Ada Palmer inserting herself as a character – Mycroft’s subeditor.
•    ‘Ur and Uruk’ Ancient Mesopotamian cities. Uruk was the city of Gilgamesh.
•    ‘Athens and Sparta’ – You know about these cities already.
•    ‘Vienna and Cusco’ – Vienna being the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and of many seats of imperial power of the Holy Roman Empire (whose final Emperor was defeated by Napoleon and who was also Emperor Francis of Austria. Cusco was the seat of the Incan Empire and is still a major Peruvian city. At one time the heart of vast Andean Empire and then coopted by the Spanish as a seat of power. It’s really high up and has great beer. Full of Incan ruins and Spanish churches and prone to earthquakes, friendly stray dogs and tourists with altitude sickness.
•    ‘Paris, Istanbul, Kiev’ and…hold on. What big city that was the centre of an Empire is missing? OK, yes Alexandria is on the next page but London is conspicuous by its absence, particularly as it has its fair share of Masonic and classical connections. However, remember that Britain’s (and hence London’s) world dominance was a 19th-century phenomenon – it is easy to see with hindsight the growing power of Britain during the 18th-century but the loss of the American colonies would have looked like Britain was losing influence rather than gaining it. London as an imperial capital is a notion from a later, more vulgar time for Mycroft.
Page 257
•    ‘Alexandria’ – named after Alexander the Great and one of a whole plethora of cities named after him or by him as he slaughtered his way around the known world of the Greeks. In this case, I assume it is the major Egyptian city that was itself a major centre of Greek, Roman, Mediterranean, Islamic and North African learning at varying times. Home to the oft-burned down and lamented Library of Alexandria. Home of Euclid, Hypatia, Saint Augustine, all sorts.
•    Ziggurat – a stepped pyramid, a feature of cities like Ur but also found in central America. Note the notion of a tiered mountain again.
Page 258-264
Page 265
•    ‘Aeneas’ – a member of the Mardi bash’ murdered by Mycroft but also a reference to Aeneas, a Trojan hero from the Illiad who via the intervention of the gods doesn’t get slaughtered by the Greeks. For the Roman’s, however, this minor role became expanded and Aeneas is seen as the founder of a Troy-in-exile dynasty that results in Romulus & Remus and Rome itself. The most famous retelling of this Roman fan-fiction is Virgil’s Aeneid.
Page 266
Page 267
•    Heinlein – Robert A. you know who he is. The Utopian canon being more orientated to Sci-Fi than Virgil or Ovid. “Michael” here being the central character of Stranger in a Strange Land, which is probably the Utopian’s fave Heinlein rather than Starship Troopers.
•    ‘Micromegas’ – I discussed this already, Voltaire’s proto-science fiction story.
Page 268 End of Chapter 21

Page 269 Chapter the Twenty-Second: Mycroft is Mycroft
•    ‘Senator Aeneas Mardi’ I said I wouldn’t dwell on Mycroft’s murders because it is a factor in the novel that people (including myself) find disturbing. I think there are deeper reasons for this than them simply being appalling crimes but I’ll discuss that in a review. However, I’ll highlight this one though for a couple of reasons. The first being that Aeneas died. The name sort of implied somebody who might survive for the reason I gave. The second is that his killing was staged to resemble the murder of Julius Caesar and hence was an implied threat to the then emperor of Romanova.
Page 270
Page 271
•    ‘Mycroft is not a monster’ Frankenstein again.
Page 272-274
Page 275
•    ‘one bilingual copy of Homer’s Iliad’ Mycroft would have no need of a bilingual copy of the Iliad. It is implied that the copy was previously owned by Apollo Mojave. A confirmation of Mycroft’s use of Troy references.

Page 276 Chapter the Twenty-Third: Pontifex Maxima
•    ‘Pontifex Maxima’ The Pontifex Maximus was a position in ancient Rome that oversaw the chief priests of the official religion. It literally meant chief bridge builder in the sense that the authority to bridge the river Tiber was religious in nature and also that priests were an effective bridge between mortals and the divine. If you like ‘pontiffs’ were people who bridged things, aka “Bridgers”. I wonder who named Bridger? “Maxima” is a feminine form of ‘Maximus’ to point at Julia Doria-Pamphili.
•    ‘Doria-Pamphili’ Being Pope sometimes runs in the family and the Pamphilis were one example. The later combination of great Genoese families formed the House of Doria-Pamphili-Landi – or so Wikipedia tells me. Julia seems to have adapted the family business to modern times.
Page 276-285 End of Chapter 23

End of the Third Day.

Notes Ignota: Part the Sixth

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 72 Chapter the Sixth: Rome Was Not Built in a Day
•    ‘Agrippa’ – too many possibly relevant Agrippas to list sensibly. A mythological king in pre-Roman southern italy and a whole gaggle of generals, consuls, emperors.
Page 73
•    ‘The Censor’ – in ancient Rome, the censor was the person who maintained the census. A side task was to keep an eye on public morality and hence our modern use of ‘censor’.
Page 74
•    ‘If you see violence here…’ – this is a disturbing twist on the way Mycroft casts himself as a servant.
Page 75-83
Page 83
•    ‘Caligula’ – Roman Emperor – technically a nickname meaning ‘boot’, which makes me wonder about the ‘humanist boots’ they keep mentioning. Eventually murdered by his own guards and succeeded by Claudius.
•    ‘to crash on Crete’ – The tsunami would have been from the explosion of the island of Thira (the remains of which are now more commonly known as Santorini. A Krakatoa scale volcanic event that would have impacted the whole Mediterranean. The event is often cited as explaining numerous myths including the parting of the Red Sea in the Bible. However, aside from not matching several elements of Plato’s myth, it is a plausible contender as a historical root for Atlantis.
•    33-67, 67-33, 29-71 just noting them down to help we watch out for other numbers.
•    Apoll->> – Apollo, god of poetry and oracles.
•    ‘masochist’ – Mycroft appears to mean it straight forwardly. The ‘masochist’ was named after the Austrian writer Leopold Ritter von Sacher-Masoch 1836-1895 whose most famous novel is Venus in Furs which has overt BDSM themes. The counterpart term of ‘sadist’ is, of course, from the Marquis de Sade 1740-1814, who is perhaps the strangest figure of the French enlightenment.
Page 86
Page 87
•    ‘I the Greek’ – Mycroft is Greek. The relationship between Rome and Greece is a complex one in Ancient History as the hegemony of the cultures shifted over time and the Roman Empire expanded eastwards.

Page 89 Chapter the Seventh Canis Domini
•    ‘Canis Domini’ – as later explained in the text ‘canis domino’ means hounds of god and is a pun used to describe the Dominican order aka ‘The Order of Preachers’ or OP. Like any order, the Dominicans had a wide-ranging remit on matters spiritual but they are most closely associated with the suppression of heresy. Their founder (Saint Dominic) was strongly opposed to the Albigensian/Cathar heresy of Southern France and the subsequent bloody crusade against them led to the Dominican role in the Inquisition.
•    ‘Dominic Seneschal’ – Dominic after St Dominic 1170-1221. Dominic himself was not an inquisitor as such. A seneschal was a steward of a great house or castle in medieval times.
•    ‘The outfit is all black’ – Dominic Seneschal’s elegant clothing is not very Dominican (as an order they favoured overt poverty and self-denial) but black is a colour associated with the order and the term ‘blackfriars’ in English usually relates to Dominicans.
Page 90
•    Edo Period Japan – 1603-1868
•    ‘standards of a Goth’ – Goths is a generic term for the groups of Germanic people who moved further into Western Europe during the time of the (Western) Roman Empire. This population movement led to conflict with Rome but also cultural shifts with Gothic tribes becoming more Romanised.
•    The Patriarch? – i.e. Voltaire again.
•    ‘George Washington’ – General and American Revolutionary. The American revolution against Britain is intimately mixed in with the Enlightenment. The war against Britain was naturally supported by France on the basis of it being bad for Britain but was also a conduit for an exchange of radical ideas between France’s enlightenment thinkers and America’s revolutionaries.
•    Rousseau –  Jean-Jacques Rousseau, born in Geneva and a major figure of the Enlightenment. He viewed morality as arising from humanities natural state and hence somewhat critical of civilisation. To some extent in both his thinking and writing (e.g.,_or_the_New_Heloise) he presaged the Romanticism that followed The Enlightenment.
•    ‘De Sade’ –  Marquis de Sade 1740-1814, the radical writer who mixed theology, politics and philosophy with explicit discussions of sex and sexual practices. Often portrayed as symbolic of the decadence of the final decades of the French aristocracy, DeSade was a political radical.
Page 91-93
Page 94
•    ‘Hobbes’ – Calvin’s talking stuffed toy tiger of course! You’ve got this far into the book and had not realised that Bridger is Calvin from Sam Watterson’s famous comic strip? No? OK, OK. Thomas Hobbes 1588-1679 (sigh) another one of those British precursors to the French Enlightenment. A polymath but most famous for his book Leviathan that helped shape modern ideas of the state and the notion of the social contract. A royalist who examined monarchy sceptically, a theist routinely accused of atheism. Not a tiger. Didn’t help build mutant snow people. But while we are here John Calvin 1509-1564 French/Swiss Protestant theologian. Calvin’s strict fatalism and his persecution of heresy overshadow some of his more progressive (for their time) views on democracy and rights. He did not ever build a transmogrifier.
Page 95
•    ‘March the twenty-fourth was the feast of the Norse god Heimdall’ – I can find no reference to this and it seems a very, very odd thing for Mycroft to say. For example March 24 was the day the Edo period in Japan began, which would be a more significant date for Mycroft. Also, Mycroft usually makes references to classical mythology, Catholicism and very rarely the Bible, just like his heroes would have done. An interest in Norse/Germanic mythology is something more related to the 19th century. So why Heimdall? He was the god who kept and guarded the bifrost – the bridge that joined middle earth to the Asgard. His home, on the heavenly end of the bridge, was Himinbjorg – heaven’s castle. Mycroft has already compared Cielo de Parajos to Dante’s purgatory which was also a physical connection between heaven and earth with a paradise at the top. When Mycroft made the purgatory comparison it was in relation to the city being a mountain with tiers in the Southern Hemisphere – so it literally has many of the features of Dante’s vision. However, the Saneer-Weeksbooth Bash’ controls the must system of flying vehicles that allows rapid movement around the globe. That system is what allows the great-people of the world to travel the Earth – it is the bifrost and Thisbe, Cato, Ockham et al are Heimdall. The breaking of bifrost is an event in Ragnarok – the apocalyptic end of the gods. Am I reading too much into one throw away line?
Page 96
•    ‘John Calvin’ – see my comment on Page 94
Page 97
•    ‘Dominic monks’ – the in text explanation of what I noted for Page 89
Page 98 – end of chapter 7

Page 99 Chapter the Eight: A place of Honour
•    ‘vulgar’ an English word co-opted from the Latin word for the common people to refer originally to the common language spoken. Mycroft is essentially playing on words here by having the word carry its multiple meanings.
•    ‘Papadelias’ – a Greek surname. [Later, this is revealed to be the police officer who investigated Mycroft’s notorious crime]
Page 100-101
Page 102
•    ‘Via Sacra’  etc. – The main street of Ancient Rome and other landmarks of Rome, presumably recreated in Romanova.
•    ‘Pantheon’ Literally ‘All Gods’. There are two Pantheon’s relevant here. the first was (technically ‘is’ as it is still there and worth a visit) in Ancient Rome. A cylindrical building with a domed roof that was a technical marvel when built. The Pantheon was dedicated to all gods but was essentially a way of ensuring that any gods that weren’t celebrated elsewhere had a spot somewhere.The centre of the dome has a round skylight. The other Pantheon was named after the first and is in Paris. The building was built with the intention of replacing the ruined church of Saint Genevieve in the 18th century. However, work proceeded slowly and events caught up with it. By the time it was finished the French revolution was revolving. On the death of the (moderate) revolutionary noble Comte de Mirabeau, it was decided by the National Assembly to repurpose the church as a mausoleum for great Frenchmen (and at the time ‘men’). Voltaire is, naturally, buried there as was Rousseau. More contemporary figures buried there include Marie Curie. For Umberto Eco fans…In his novel ‘Foucault’s Pendulum’, the climax of the novel is at the Musée des Arts et Métiers – another late eighteenth-century museum to rationality. However, Leon Foucault’s original demonstration of the rotation of the earth by use of a long pendulum was conducted in The Pantheon and a copy of the pendulum still swings there.
•    ‘Apollo Mojave’ – apparently a Utopian of Mycroft’s time. The Mohave are a Native American tribe from the Mojave desert.
Page 103
•    ‘Thomas Carlyle’ – I wrote ‘bingo’ here.
•    ‘Sofia Kovacs’ – common enough names but ‘Sofia’ has multiple relevant connotations. The city of Sofia in Bulgaria nearly became Constantine’s Eastern capital rather than Byzantium aka Istanbul. ‘Sophia’ is also identified with wisdom (as in ‘philosophy’ the love of wisdom) and specifically the wisdom of god aka the Logos of the start of St John’s gospel. Back in Istanbul aka Constantinople is the Hagia Sophia the extraordinary domed church, then mosque, then museum (since 1935) that is arguably the lasting apex of Roman architecture. Notably, it was dedicated not to Saint Sofia (i.e. any one of the specific Saints of that name) but to the divine principle. So it too is/was a kind of monotheistic pantheon and now is a secular cathedral. Reputedly, it’s dome is what inspired the domes of mosques in the Islamic world.
Page 104
•    ‘When in the course of human events…’  The speech quotes and repurposes the American Declaration of Independence, a document drenched in Enlightenment thinking.
Page 105
•    ‘Jefferson’s pen’ Thomas Jefferson who was the main author of the Declaration of Independence. You probably know lots about him.
Page 106-111 end of chapter eight

Page 112 Chapter the Ninth: Every Soul that Ever Died
•    ‘Every Soul that Ever Died’  All Souls, a Christian holy day, in Catholic tradition the day souls in purgatory are prayed for and the day that follows All Saints which is the day after Halloween (all hallows eve).
Page 113-117
Page 118
•    ‘karma’ – a notion of ethical consequence at a spiritual level common to Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Jainism.
•    ‘reincarnation’ – In modern times most closely associated with Hinduism but similar concepts can be found in many cultures. In Ancient Greece, metempsychosis was associated with the mystery cult of Orpheus and also with Pythagoras. The concept also appears in Plato’s Republic. In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night the clown fest messes with Malvolio’s head by quizzing him about Pythagoras’s opinion on the transmigration of the soul.
Page 119
•    ‘Epicureans’ Epicurus was a Greek philosopher notable for his atomism (a perspective of metaphysics of things being made up of smaller more basic things) which was a countervailing view to Plato’s. More famously he was known for basic his ethical philosophy on treating pleasure as the greatest good. However, his view of ‘pleasure’ was not what you might expect i.e. closer to a notion of the absence of pain and/or a condition of tranquillity and hence the Epicureans were not particularly hedonistic or especially interested in food of pleasures of the flesh. However, critics of his principles equated them with a more general hedonism and the name stuck in part due to Cicero criticising Roman Epicureans. Dante portrayed Epicureans as paradigmatic heretics in his Inferno. Interest in the Epicureans revived in later centuries, particularly as interest in atomism views of physics and empiricism increased.
Page 120
•    ‘neo-platonism’ A form of Platonism that would become very influential on Christianity and Islam.
•    ’Neo-Epicureans say…’ A future philosophy but one that has elements of Jeremy Bentham’s (1748 – 1832) utilitarianism. Bentham (who famously had himself stuffed after death) saw himself as an Epicurean in the philosophical sense.
Page 122-125 end of chapter 9

Page 126 Chapter the Tenth: The Sun Awaits his Rival
•    Louis XIV – Born 1643 and King of France from 1654 to 1715 and known as ‘the Sun King’. Builder of Versailles and an absolute monarch obsessed with having himself depicted as fabulous in art.
Page 127-133
Page 134
•    ‘Cupid and Psyche’ a story from the novel The Golden Ass by latin writer Apuleius. The main story is about a man who turns himself into a donkey and Cupid and Psyche is a story within a story. In that story Psyche is a woman who angers Venus by being too beautiful. Venus sends Cupid to work some mischief on her but Cupid accidentally scratches himself with his own arrow and falls in love with Psyche. Shenanigans of various kinds follow some of which (e.g. a trip to the underworld) parallel elements of mystery cult rituals. The story was rediscovered in the Renaissance and became a popular topic in art – in particular Cupid fleeing Psyche’s bed (presumably post-coitally)

Page 135 Chapter the Eleventh Enter Sniper
•    ‘Doctor Frankenstein’ – as discussed earlier.
Page 136-144 end of chapter 11

Page 145 Chapter the Twelfth: Neither Earth nor Atom but…
•    ’Neither earth nor Atom, but…’ & ‘…perhaps the stars’ The pair of chapter titles read like a quote but I don’t know what from, but it is how Mycroft ends this chapter.
•    ‘fasces’ a Roman symbol of authority in the form of a bundle of sticks bound together (sometimes with an axe or axe head). The symbol indicated strength through unity and like many Roman symbols wasco-optedd by later Europeans in heraldry. However, its most notable modern use was as a symbol of the Italian far right ‘fascist’ whose name was adopted from their symbolic fasces. Here the reference is directly to Cornel Mason’s right to order an execution like a Roman magistrate but the connection with the Twentieth Century self-styled Roman emperor is also there.
Page 146-150
Page 151
•    ‘Empress Livia’ The wife of Augustus and the matriarch of the Roman emperor. Mother, grand-mother, great-grand-mother and great-great-grand-mother of Roman emperors (Tiberius, Claudius, Caligula and Nero)
Page 152
•    ‘Legend says that Emperor Constantine…willed the Roman Empire to the Christian Church’ Well, it is both substantial more and substantial less than a ‘legend’. The Donation of Constantine was a document forged in the 8th century claiming to be a decree from Constantine handing the empire over to the Church. To the credit of the 15th century Catholics, scholarship showed the document was a forgery due to inconsistencies in the language.
Page 153
•    ‘It can split the atom!’ The Epicureans were atomists, though of course the notion of splitting an atom in their sense of the term would be a paradox.

Page 154 Chapter the Thirteenth:…Perhaps the Stars
Page 155
•    ‘Her name is Aldrin Bester, a fine Utopian name lifted from their canon, as in olden days Europe took its names from lists of saints’ Aldrin is obviously Buzz Aldrin and Alfred Bester was the notable science fiction writer who won the inaugural Hugo Award for the Demolish Man. According to Mycroft the Utopians take names from their ‘canon’. Notably, we’ve been seeing references to other foundational figures in SF. The Frankenstein references is one but another is…Voltaire! Voltaire’s story ‘Micromegas’ (small-large) is a philosophical essay about how we perceive ourselves that tells us visitors from other planets in the solar system coming to Earth but being so vastly out of scale in size, not understanding that we live on it. Meanwhile Alfred Bester’s ‘Stars My Destination’ fits with the theme of space travel in this chapter.
Page 157
•   ‘Voltaire Seldon’ um, well as I was saying, Voltaire was a SF writer as well. Seldon, of course is Hari Seldon of Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy and that open with an Empire on the verge of collapse but blissfully unaware and scholars collaborating on an Encylopedia – why just like our pal Diderot!
•    ‘Lictors’ Ceremonial Roman officers of the court who would carry the fasces.
Page 158-162 end of Chapter 13

Page 163 Chapter the Fourteenth The Interlude…
•    ‘porphyrogene’ Born into purple – of royal (imperial) blood.
•    Charlemagne – King of the Franks and first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire
Page 164
•    ‘the Amador Treason’ – don’t know what this is.
Page 171
•    ‘Tai-Kun’ – an ancient Japanese title for a ruler who is not themselves royal. The English term ‘tycoon’ is derived from it.
Page 174 End of Chapter 14

End of the second day.

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.