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.



  1. Mark

    I think this is the chapter that got me really disliking most of the characters. Before I read the book I was aware of some people suggesting that the utopia portrayed was going to be failing, or be a disguised dystopia, etc. Although I was obviously primed for that, this chapter was so obviously displaying a full blown dystopia that I was amazed anyone had ever said anything else of it. Firstly we have the powerful corporation, then an all-powerful director of that corporation with scary personal guards, then Mycroft is terrified of being beaten by those guards, then the collection of possible hereditary heirs….. all screaming “big scary dystopia” at full volume. To top it all, having spent the last chapter telling us all about the gender-irrelevant nature of society and whacking us over the head about how transgressive Mycroft was being by using gender, we meet the femme fatale character who is revealed to be the sister of the head of another faction (more hereditary, oligarchical hints) able to break that taboo with impunity as a weapon.
    The chapter makes it obvious that there’s an untouchable ruling class who can only be threatened by the others in their class, rendering any utopian qualities in this New World Society null and void. As the book is all about the elites – the Great Men, in fact – I pretty much disliked every character from that point.


    • camestrosfelapton

      The Enlightenment is a Lie to paraphrase Portal. This is 18th century Paris – yes, the centre of The Enlightenment as a movement but not itself ‘enlightened’.
      The weird gender representation begins to make more sense in this context – our modern gender cues (including our regressive ones) don’t match but it is still a deeply patriarchal society.


    • Cora

      Like I said over at File 770, it was pretty obvious to me from the start that this world was not a utopia or even a failed utopia, but a nasty dystopia. I had my suspicions from the first chapter on, since a lot of the social practices described sound pretty horrible to me, but the chapter you mention pretty much confirmed them.


      • camestrosfelapton

        There is a SF TV cliche that I kinda like and it cropped up twice in my viewing this week in Doctor [Spoiler] and [Spoilers] of the Galaxy,

        …the heroes, away team, explorers are in a paradise that is too good to be true and then one of them uncovers…

        …human remains (specifically skulls but if I remember right it is a human tooth in Life of Pi) and it is ‘oh dear’ this paradise isn’t what it looks like – which we all knew all along because otherwise there is no story and anyway there was something kind of creepy about the people running the place, they are just TOO nice…

        …Mycroft’s crimes (which we always knew must have been heinous in some way) is the room full of skulls of former visitors moment.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Andrew M

      Powerful corporations (actually I think this is more a government than a corporation, but certainly it’s one run rather like a corporation) with powerful bosses, who have scary guards, and pass on power in a largely hereditary way, are all features of the real world. (It’s not totally hereditary – we are told that Hotaka Mitsubishi is in danger of being voted out – but it approximates a hereditary system because powerful people train their children to follow them. That happens in our world too.) I wouldn’t call something a dystopia unless it was significantly worse than the world we live in. (Which perhaps it is – the idea of bash’houses terrifies me – but not because of those features.)

      I’m not sure how the idea that this was meant to be a total utopia arose in the first place. The blurb on the back of my copy says ‘To us it seems like a mad combination of heaven and hell’.


      • Mark

        Well, the prime dystopian element for me is that the Hives are either not democratic or are fake democracies with an oligarchy controlling them (and it’s a fair point that the exact oligarch may change, but there’s a clear oligarch class waiting to provide any replacement). The lack of any true democracy is what makes it a dystopia compared to today. Admittedly there are many people who will say that our current democracies are no better!

        In terms of whether it presents as a utopia, I probably overstated the case a bit, but I’ve seen reactions that seem to take it that way, discussions of “which Hive would you choose”, etc. E.g. this reviewer ( called it “the world of my political dreams”, albeit they acknowledged something was poised to go wrong. My feeling is that it’s not that something is *poised* to go wrong, but that it is very wrong already.


      • camestrosfelapton

        Without pre-empting my review too much: “The Enlightenment” is bait and switch from Palmer. This isn’t a book about the The Enlightenment but a book about the upper classes of 18th Century France.