Notes Ignota: Notes the First

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.

Notes are given in the order that I spotted something in a book. In some cases, a reference is later explained in the actual text of the book. In other cases, I’m guessing. I’ve not gone back to look for new things but in some cases, I have added further comments to an observation based on later information from the book. At this point, I haven’t finished the book (or even bought the sequel) so further revelations may come.

Character and author intent. Most of the book is narrated by Mycroft Canner, who is very obsessed with Voltaire and the Enlightenment. To what extent are his references the intent of the character or that of the author? Obviously it is both, but in general, I’ll assume that it is Mycroft trying to say something if the reference is Mycroft and Palmer is trying to say something when it is a reference outside of Mycroft’s control (e.g. his own name or that of sensayer Carlyle). Likewise, with possible errors, I’ll assume these come from Mycroft as a character.

Title Page
The book begins after its own 20th century front matter with an additional title page that implies that what follows is a book from the future by Mycroft Canner.

•    ‘A narrative of the events of the year 2454’
•    The year 2454 CE would be exactly one thousand years after 1454, which, un-coincidentally is the year that we start getting printed books with dates on their title pages. The Gutenberg Bible was printed in 1454-1455 and while not the first thing that Gutenberg printed, it wasn’t until 1454 that he started dating what he printed. Moveable type was not first invented in Europe but a combination of factors including a fairly standard & small alphabet across Western Europe, meant that print would have a profound effect on the flow of ideas in Western Europe.
•    1453 on the other hand, a thousand-and-one years before the events of Too Like the Lightning marked the Fall of Constantinople (which definitely coincidentally is where other 2017 Hugo Award nominee ‘Deaths End’ starts). The fall of Constantinople marked the start of the Ottoman Empire but also marked the final, final end of the Roman Empire. The Byzantine Empire was the heir of Eastern Roman Empire which kept going long after the Western Roman Empire had given up on that whole business.
•    A few decades later European powers are busy ‘discovering’ bits of the rest of the world and the whole idea of it being ‘The Middle Ages’ is just no longer tenable.
•    Speaking of the Roman Empire, the year 454 CE is a time of the death throes of the Western Roman Empire. The good news is that Attila the Hun died the year before and the bad news is the Emperor (now based in Ravenna because Rome itself is a mess) is busy stabbing generals. The generally accepted end of what was a messy collapse is 476 CE.
•    454/3 BCE is a time when Athenian hegemony is growing under Pericles. Euripides is writing plays and Greek philosophers are philosophising but you still have to wait a few decades for Socrates.

•    ‘…of all FREE and UNFREE Living Persons…’ – it is a future novel but some people are not classed as ‘free’.

•    ‘Qui vertiate desiderate, ipse hoc legat. Nihil obstat’ – He that wants truth should read. Nothing stands in the way. (I think – if it is a quote then I don’t know what from) [ETA] ‘Nihil obstat’ was used by the Catholic Church to indicate that book was OK to be printed, after which a Bishop would add ‘Imprimatur’ to give the go ahead. [h/t Andrew M]

•    ‘Gordian Exposure Commission Content Ratings’ – an in-universe trigger warning

Opening quote
•    ‘Ah my poor Jacques! You are a philosopher. But don’t worry: I’ll protect you. – Diderot, Jacques the Fatalist and His Master’ Denis Diderot 1713-1784 A key figure in The Encyclopaedia – the Wikipedia of the Enlightenment. Jacques the Fatalist is one of his most famous works of fiction and the title is self-explanatory. It is about a servant called Jacques who is a fatalist and is travelling with his master.
•    Masters and servants is a theme in literature of many times but in the revolutionary times of the late 18th century, it would make on new significance e.g. Beaumarchais’s Figaro in the Barber of Seville and the Marriage of Figaro. Notably, Mycroft Canner is placed in a social role akin to these kinds of fictional clever servants – technically at the beck and call of anybody and of a distinct lower social class but also an advisor to the most powerful and to the effective celebrity-aristocracy of 2454.

Page 13 Chapter the First: A Prayer to the Reader
•    The Enlightenment – a period of no real fixed dates but which refers to a culture of philosophical enquiry and emphasis on political liberty and humanist ideals centred around 18th century Europe. It is both a break from and a re-assertion of previous philosophical movements in Western Europe. Often radical and progressive despite itself. In its wake comes the 19th century and before it came 17th century thinkers like Descartes. Too big a subject to write about in a single note. Here read this Wikipedia page: and think on how much the Enlightenment greats would have loved and abhorred Wikipedia.
•    ‘Mycroft Canner’ – I should have noted this on the title page but I saved it for here. ‘Mycroft’ is not a made up name but it is a made up FIRST name. The name itself is a surname from the Peak District area of England. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle picked it up (possibly from the names of some cricketers) and used it as the name of Sherlock Holmes’s smarter older brother. [Edit]‘Sherlock’ appears coined as a first name by Conan Doyle (possibly again by joining cricket player’s names together or by co-opting a surname). A tiny bit of genius by Conan-Doyle in that both names look and sound so obviously English and yet would have been odd and unfamiliar to his audience. Names both foreign and inherently English have made them both powerful labels. ‘Sherlock’ always references Holmes and ‘Mycroft’ nearly as much (unless you are 19th century fan of Derbyshire County Cricket Club I guess). So ‘Mycroft’ as a name can’t help evoke somebody smart and somebody who advises the powerful. In Conan Doyle’s stories, Mycroft is emblematic of what we would now call ‘the Deep State’ – pragmatic, clever and tied to a kind of cynical utilitarianism.
•    ‘Canner’ – somebody who makes cans, a surname from the Midlands according to Wikipedia

No, we haven’t started the story yet.

Ironfest 2017

Yes, I probably should have gone on a March for Science on Saturday but I didn’t. Instead, I headed westwards to the Australian town of Lithgow.

Sydney, as a city, is quite famous but beyond Sydney, the smaller towns tend to be largely unknown. Partly this is due to the weird geography – Sydney itself is hemmed in on nearly all sides by major obstacles, so it sprawls in an unusual way (unlike, say Melbourne which sprawls more sensibly – it being an inherently more sensible city).

Westwards, Sydney’s natural limit is the Blue Mountains (‘is’ rather than ‘are’ I think). Not mountains even by relaxed English standards, the Blue Mountains is more of a heavily eroded plateau. However, steep escarpments, labyrinthine gulleys and thick bush meant that early British settlers found them a major barrier to westward expansion. Until helpful Aboriginal people explained the correct way to get across was to go over the top of them, following the ridge lines, they were an impassable barrier. The many hidden gulleys still contain secrets from remains of temperate rain forest to living things from the age of the dinosaurs.

Beyond the Blue Mountains there are still further hills of the Great Dividing range and amid those hills is the former industrial town of Lithgow. With a history of coal mining and metal work, its location meant it was also perfect for munitions production for the Australian armed forces.

In 2000 people in Lithgow decided to hold a bit of festival to celebrate Australia’s metal working industry. Nice idea. That festival grew and included aspects of Lithgow’s firearms and munitions history. That in turn, brought in people interested in military historical re-enactment. That in turn, brought in people interested in more general historical re-enactment including middle-ages type stuff. That (and the whole industrial vibe) brought in people really into Steampunk. And with people interested in building working models of R2D2 also turning up and the whole ambience of creative anachronism that arose from a big field full of Vikings watching Turkish dancers next to WW2 tanks, made everything look like the set of 1980’s episode of Doctor Who…so naturally Ironfest just embraced what it was becoming and had a Doctor Who theme a few years back.

Lots of photos below the fold…

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Currently Reading: Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer

As I have a dead tree version, I thought I’d take occasional notes on the references made in the story to various things. Hmmm, I’ve made a lot of notes! I’m about a third of the way through and it is settling down and the [plot]:[classical/enlightenment/pre-twentieth century] has increased sufficiently that I’m not stopping every page for a post-it note. Nice to see some of my early ‘this is possibly a reference to…’ be confirmed by later parts of the text.

I’ll do a few posts just of the notes I think. Not sure how it all ties together yet.

Dear Mister Martin from Timothy T Cat

Dear Mister Martin,

Or can I call you George or Are-Are? You may remember me from my previous letters what I wrote you – specifically my lengthy inquiry as to whether Sue Perkins was a Stark or a Lannister or what? Camestros has since explained that I have been habitually confusing the BBC’s  ‘Great British Bake Off” with HBO’s “Games of Thrones”. This revelation has certainly cleared up many a query I had about where the story was going. Although I am still puzzled by the distinction between baking powder and baking soda – don’t worry! I understand a great writer like yourself has to have his secrets, so I’ll wait to find that out in the final episode.

My recent issues have been further compounded when I learnt of cast changes in your show and a change in venue. Now it is Sandi Toksvig? Is everybody turning into Sandi Toksvig? Stephen Fry turned into Sandi Toksvig as well and he was in the Hobbit – so don’t say it couldn’t happen to you. Camestros says that I am still getting that confused with The Great British Bake Off but I don’t see how because the show isn’t even called that in the United States, so how could HBO swap Sue Perkins for Sandy Toksvig? That makes no sense! Also, Sue Perkins is still on television but has her own rebel army which has declared a kingdom in the North – I’m guessing to revenge Sean Bean who failed the Mary Berry Signature Walnut Frosted Layer Cake Challenge in season 1.

Anyway, Noel Fielding is definitely a Targaryen – so at least that’s been cleared up.

Down to business! You sir, are a busy man or so I was told when I suggested writing this letter. What you may not know is that I am one of the best author/editor/publishers this side of the M25. Now between you, me and the scratching post, I have heard that many of your fans are impatient to find out how your epic ends and you don’t know because – like, how could you know? They probably haven’t even picked the contestants for next seasons Games of Thrones or even what baking challenges they will have to face! (Hope it’s not the caramelised walnuts again!) Yes, everybody wants another amazing twist like the Red Velvet Cake Wedding again but don’t those bozos know it isn’t a twist if you know it is going to happen! I feel you pain George, I do. Your fans are bozos. There, I said it. I hope you aren’t offended because we both know it is true. Don’t believe me? Just ask Mary Berry.

Anyhoo. Here is what I’m thinking. Why don’t I write a book to finish off your epic? Ha, ha, don’t worry – it won’t be the real end! No, you can keep writing your own ending but I can write a PRETEND ending. This way, all those bozos will think ‘Oh, Games of Thrones is over now and now I know how it ended! Who’d have thought the ice zombie monsters had all the thrones all that time! I guess that’s the end of the games!’ See? Then they leave you alone and you can work on more yummy recipes for the next season in peace. When you are finished you can say ‘Psyche bozos! That wasn’t the real ending! Here is the real ending – Sean Bean’s back and this time he has a flamethrower!’

My fee would be $1 million US. That may seem cheap but I need the money pretty sharpish to pay off a Russian dry cleaners that are holding my green suit hostage. I either pay them a million dollars or they release the recordings to CNN.

Let me know your thoughts ASAP


Tim RR Cat

Hugo 2017: Best Dramatic Presentation Short

Other posts on this topic:

Best Dramatic Presentation Short! In reverse order:

  • No Award: I won’t be using in this category. What I’ve seen/listened too has been award worthy and I trust that what I haven’t seen is award worth also.
  • Not on the ballot: Game of Thrones Battle of the Bastards and The Door. Sorry GRRM but I haven’t watched them. Sad to hear about Hodor.
  • The Expanse: Leviathan Awakes. Yes, entertaining, competent Sci-Fi but not blow your socks away brilliant.
  • Doctor Who: The Return of Doctor Mysterio. An entertaining Moffat rom-com invades a Doctor Who episode that is invading a superhero origin story. Funny and clever and the only Doctor Who we got in 2016. But outstandingly good? Nope.
  • Black Mirror: San Junipero.  Speaking of heartwarming…Deeply touching and subtle science fiction with top notch acting. Really worth voting number one for this and definitely streets ahead of all the other TV nominees (that I’ve seen).
  • Splendor and Misery. Narrowly but significantly beats San Junipero for my top position. Futuristic but deeply connected to the past. Musically innovative and emotionally engaging. Really deserves a Hugo Award.