Oh wow. OH WOW. This is how you wrap up a series. It’s been a month since I finished Perhaps the Stars, and I am still just in complete awe at this series. So much was payed off, and the war was depicted so well. I’m going to try and be lighter on spoilers here than in my last post on the series, which may make it harder to discuss some things. Still, we shall persist.
Let us start with the obvious change in this series: Mycroft Canner is no longer our primary narrator, due to reasons relating to the end of The Will to Battle. Our new narrator, 9A, aka No One, has a very different writing style to Mycroft. No more constant appeals to the Reader or discussions with Thomas Hobbs, but a more journalistic approach to documenting the war. Not only that, but 9A isn’t insane or influenced by 18th Centaury philosophy to the same degree as Mycroft, so their narration and way of thinking is more inline with what we have been trained to see as normal for a person of the 25th Centaury. Of course, we already got a hint at the end of Will to Battle that Mycroft would return, and he eventually does so. However, Mycroft doesn’t resume his narrator duties completely, and it is really interesting seeing the way the two characters share narration duty. Yeah, interesting is a good way to put it. Heartbreaking also works, but elaborating on that will be saying too much.
The way this story has been told is as much a part of the world and characters as the story contents itself. This is true right until the very end. This series started off with Mycroft’s prayer to the Reader, and this fourth wall breaking goes right until the end. It’s great that this experimental writing style hasn’t worn thin. The fact that Palmer does new things with this narration: such as the shared narration and a couple of devastating journal entry chapters keeps this style exciting right until the end of the series. And damn what an ending.
Onto the war itself. Palmer has created such a huge world, with so many points of contention that even a book as long as this one couldn’t examine every aspect of the war. Which is very true to life; you’d be hard pressed to find just one book that gives details about every event of WWII. For us readers, it helps that early in this book the flying car network went down. After three books where any character could appear at any part of the planet faster than in Game of Thrones, adjusting to Being in a Place is hard. For us and for the characters. Then the tracker network goes down, limiting communications, and we have to relearn this world without the technologies that make it so different. And damn that is difficult. I grew to love this world, and also take it’s connectivity for granted. It hit hard seeing these characters stripped of their technology.
9A spends the start of this war trapped in the world capital of Romanova. Being the world capital, Romanova is home to many government bodies, and by law the population of the city must be the same ratio of Hives as the wider world. This makes Romanova a perfect microcosm of the wider world and broader conflict. We may not see every major battle and incident of the war, but we clearly see the trends and issues. Throughout 9A’s time in Romanova, there is also a more personal quest to find a way back to JEDD Mason, who is isolated in Alexandria. Our characters make it to Alexandria about halfway through the book, and are soon involved in the most anime scene I have ever read in an English language prose novel. I actually stayed up until half past two in the morning listening to The Second Battle for the Almagest with the biggest grin on my face.
This story has a few of the hallmarks of military science fiction. Palmer explores the impact of future technologies and social orders on warfare. What does a battlefront or homefront look like when there are no borders? How do you differentiate between military action and civilian violence in a world that hasn’t fielded an army in hundreds of years? Does a long peace make war worse? Will technology make it possible to wage war without killing? That last one sounds so naïve and dumb when I say it, but when Palmer explores the question, you will seriously consider it. It is rare that I read a book that challenges something that I considered such a fundamental truth about the universe or human nature.
Despite asking a lot of military SF questions, Perhaps the Stars never feels like a Military SF book. Most obviously because it never focuses on soldiers or battles, but I think the theological/fantastical elements of this story may have also barred it from this label if there had been any series attempt to cram this story into the Military SF box.
Earlier in the series, we were introduced to Apollo Mojave’s Iliad; a retelling of the ancient classic in space with mechs. We also were told that Bridger; the boy who could bring toys to life and create miracles, has read this book. From the second book on, we have seen the influence of the Iliad (or shall I say, the influence of the Iliad’s influence over Bridger) seep into the world and shape people and events. Now that war has started, the powerful leaders of the world start to take on the roles of characters from the Battle of Troy, which causes our narrators a lot of anguish when they see parallels that the world leaders miss or dismiss. I am not that familiar with the Iliad, so I only got the most obvious of references, but a lot of the more obscure parallels are explained, and it is a lot of fun. Also really builds tension and dread in a few scenes where Mycroft knows what is supposed to happen next in the story.
The references to the Battle of Troy also tie the war into the theological discussion this series has been having. The main plot of this series is the dialog between our God and the visiting God of another universe. There is still a lot of debate about whether our creator is kind, whether he cares, and if creating a kinder universe like the visitor’s universe would be right. As I mentioned before, there is a very SF approach to theology here which results in a really cool, character driven discussion on religion. It asks big theological questions that even I, as an Atheist, find myself engaged with.
Most of what I can say about the theology and mythology aspects of this book, I have either already summed up in my last post, or I cannot do so without spoilers. I don’t think there is too much more to say though. Maybe if I was more familiar with Homer I’d have more to dissect. I did know enough about Homer to enjoy the Troy references though. I hear Palmer’s next project is going to deal with Viking mythology, which should be a lot of fun.
One reason that Perhaps the Stars was such a good end to this series is the way it addressed the issues in this world. A lot of our visions of the future have a world where everything is all fixed and perfect, or a world that has become a brutal dystopia. We rarely imagine worlds like ours, where some things are much better and some things need a lot of improvement. The Terra Ignota world feels like a utopia most of the time, but there are things that are off, and it is only in this book that characters truly start to work on these problems.
Personally, I also liked that we got a scene of Sniper discussing gender, where it explains that it/its are its preferred pronouns in some circumstances. I also liked that Madame’s 18th Centaury take on gender roles, which was used to challenge the gender silence of the mainstream society, is called out by 9A. It was also cool to see a wheelchair user in a position of power, and I loved how JEDD’s limitiations were talked about along with his brilliance.
Terra Ignota is now one of my favourite series ever. Huge ideas, a strange world that completely pulled me in, and a massive cast of amazing characters told in a unique style has made this whole series an unforgettable ride. Perhaps the Stars especially has been one of the most crazy reading experiences I have had in a long time. I know that the way these books are written is not for everyone, but I think if you enjoyed Too Like the Lightning, you will love the way this series goes down.
I know that one day, I’ll read this series again. I wonder what it will be like re-reading Too Like the Lightning after knowing what happens in Perhaps the Stars?