Ada Palmer’s Great Conversation

by Lee Konstantinou on March 20, 2017

Around a third of the way through the first book of Terra Ignota, Too Like the Lightning, we finally learn something of substance about the philosophy of the Utopians, one of the seven global Hives that dominate the Earth in Ada Palmer’s imagined twenty-fifth century.

There were hints before, but the truth finally struck me when Mycroft Canner meets two oddly named Utopians: Aldrin Bester and Voltaire Seldon. “Aldrin Bester,” Mycroft informs us in an aside is “a fine Utopian name lifted from their canon, as in the olden days Europe took its names from lists of saints.” The Utopians’ canon, of course, is the canon of science fiction. Voltaire belongs in that canon, Mycroft scrupulously reminds us, because of his 1752 novella “Micromégas,” which “makes him a candidate for the title of world’s first science-fiction author.” The Utopians, it turns out, are SF fans of the future, organized into one of the most powerful political organizations on the planet. A few years ago, Neal Stephenson called for a return to the “techno-optimism” of Golden Age and space age science fiction, expressing fears that we now live in “a world where big stuff can never get done.” (Where are our flying cars?) Palmer’s Utopians have turned Stephenson’s lament into an ideology, a way of life, and an identity. They control the Moon. They’re planning to colonize Mars (which turns out to be something of a big real estate grab, a threat to Mitsubishi, which owns most of the Earth). But more importantly, the Utopians are avatars of the imagination, ideologues of the future. [click to continue…]