Too Like the Lightning: Trying to Peek into a Queer Utopia

Too Like the Lightning

The idea of a perfect, accepting world hangs around this text like a fog that you can’t quite see through.  Usually, the aim of such worlds is to show how imperfect they are and this one does that. But as a gay man, this text felt like it was screaming at the top of its lungs that this imperfection doesn’t apply to queer folks.

This book demands much of you and I think that is both its strength and its weakness.  Reading this futuristic vision of the world will require time from you.  There is no speed reading your way through this novel.  The worldbuilding is dense and laid on you unapologetically.  You get the immediate sense of this being an entirely different world built on entirely different fundamentals than our current time. But therein lies some of my first frustrations with this novel.  The worldbuilding is like wading through molasses at points and it is as much an impediment as it is enjoyable. I found myself wondering as I read it if certain details were actually needed and it came to a point where I could only read a chapter a day simply because the density of the text is exhausting.

And I really wanted to be able to digest this book faster, if only because I found the aspect of the world that so openly embraced queer people to be fascinating and in some ways a world that I think many of us in that community are working for.  So I wanted to be able to really immerse myself in that, but I couldn’t.  It took too much work to re-insert myself into the world of the story every time I opened up the book to read it. And that began to lay seeds of disappointment that were really hard to shake off as I continued through the text.

I know my own internal bias against 17th Century Europe played a role in my aversion to the worldbuilding.  I associate that period with college and almost all of my professors who taught this section of history were arrogant white men who loved to wax poetically about all the virtues of that period.  So seeing an entire futuristic world built around that is probably the most cringe inducing, nightmare future scenario I could dream up outside of SkyNet.

And even if the white-centric philosophies of 17th Century Europe really were at the core of most of this world, there just seemed to be a glaring lack of subculture and counterculture in my reading of it. Even in a world where queer people are accepted as commonplace and entirely normal, I don’t see certain elements of that culture going away.  At times, (and forgive me for assuming sexual orientation in advance) this story felt like a world that a straight person envisioned queer people might thrive in versus one that actually is something we want.

Still, the gender and sexual equality of this world is utterly refreshing and would be something I would like to see on display in many more sci-fi stories to come.  Science fiction in part is supposed to imagine better for us and this story successfully does that in this particular arena. Though I can’t help but to feel like even with this sexual and gender equality, this still feels like a white-centered world, especially with the 17th century European philosophy at its axis.  That sours for me the gender and sexual equality portions of the story because as a black gay man I’d like to see a world where all of my intersections get a chance to be equal.

Mostly, I walked away from this novel frustrated.  I certainly admire the level of work and attention to detail that the author put into this book.  It’s beyond impressive, but I am just not sure every scrap of that detail needed to make it to the page.  In many stretches, the reading felt like a long stretch on the treadmill where you sort of want to stop, but know you need to push through it. I can obviously tell that this world was built with a great deal of love, but I just wished the text allowed me to share more in that emotion.

The world has me interested enough to read its sequel, Seven Surrenders, but I hope that some of this level of detail is pulled back or managed more carefully.

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