The Will to Battle by Ada Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I took my time and savored this one. It deserves it. And more.
Ada Palmer has made a world worth luxuriating in, and far from resting on the Greek laurels she and her work deserve, she's delved deep into new philosophical questions while all the time fascinating us with complicated and rich characters. Never even mind the glorious world-building. The amount of thought and forethought in all of this is astounding.
The title gives the main action away. It is not Battle. But the Will to Battle. This is a philosophical conundrum. A wrenching up. A decision to kill or be killed. What's most fascinating about this is the fact we began these books in a de-facto utopia.
The first book throws all our perceptions and assumptions for a loop, especially when the great murderer is, in fact, a hero, but a hero for what? The second book dives deeper into the mysterious mass-assassinations and the purpose behind them, right down to the rights of kings and the greater ideological good of society. It also explores godhood as an observer and as a limited player and does it in such a way as to frame the rest of the book in a brilliant argument for and against the destruction of a whole society.
This book is both a surprising and sophisticated exploration of nobility, goodness and idealistic (broad sense) response to the calling of war and perhaps a complete destruction of humanity. I'm talking eyes-wide-open exhaustive discussion of turning their utopias (and there are essentially eleven different kinds of utopias in this world) into mass death, destruction, and eventual barbarism. Everyone's aware of the pitfalls and only the truly war-like among us (including the original, actual Achilles) has the most wisdom to impart. Prepare well. Keep lines of communication open. Stock up. Draw battlefield lines. Prepare for the absolute worst. Go about all your days, preparing to die.
What's most shocking about this book is the fact that it never feels contrived or absurd. At all. It's like being in reality, keeping a clear head, and carefully choosing to murder for the sake of your most deeply held beliefs... even while you live in heaven.
Disturbing? Hell, yeah. Understandable? Yeah. In this case, all the events, all the subjects, all the people in it are treated with respect and honor even when it's about assassination, betrayal, grief, or the realization that everything is not only going to change, but nobody will win. And yet the Will to Battle persists. Remains. It is inevitable, but heroism now consists in postponing the tragedy or mitigating the worst effects.
This is, after all, a highly advanced scientific and cultural utopia we have on Earth. Means to destroy are vast, and people's ire and mob mentalities are still very real. It's sick and fascinating.
And I'm absolutely hooked.
I should be perfectly candid about where I would place these books in my mind. These aren't simple tales full of action and pathos and they don't have clear-cut plotlines for easy public consumption. They are Considered. They are very thoughtful, very mindful, and rife with classics of both literature and philosophical thought. The latest one is a modern delving and interpretation of some of the best pre-game-theory classics. And it's also heart-wrenching, but mainly for the actual effects of these Big Ideas on all the characters I've grown to love and admire. And I mean all of them.
I would place these books in my mind in the Classics category. Classic as in "This needs to be a cult favorite that gets pulled out fifty years from now with just much love and respect as I'm giving it now" kind of book.
If there's any justice in this world, Big Ideas books that are written this well should ALWAYS have staying power. And that's what I wish for it. It needs to be known and savored. We need this discussion for all our thinking selves. Seriously and honestly.
That's how this book affects me. How all of the books have affected me. Am I putting them on a very precise pedestal? Perhaps. But any winner of the Olympics ought to be respected for all the reasons behind the competition.
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