The Will to Battlethe third book of 2017 John W. Campbell Award winner Ada Palmer's Terra Ignota seriesa political SF epic of extraordinary audacity
“A cornucopia of dazzling, sharp ideas set in rich, wry prose that rewards rumination with layers of delight. Provocative, erudite, inventive, resplendent.” Ken Liu, author of The Grace of Kings
The long years of near-utopia have come to an abrupt end.
Peace and order are now figments of the past. Corruption, deception, and insurgency hum within the once steadfast leadership of the Hives, nations without fixed location.
The heartbreaking truth is that for decades, even centuries, the leaders of the great Hives bought the world’s stability with a trickle of secret murders, mathematically planned. So that no faction could ever dominate. So that the balance held.
The Hives’ façade of solidity is the only hope they have for maintaining a semblance of order, for preventing the public from succumbing to the savagery and bloodlust of wars past. But as the great secret becomes more and more widely known, that façade is slipping away.
Just days earlier, the world was a pinnacle of human civilization. Now everyoneHives and hiveless, Utopians and sensayers, emperors and the downtrodden, warriors and saintsscrambles to prepare for the seemingly inevitable war.
“Seven Surrenders veers expertly between love, murder, mayhem, parenthood, theology, and high politics. I haven't had this much fun with a book in a long time.” Max Gladstone, author of Three Parts Dead
Terra Ignota Series
1. Too Like the Lightning
2. Seven Surrenders
3. The Will to Battle
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
We the Alphabet
Written July 6, 2454 At Alexandria
Hubris it is, reader, to call one's self the most anything in history: the most powerful, the most mistreated, the most alone. Experience, and the Greek blood within my veins, teach me to fear hubris above all sins, yet, as I introduce myself again here, I cannot help but describe myself as the most undeservedly blessed man who ever lived. I, who once moved act by act through the catalogue of sins, I, cannibal, torturer, traitor, parricide, who at seventeen gave myself over to deserved execution, I, Mycroft Canner find myself at thirty-one alive, healthy, with far more liberty than I deserve, making full use of my skills in the service of not one, but several worthy masters, and even permitted to sleep at night in the arms of he whose embrace will always be the one place in this universe where I most belong, while he too lies in his proper place, on the floor outside his mistress's bedchamber.
War has not yet come, but the waters have withdrawn to form the tidal wave, leaving the beaches and their secrets bare. Hobbes tells us that war consists not in Battle only, but in that tract of time wherein the Will to Battle is so manifest that, scenting bloodlust in his fellows and himself, Man can no longer trust civilization's pledge to keep the peace. If so, we are at war. We have been these four months, since Ockham's arrest and Sniper's bullet revealed too much truth for trust to stay. But we do not know how to turn the Will to Battle into Battle. We have enjoyed three hundred years of peace, World Peace, real peace, whatever the detractors say. This generation has never met a man who met a man who marched onto a battlefield. Governments have no armies anymore, no arms. A man may kill another with a gun, a sword, a sharpened stone, but the human race no longer remembers how to turn a child of eighteen into a soldier, organize riot into battle lines, or dehumanize an enemy enough to make the killing bearable.
We will learn fast. Man is still a violent beast; I proved that thirteen years ago when the swathe of atrocities I scarred across the public consciousness stirred the world to scream in one voice for my blood. We will make war, but no one wants to light the first match when we do not know how fast the fuel may burn. Three hundred years ago humanity had weapons enough to exterminate ourselves a hundred times over. Now the technology that birthed those weapons is so outdated that children who split the atom for a science fair are labeled antiquarians. We have no newer weapons, but no one doubts that, with a month's cunning, the technologies that cook our food and slow our aging will birth horrors beyond imagining. If we survive, the wreckage of posterity will want to know how. It is for curious posterity, then, that I am now commanded to keep this chronicle.
I have done this work before. A week ago my masters presented to the world my little history of those Days of Transformation, now four months past, which left us on war's threshold. They tell me that the history has done what they had hoped: shared much of the truth, without pushing us farther toward the brink. My great merit as an historian is that I am known to be insane. No court or council can trust my testimony, and each reader may pick and choose what to believe, dismissing anything too unsettling as lunacy. I gave the public what it wanted of the truth, no more, leaving the pundits and propagandists free to shape opinion into faction, and faction into sides and enemies.
This chronicle is different. My first history was written to be shared and used, now, by my masters. This chronicle cannot be shared, not while these secrets are still War Secrets. The powers that bid me record their doings week by week will not even let each other read the transcript. I alone enjoy this strange trust from the many leaders of what will soon be warring states. I hear the inner whispers of palace and boudoir, whispers which will shape armies, yet which history will never hear unless someone records them. It is this human underbelly of the war my masters bid me chronicle, not for the public, nor even for themselves, but so a record will survive, and with it some apology, as Plato's apology preserves lost Socrates. We will lose them all in this, I fear: the wise and iron Emperor, patriot Sniper, subtle Madame. We have already lost the best. There lies my chief regret, reader. Since you cannot trust a madman's word, I cannot persuade you of the one fact which is true comfort to me, even as I grieve. He was real: Bridger. There was a boy who walked this Earth who was a miracle. I held him in my arms. The Divine Light within his touch brought toys to life, made feasts of mud pies, raised the dead, and through him the God Who Conceived This Universe, Who usually sits back invisible, revealed Himself. I wish you could believe me. There is Providence, reader, an inscrutable but intelligent Will which marched us with purpose from the primeval oceans to these battle lines. That is how I know you will be alive to read this. He Who put such effort into mankind will not let us end here. No, I lie. I do not know with certainty that He still needs us. Those fatalists, who have long preached that all things, from the insect's flutter to these words you read, are fated, determined, written up yonder in the Great Scroll, never considered that that Scroll might have an Addressee. There are two Gods, reader, at least, He Who Conceived This Universe, and He Who Visits from Another, just as Infinite and just as Real. We humans are the letters of a message our Creator wrote to make first contact with His Divine Peer. Now that the letter has been received, it may be crumpled and discarded, or set aside as keepsake in a coffin-stale drawer. We the alphabet may pray only that Their new friendship will continue to rely on words. If so, we will survive.
Written July 7–8, 2454 Events of April 8 Almoloya de Juáres
"I, Vivien Ancelet, hereby undertake upon my human dignity that I will execute with faith and vigor the office of President of the Humanist Hive."
Imagine hearing these words, not in the flesh, not in Buenos Aires, where you strain on tiptoe to glimpse the podium over the ocean of excited heads, nor even on live video, the new president's bold image electric in your lenses. Instead you see him on a crass screen, barely a hand's span square and pixelated by technology's incompetence, replayed from a recording, so you do not share this moment with your billion brethren, but receive it only as tardy proof that the world outside these prison walls sails on without you.
"I swear to obey and preserve the Constitution and the Laws of the Humanist Hive," the oath continues, "to sustain the Hive's integrity and independence, and to promote all that will advance it and oppose all that may harm it. I will foster the Pursuit of Excellence of all Humanists, safeguard their rights and freedoms, and safeguard too the Olympic Games, the Olympic Spirit, and all who carry it. To these ends I will employ all the means ..." — the new president's voice wavers here, since he — like you, reader — has only recently discovered that "all the means" of the Humanist Hive has so long meant O.S. —" ... all the means which the current Constitution of the Humanists places at my disposal, and when the disposition of the vote changes that Constitution, I will serve its new form with equal vigor. I will faithfully discharge these duties without bias or regard to any previous or current personal affiliation with any other Hive, strat, team, or other institution. I further swear to support the principles and reforms of Thomas Carlyle, and to maintain the Carlyle Compromise and all other treaties that continue to serve and safeguard Humanist welfare. I swear to preserve in secret the knowledge granted by my office which must be kept ... kept secret." He almost didn't stumble. "Should I at any time break this oath of office, or in any way betray the Members' trust, I shall submit myself to punishment by the laws of the Hive. This is my solemn oath.
"I wish to add," Vivien Ancelet's voice sounds suddenly more human here, a man's words, not a recitation, "separate from this formal oath of office, my own personal pledge to my now-fellow Humanists that my past offices, and the allegiances associated with them, will not interfere with my exercise of this one. I am no longer Hiveless. I am no longer Censor. I am no longer an officer of Romanova. I am sincere in my pledge to uphold Humanist interests, even above those of the Carlyle Compromise and the Universal Free Alliance if need be. I am also no longer the Anonymous. My commentary will, from this point on, always be biased in favor and service of the Hive that I have joined. I am a Humanist, and speak as one — although not yet in Spanish," he added with a sheepish tone, "for which I apologize, but it is better, I think, for the whole world to hear and understand this, not just our Members. There is a new Censor now, and a new Anonymous, and both are worthy of those offices. I trust them completely to fulfill their duties as well as I or anyone could. I hope you will trust them too, as much as you trusted me, before I was called to give up those offices for this one."
The screen went dark. Tears welled in me, but practice did not let them fall. If one man in this world had deserved to see the oath live, to have been present when his allegiance shifted to a new commander in chief, that man was Ockham Saneer. Instead we watched it here, nineteen hours after the inauguration, and Ockham could not even stand to hear the words, since fetters and prison custom bound him to his chair. He did not even have his boots, just the jail uniform, slack navy and orange mockingly festive, like a child's shapeless attempt to wrap a birthday gift. Ockham did not weep at his own state, but I saw him flinch, one taut twitch of his cheek, grief's only token upon that bronze-strong Indian face, which always reminds me which people, alone among antiquity's war-ready thousands, halted Alexander.
"Complete voter turnout take four hours, seventeen minutes." These words at least were live, spoken in warm (if imperfect) Spanish by President Ancelet, who sat across from Ockham in the sterile interrogation room.
Ockham smiled at the speed with which his billion fellow Members had done their democratic duty.
"¿Want to see the interimo vice president to swear cérémonia of Sawyer Dongala?" Ancelet offered, his well-meaning infant Spanish dappled with stray French and English. "After me, the biggest vote numbers are for Sniper, expresident Ganymede, you, your éspoux Lesley, J.E.D.D. Mason, and Sawyer Dongala, so Dongala agrees to be vice president while we hold whether any these other is eligible in the circonstances. A second urgency vote confirmed Dongala."
Ockham's throat cracked, stiff from the ten cautious days since his arrest, during which he had spoken nothing but guarded monosyllables and "toilet." "I ac — khh — acknowledge that you have been lawfully elected President of the Humanist Hive, and that you now hold all the authority to question and command to which that office entitles you."
The warmth in the new president's smile sharpened at once to action. "¿Who ordered Sniper to attack contre J.E.D.D. Mason?" he asked, with the sharp speed of a man who had never doubted that Ockham's silence, which had not broken for all the threats and enticements the law could offer, would break for him. "¿Who else to know?"
"English is alright with me if it's easier for you, Member President," Ockham invited gently, switching over. "No one else knew, to my knowledge. Oji-jiro acted alone." He tripped over Sniper's rarely voiced first name. "The bash' was entirely out of contact with President Ganymede at that point, and even Lesley and I knew nothing of Ojiro's plans."
Ancelet nodded his thanks for Ockham's linguistic courtesy. "Then Sniper did act alone." His shoulders eased. "Tell me about O.S."
"On or off the record, Member President?"
"Off, for now. We'll need a public statement soon, but first I myself need to understand."
That answer pleased Ockham, if I read him right. "Why is Mycroft here?" he asked.
Ancelet followed Ockham's gaze to where I sat on a metal bench in the corner, hugging my knees and trying to ignore the prison wraiths which clawed at my limbs and shoulders. I cannot tell you whether these wraiths are the ghosts of past prisoners, or simply spirits of the jealous walls, which recognize in me another criminal who should be theirs to claim. I try to tell myself there are no prison wraiths. This was not even a real prison, just a jail, a fleeting holding place for those awaiting trial, which should never have held anyone long enough to birth a bitter ghost. Still, here, as in every prison whose threshold I have crossed since my crimes, I saw the wraiths, heard them, felt their tendrils, real as the cloth across my skin.
"I'm not allowed anywhere without a bodyguard anymore," the new president answered. "I thought you'd prefer someone we both know and trust."
Ockham frowned at me. "Is that the only reason?"
"No. You may or may not be aware, but I've relied on Mycroft a long time, not just as Censor but in my ... secret office. Mycroft is my assistant, advisor, apprentice. My successor."
"The new Anonymous? I did not know." There was no surprise in Ockham's gaze, just digestion, fact catalogued without comment. "Thanks to voter preference, the office of Anonymous may have frequent association with our Vice Presidency, but it is not a Humanist office, nor is Mycroft a Humanist. How do you justify granting the new Anonymous access to the secrets of O.S. given your declaration that you have severed all allegiance to your former offices?"
Ancelet frowned. "It's my understanding that Mycroft has known of your work and kept your secrets for many years now. It's not new information for them."
"Mycroft has had no details," Ockham answered, "merely the vague knowledge that we were homicides. In the past we secured Mycroft's silence through two threats: the threat of exposing to the public the fact that Mycroft is a Servicer, and the threat of denying them access to Thisbe. Mycroft and Thisbe are lovers," he added. "But at this point the public knows the former and I assume Thisbe is either in custody or missing, so the latter threat is also meaningless."
"In fact, Member Ockham," I added in quiet Spanish, my voice stirring the prison wraiths to hiss, "Thisbe and I were never actually lovers. But you can trust me with this. That Authority Which, for me, supersedes all has ordered me to tell no one, not even Them, anything I learn here without permission from both yourself and President Ancelet. You may not know What Authority I mean, but I think you do know that you and I both hold equally absolute the command of those authorities we answer to."
"J.E.D.D. Mason?" Ockham guessed at once.
I could tell from his face that mine betrayed me. My allegiance was not yet public knowledge then, and I had expected Thisbe to keep this revelation private, one more secret to make her spellbook dangerous. Apparently not.
"Mycroft is assembling a history of the past week," Ancelet interceded, "at J.E.D.D. Mason's order. The book is supposed to explain events as neutrally as possible, and to include as much truth as Mycroft can piece together. No one but Mycroft will have access to the interviews and research materials, and everyone involved, including you, will have equal and complete veto power over every single line. I personally will not green-light its publication until you have told me that you are satisfied."
"A history." Ockham stretched back in his seat as the idea sank in. "Why?"
"J.E.D.D. Mason likes the truth," Ancelet and I answered in unplanned unison.
Ancelet laughed, his dreadlocks falling back across his shoulders like willow whips in breeze. I was glad to see he could still laugh. "That really is the idea behind it," he explained. "J.E.D.D. Mason wants the human race to have the truth. Most everyone else, including me, wants some controlled version of the truth out there, since you know there will be many pointed lies, most pointed against us. We must fight them with something. If you prefer, Ockham, I will send Mycroft away and summon a Humanist bodyguard, but you or I or both will wind up repeating all this information to Mycroft later on, and, since I'm new to having Humanist guards, there are none yet that I trust as much as I trust Mycroft"— he paused —"or you."
"Prospero." The name sounded dead on Ockham's lips.
"Prospero. My name, my middle name, is Prospero. I am no longer O.S., so I should not be addressed as Ockham."
It hurt hearing him say it, as it would hurt hearing a deposed king say he no longer merits "Majesty."
Excerpted from "The Will To Battle"
Copyright © 2017 Ada Palmer.
Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter the First: We the Alphabet,
Chapter the Second: Human Dignity,
Chapter the Third: Is This the Spark?,
Chapter the Fourth: Ghost,
Chapter the Fifth: Strangest Senator,
Chapter the Sixth: Lex Prohibit — The Law Forbids,
Chapter the Seventh: Grace,
Chapter the Eighth: Enemy Sanctum,
Chapter the Ninth: Repercussions,
Chapter the Tenth: Our Secret Truce,
Chapter the Eleventh: Inviolable,
Chapter the Twelfth: The Temple of Janus,
Chapter the Thirteenth: The Five Gates of Esperanza City,
Chapter the Fourteenth: Filial Piety,
Chapter the Fifteenth: Some Notes of Martin Guildbreaker on the Simultaneous Advancement of Four Investigations,
Chapter the Sixteenth: The Witch,
Chapter the Seventeenth: The Witch Again,
Chapter the Eighteenth: Terra Ignota,
Chapter the Nineteenth: Angry, the Leviathans,
Chapter the Twentieth: The Race for Cato Weeksbooth,
Author's Note and Acknowledgments ADA PALMER,
Also by Ada Palmer,
About the Author,