Ada Palmer’s novel Too Like the Lightning (TLtL) takes place over five days in 2454. However, the first-person narrator, Mycroft Canner, makes many references to events and people from earlier years.
This TLtL timeline may grow to better describe the history leading up to 2454. It may turn into a Terra Ignota timeline. The second Terra Ignota novel, Seven Surrenders (7S), is due out soon (on March 7, 2017). Please let me know if there are specific improvements to this timeline you’d like to see (email firstname.lastname@example.org, but know that this will never provide details of the five day: the novel itself already does).
Let’s start with the earliest event referred to in TLtL, even though we don’t have an exact date, and even though it is the author, rather than her narrator, who refers to it.
BC ?. TLtL “is dedicated to the first human who thought to hollow out a log to make a boat, and his or her successors”.
BC 384-322. Lifetime of Aristotle, called “the Philosopher” in 2454.
~150. First known use of the term Terra Ignota, in Ptolemy’s Geography. Terra Ignota, or Terra Incognita, is Latin for “unknown land”.
1591-1595. William Shakespeare (still called “the Bard” in 2454) writes Romeo and Juliet. The title of TLtL comes from these lines, in which Juliet warns Romeo that things may be moving too fast.
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.”
1694-1778. Lifespan of Voltaire, influential and prolific Enlightenment writer, called “the Patriarch” in 2454. That seems like a rather gender-specific term in an era that considers itself beyond such terms! The first time Mycroft uses the term, he describes Voltaire as “the Patriarch of the Eighteenth Century, the era which has just remade your own”. Hence Mycroft tells us that his era has been formed by the Enlightenment.
1765-1780. Denis Diderot writes Jacques the Fatalist and His Master, a quote from which immediately precedes Chapter the First of TLtL. Here’s the quote. “Ah, my poor Jacques! You are a philosopher. But don’t worry: I’ll protect you.” [See endnote 1.]
2016. Publication of TLtL. As narrator of the novel, Mycroft Canner sees no need to tell his reader about anything that happened in the centuries between the Enlightenment and 2073. I wondered if this meant that Palmer, as author of the novel, considers our own time uninteresting, or unimportant in the timeline to her 2454. But then…
2017, March 7: publication of 7S. On the previous day, Palmer posted that this second novel will refer to our own times. I intentionally waited a long time before revealing what the year 2454 calls our century.
2073, when transportation changed the world.
Mukta circled the globe in four-point-two hours, bringing the whole planet within comfortable commuting range and sounding the death knell of that old spider, the geographic nation.
Our age’s founding hero… Thomas Carlyle… named the Hive, our modern union, its members united, not by any accident of birth, but by shared culture, philosophy, and, most of all, choice.
2037, the height of the Church War. “After the Church War there was no majority race, no majority religion, no majority language, no majority nationality.”
2191, when Regan Makato Cullen told her mentor that the source of “great progress” was the group she called the bash’.
[P]eople abandon the nuclear family to live in a collective household, four to twenty friends, rearing children and ideas together in a haven of mutual discourse and play… we need to revolutionize the family.
2238, “the height of the Anti-Set-Set Riots.” An unsuccessful attempt was made “to add to the short list of Universal Laws… this grim Eighth: a ban on raising children too strangely.”
2266, “when the work week finally shortened to twenty hours”.
2380s, “right-before the Greenpeace-Mitsubishi merger”: one of the few references to an event of the 24th century in TLtL. That’s why I include it in the timeline (although the merger of those two Hives does sound interesting).
2454. TLtL takes place over five consecutive days in March 2454. Mycroft reports that Carlyle Foster had started each day “full of strength”, and links the strength to the particular date. Mycroft starts Chapter the Second as follows.
We begin on the morning of March the twenty-third in the year twenty-four fifty-four. Carlyle Foster had risen full of strength that day, for March the twenty-third was the feast of St. Turbius.
The following days are, in order: “the feast of the Norse God Heimdall”; “the first day of the Medieval New Year”; “the birthday of the Great Sage Zoroaster”; “sacred to Asclepius” and to others, divine and otherwise.
 Diderot’s book focuses on the relationship between the valet Jacques and his master, who is never named. At several points in TLtL, Mycroft Canner addresses “master” rather than “reader”. For example, in Chapter the Second: “Master, do you believe that Chance alone, without Providence behind it, would have sent this child [Bridger]… so suitable a guide [Carlyle Foster]?”