Ada Palmer

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Ada Palmer
Palmer at the 75th Worldcon in Helsinki, Finland, in August 2017.
Palmer at the 75th Worldcon in Helsinki, Finland, in August 2017.
BornAda Palmer
  • Novelist
  • historian
  • professor
  • composer
GenreHistorical fiction, speculative fiction, science fiction, dystopian fiction
Notable worksToo Like the Lightning

Ada Palmer (born June 9, 1981)[1] is an American historian and writer and winner of the 2017 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her first novel Too Like the Lightning was published in May 2016.[2] The work has been well received by critics and was a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Novel.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

The daughter of computer engineer Douglas Palmer and artist Laura Higgins Palmer, Ada was born in Washington, D.C. but grew up in Annapolis, Maryland.[1] Following her undergraduate education at Bryn Mawr College, she obtained a doctorate at Harvard University.[4]

Academic career[edit]

Following a stint at Texas A&M University, Palmer began teaching at the University of Chicago.[4]

As a scholar, Palmer researches and teaches about the Renaissance period. She teaches a class on the Italian Renaissance wherein students enact the 1492 papal election, complete with secret meetings, betrayals, and a final vote conducted in full costume.[5] In an interview, Palmer discussed her experience with the class, suggesting that students have a lot of favorable biases about this period despite its darker underside.[6]

Palmer co-authored The Recovery of Ancient Philosophy in the Renaissance: A Brief Guide with James Hankins in 2008. Her own first book, Reading Lucretius in the Renaissance, was published in 2014. Palmer holds that the Lucretius poem "De rerum natura", rediscovered in the Renaissance, could be the first document offering a profane worldview; that is, the possibility to describe how the universe works without any divine influence. This theory has implications for the development of political science as well as other secular worldviews. Palmer and Hankins also argue that Lucretius' ideas directly influenced Niccolò Machiavelli and utilitarianism, because of the ways in which his theories helped them create an ethics working per se, without any external, godly influence.[7]

Fictional work[edit]

Terra Ignota[edit]

Palmer's first novel Too Like the Lightning, the first of the Terra Ignota series, was published in 2016, and was a finalist for the 2017 Hugo Awards.[3] It has been described as a rational adjacent book,[8] a work influenced both by science-fiction and historical genres,[9] a fact the author has confirmed.[10] The novel won the 2017 Compton Crook Award for the best first novel in the genre published during the previous year.[11]

The series currently has three novels, with a fourth and final novel to be published in 2021.

  1. Too Like the Lightning (2016)
  2. Seven Surrenders (2017)
  3. The Will to Battle (2017)
  4. Perhaps the Stars (forthcoming, October 19, 2021[12])


  1. ^ a b "Ada Palmer: Beyond the Exponential Age". Locus Magazine. Locus. 14 May 2018. Retrieved 8 January 2021.
  2. ^ "Historian Ada Palmer's debut sci-fi novel receives acclaim, award nominations". Division of the Social Sciences. University of Chicago. Archived from the original on 12 August 2017. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  3. ^ a b Trendacosta, Katharine. "Here Are the 2017 Hugo Awards Finalists". io9. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  4. ^ a b Jason, Heller. "Science, Fiction And Philosophy Collide In Astonishing 'Lightning'". NPR. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  5. ^ Palazzolo, Stephanie. "Uncommon Interview: Hugo Award Nominee Ada Palmer". The Chicago Maroon. Archived from the original on 30 June 2017. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  6. ^ "Progress", You Are Not So Smart, #96.
  7. ^ Farell, Henry. "The rediscovery of this writer in the Renaissance opened the way to the modern world (and, more important, the invention of political science)". The Washington Post. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  8. ^ Eneasz Brodski. "Interview – Ada Palmer (Too Like The Lightning)". The Methods of Rationality Podcast. Retrieved 2 May 2017.
  9. ^ Farell, Henry (10 May 2016). "What's so brilliant about Ada Palmer's Too Like the Lightning". Crooked Timber. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  10. ^ Palmer, Ada. "The Big Idea: Ada Palmer". Whatever. John Scalzi. Retrieved 4 May 2017.
  11. ^ "The Thirty-Five Compton Crook Award Winning Novels from inception in 1983 through 2017". Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Archived from the original on 1 August 2017. Retrieved 18 July 2017.
  12. ^ "Perhaps the Stars (Terra Ignota, 4)". Retrieved 8 July 2021.

External links[edit]