Terminal World

Posted: August 9, 2021 in Book reviews, science fiction
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By Alastair Reynolds

It is the distant future and human civilisation is largely confined to Spearpoint, a huge artificial spire around which various cities weave. For some reason different parts of the city exist in slightly different realms, meaning technology that works in one won’t work in another. At the top of the spire live the post human Angels in the celestial levels, but below them there’s Circuit City, then Neon Heights, Steamville and Horsetown.

When an Angel falls to its death, landing in Neon Heights, a pathologist Quillon, a man with a secret, will be forced to run for his life, and embark on a quest that will see him descend through the various parts of Spearpoint assisted by an extraction specialist, Meroka, and eventually she will lead him away from Spearpoint, into the wilderness that surrounds it, a lawless land filled with crazed Skullboys and biomechanical Carnivorgs.

But there might be some order out there after all, a force that broke away from Spearpoint centuries ago, and with their help, perhaps Quillon can put an end to the zones once and for all.

I’m a big fan of Reynolds, but for some reason this novel didn’t grab me quite as surely as his others have. Which isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy it, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as his others.

Part of the problem is perhaps that I’ve just not that into steampunk, and there’s also the shifting tone. The story starts out quite noirish, before morphing into an action adventure and then into a western before shifting again to steampunk.

Perhaps there’s just a little too much going on, and even by the end a lot of things don’t make much sense. I’ve just read that Reynolds himself says the story isn’t set where I thought it was, and various clues as to the real location went right over my head.

Reynolds’ imagination is, as always, on top form, and even if the idea of different zones where different technologies work sounds bonkers, he makes it work. It’s a long book and there are stretches where you wish he’d get on with it.  It doesn’t help that Quillon seems quite a dry protagonist, even though he’s one of the most human people in the story.

In many respects there something for everyone here; incredible worldbuilding and high concept sci-fi ideas, as well as vicious foes and bloody shootouts, not to mention a fleet of airships and a lot of air-to-air combat. That it doesn’t always slot together neatly is perhaps the reason I didn’t fall quite in love with it as I have others (Though in fairness you could cite Century Rain as another high concept melding of different genres, though I loved that one to bits).

Still highly recommended.

Oh yes, and Reynolds published some excised vignettes from the book if you’re interested. I would recommend reading the book first however.

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