Grade: Γ– Good book within the genre. Solid story, good characters, if you like this genre, read this book.
Terminal World is an enjoyable action novel set in a world that dominated by zones that physically limit the degree of technology that works in the region. Central to these zones is the city of Spearpoint, a spire rising from a flat plain to heights beyond the atmosphere. At the base of this pinnacle only preindustrial technology works, above it a steam powered strata, above that modern technology, cyberpunk tech, and finally the ultratech level of the post-human Angels. When a pathologist named Quillion receives a message from an angel dying of zone sickness, it forces the doctor to leave the city and enter the wild lands of mixed tech zones beyond.
The far future, where technology is restricted by zones. Across most of the world, these zones shift, creating illness and death to those whose bodies (and/or technological enhancements) cannot adapt. The zones remain stable, however, around the city of Spearpoint, where technology is as stratified as the atmosphere piercing spire itself.
This is not Reynold’s best work, but it is enjoyable. Unlike many of his other works, he does not spend enough time building the world we find ourselves before launching us into the adventure. Neither does he develop his principal characters or their relationships before they are launched into their adventures. As a result, I don’t feel that much for the central protagonist, nor do I truly have a good understanding of the city from which he must escape until he is already an exile. Since the contrast between this city and the rest of the world plays an important role in the story, I would have enjoyed a scene or two of life in the city before I was hurled out into the world beyond.
The ending is similarly rushed. While the action remains high, the solutions at the conclusion never really answer the central mystery of the story: why do the zones exist? Throughout the book, it was clear that Reynolds had an explanation for this, but while he provides hints and clues, none of these add up to an answer. To that end, I think that it is a tad too clearly set up for a sequel.
Having said that, I am sure there are many readers who will enjoy the rapid onset of the storyline and the quick closure at its end. It is certainly exciting, but where as I normally care quite a bit about the characters in Reynolds’ novels (even the despicable ones), in this case I find myself failing to empathize with any of them. As a result, I was not really drawn into the novel as much as in his previous offerings, nor did I feel a sense of completion at its end (though this is not unusual for Reynolds’ work).
Still, Terminal World is a good story and a solid read. If you like Science Fiction, this remains a cut above most works and is well worth your time.
PS…Steampunk: Is it or isn’t it?
Despite the fact that I ticked the steampunk tag in my classification of this book, it really isn’t a steampunk novel. True there are a lot of airships and steam based technologies in this story, but it has other high-tech devices as well, and is missing certain elements that I would say are necessary to be included in that subgenre.
For one thing, there is nothing of alternate history about this book. It is far future Science Fiction, no doubt about it. Neither is the retro-technology an anachronism in the tale. Furthermore, there are frequent disparaging remarks made throughout the book regarding stories about airships. This running commentary could be totally incidental and tied to the plot, but it seems to me that Reynold’s is taking pot shots at steampunk novels using a thinly veiled method.
So why did I tick the steampunk tag? Well, because that metadata helps lead websurfers to stories that may be of interest to them. Those who like Steampunk (and I am one) may enjoy this novel’s use of retrofit technology without the retrofit history that normally goes with it.
Then again, they may hate the story, but that’s the risk one always runs.
- Century Rain, Alistair Reynolds (ACE Books/Gollancz) (sophyanempire.wordpress.com)
- New Show To Highlight Steampunk In New York City (luxist.com)
- Review – Steam-Powered: Lesbian Steampunk Stories (seaofstarsrpg.wordpress.com)
- Review: Steampunk – Historias de um Passado Extraordinario (tor.com)
- Steampunk [Trendbusting] (gawker.com)
- When Steampunk meets Surrealism [Steampunk] (io9.com)
- Steampunk and Pastoralism (tobiasbuckell.com)
- Steampunk’s founding fathers talk shop (boingboing.net)
- The hard edge of empire (antipope.org)