Friday, 17 November 2017

Terminal World, by Alastair Reynolds

Here is a book that defies classification. Science fiction melded with the fantastic, steam power and dirigibles, the visceral post apocalyptic skull boys who bear a mad-cap resemblance to the villains that hound Mad Max. All of it wound tightly around a sprawling and interesting setting, an Earth, tens, maybe hundreds of thousands of years into the future. A world built on a sense of the scientific, but sufficiently removed from us to appear, at times, magical.

The cast of characters, from the dogged former angel (yes, you read that correctly, but not 'angel' in the conventional sense) Doctor Quillon, to his rough guide, protector and sometimes hater Meroka. The genius and authorial voice of Ricasso, the determined sky-captain Curtana, are all memorable, well constructed and larger than life.

The story itself follows a twisting plot, not a simple adversary for the protagonist to defeat, but an exploration of what is fundamentally wrong with the setting itself, and the winding journey through the world that uncovers it. The setting of Terminal World is strange and wonderful, a planet overlaid with zones in each of which different technologies are possible. High zones around the mysterious city/spire Spearpoint, allow high tech, and lower zones, extending out into the world, cause this high tech to break down and stop working. We have laser fights in one section, and horse back sabre rattling in another, steam belching contraptions, and the Swarm: of sky-galleon-esque dirigibles. The explanation for all of this is fundamental to the development of the plot, so I won't go in to too many details other than to state it is engrossing. The world itself is the antagonist, the problem, and the characters' journeys explore and reveal it in stepped clues that reveal its true nature.

For all the seeming absurdity, the tour de force of imagination writ large in a setting both magical and scientific, it is a world that I found interesting and engaging. A story that I found strange and wonderful in equal measure. With characters I liked, and found interesting. This, as I stated earlier, is a book that defies classification. Some might place it firmly in the steam-punk genre, for the dirigibles that battle in the skies and the clanking machines that so richly define portions of the setting. But there is science fiction here too, and no small amount of fantasy. This book will not be to everyone's taste, but it is different and engaging, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.


  1. This reminds me of A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge, it has a similar concept but on a galactic scale where the closer you get to the core and the unthinking depths the more technology breaks down. But the zones can shift as well so an advanced civilization can find itself wiped out should it be caught up in a zone storm.
    Anyway I have enjoyed AR before so I'll give this a shot.

    1. Awesome! I'll have to check out A Fire Upon the Deep!

      You are welcome to borrow Terminal World if you want mate!