Book Review: Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

I’d been dying to read this and deepest, darkest, wettest winter is when I am usually in the mood for something really heavy and science fiction rarely comes heavier than Alastair Reynolds. I am a big fan of his Revelation Space books and aside from Century Rain have felt that his stuff set outside of that universe has rarely been as good (though by no means bad). When this was released a couple of years ago, we were promised his first true venture into steampunk and a mash-up of various science fiction style in one world. So it promised to be weird-fi as well as sci-fi.

The plot centres on Spearpoint, the last human city is an (unimaginably) enormous spire. It is so vast that city states have grown up on its skin. The higher up the spire the city is, the more technologically advanced the city. At the bottom we have pre-industrial zones then comes the steam-based cities (where the steampunk comes in) to industrial zones, cities that can be equated with the modern era all the way up to the super-advanced genetically modified humans of the upper levels. Quillon has been living in Neon Heights for many years when an “Angel” (a genetically modified human from the upper levels) falls hundreds of levels to his city. Presuming the being dead, he takes it to the morgue and is going to cut it open to figure out how it died. When he is about to perform the post-mortem, the being wakes – he is dying but he came here on a specific mission… and he has a message for Quillon… “your cover has been blown”. Yes, Quillon is an Angel who has lived incognito in Neon Heights for a very long time; now there are forces out looking for him. This is where the adventure begins.

This book mashes-up several sub-genres while at the same time sticks to his hard sci-fi roots. It is also partly a story of adventure – reminiscent of 19th century tales of exotic places for a man who had become so comfortable in one world forced to visit others. It doesn’t categorise easily and that alone makes it amongst Reynolds’ most intriguing works. There are elements of steampunk, western, contemporary sci fi, near future and far future technologies and worked into what is basically a high-brow adventure story of exotic places, people and worlds and that is what true sci fi story telling should be about.

Reynolds work rarely is an easy read, but that is not a bad thing, well-edited of course his style is definitely an acquired taste. Again there are exceptions: Century Rain and Chasm City are both particularly easy on the eye and I’m pleased to say that this book joins that list of easier reads. The style and the depth of details is instantly recognisable as Reynolds’ work. Acquired taste, but always satisfactory – I always feel for some odd reason that when I close a book by Alastair Reynolds that I have accomplished something. Put this on your to-read list, you won’t be disappointed. It drags in places which is surprising because it is one of his shorter novels.

Oh, and it has brain-eating zombie robot thingies.

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2 thoughts on “Book Review: Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

  1. Great review, Matt, and definitely a must read. Mathair and I are loving steampunk genre books (though we’ve discovered the fad quite late), but we’re also fan of mash-ups. It sounds like a thrilling read.

    • Thanks! This was a good, solid read but Century Rain is still my favourite of Reynolds’ work. If you like your sci fi hard with the emphasis on SCIENCE then it doesn’t come much better than his work.

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