Book review: Terminal World

Alastair Reynolds’ Terminal World.

Author: Alastair Reynolds
Publisher: Gollancz

Since he burst onto the literary SF scene with his first novel, Revelation Space, almost a decade ago, Alastair Reynolds has established himself as one of the masters of epic space opera. His ability to build imaginative yet believable worlds, wrapping them around sweeping storylines has invited favourable comparisons to such luminaries as Iain M Banks and Peter F Hamilton. Reynolds latest novel, Terminal World, looks set to continue the author’s tradition of inventive adventure against a suitably epic canvas. Set in the far future on Earth, 5,000 years after a global cataclysm literally ripped reality to pieces, or Zones, Terminal World tells the story of Quillon, a pathologist living on Spearpoint, the last city on the dying world that clings to the surface of a vast ancient artefact. When the body of an ‘Angel’ from Spearpoint’s most technologically advanced zone is brought into his morgue, Quillon finds his past coming back to haunt him. Soon the doctor is on the run for his life and must escape into the ravaged world beyond Spearpoint.

Once in exile from the city, Quillon and a tracker hired to help him escape must face a multitude of threats, from the low-tech nomadic psychopathic Skullboys, to the carnivorous, organic machines, the Vorgs. However, the biggest threat comes from reality itself in the form of the highly unstable Zones. The Zones are volatile areas of reality that allow only specific technology to exist within them. Take something like a combustion engine into a ‘lower state’ zone and it will break, while some zones are so low state, even life is too complex to exist in them. When the Zones suffer an extreme spasm, causing a major disaster in Spearpoint, Quillon and his growing band of wasteland wanderers find themselves on a reluctant quest to return to the city in a bid to save the last vestiges of humanity.

Terminal World is a briskly paced apocalyptic adventure; once Quillon sets off from the relative safety of his pathology lab the story motors breathlessly from one set piece to the next. While this makes for an entertaining read for the most part, it does cause the bigger-picture subplots and related world building to feel under-developed or hastily sketched out, especially when compared to Reynolds’ previous creations such as Chasm City from Revelation Space.

The main characters are engaging, though, but with the story told from Quillon’s viewpoint, occasional irritation arises when action occurs off the page. Also, the speed that the story progresses at is such that some secondary characters can appear to act purely out of a need for plot expediency to propel the tale forward, which given the book’s 500-plus page count seems unnecessarily hurried. However, despite this, Terminal World is still an assured piece of writing from an author at the top of his game. Inventive, epic and with enough confidence in its concept, Terminal World is an enjoyable ride.

[isbn name=”Terminal World”]978-0575077188[/isbn]