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Fantasy Friday – Terminal World

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

Review by Bowden P (Trey



I admit it: I’m a fan of Alastair Reynolds. However, I’m not a fan of Terminal World. Two Stars.

I’ve read this once in the past and traded it off as a bad job. But since I hadn’t written a review, I figured I’d re-read it and do it up right. After all, when I’ve done this in the past I’ve usually been pleasantly surprised. This was not one of those times. I gave up three quarters of the way through on my re-read and started skimming.

And as much as I hate writing bad reviews, here goes.

Many people complain that Reynolds writes characters that are unpleasant, villainous, etc. Well, to his credit, he writes Quillon as a good man. And by all lights, he ought to be kind of interesting – a pathologist thrown in off the deep end and on the run. Instead, I find him a bit annoying. He may be a good doctor, but previously he was a double murderer using his profession as a cover to get close to the victims. From what I know of people, that ought to have marked him unless he’s a sociopath. And he doesn’t come across as one – he helps Meroka, shelters a little girl and generally tries to save lives. Perhaps he’s using being a good doctor as a way to atone for the murders, but Reynolds never makes it clear. Perhaps that what makes him annoying. Or perhaps it springs from the fact that Quillon is in the middle of turning into something other than human… a post-human angel. Anyway, he starts as interesting with the potential to care about the character, but by the end he personifies the phrase “I don’t care about these characters.”

There are other character problems, but two big ones are the character names and Meroka’s faith. Let’s start with Meroka. From her introduction and on, she’s supposed to be a foul mouthed but faithful person. The problem is, we never see what her faith is. Oh, we see the book, but never the tenets of the faith from her explaining it, living it or struggling with it.

Then there are the character names. You see, they’re named after swords (Spatha, Curtana, Tulwar), sword parts (Quillon, Ricasso), guns (Meroka), armor (Gambeson), or part of armor (Agraffe) , or fighting (Fray). This strikes me as an attempt to be clever. However, its not very. Or at least doesn’t strike me as very clever. If you’re going to do something like this, it needs to be sneakier, or better hidden. This is pretty blatant and strikes me as something an author with less experience than Reynolds would try.

The world building isn’t that good either. The world is defined by the zones, where certain levels of technology work, and others don’t, eventually reaching a point where life doesn’t function either. Reynolds goes into great detail about what happens moving from zone-to-zone, but not how or why. Well, maybe a bit of why near the end, but its open to interpretation.  I also don’t buy the Swarm. Oh, yes they give a great reason to travel by airship and have adventures there, but I don’t see them hanging together for hundreds or thousands of years either without schism.

Their millennial grudge against Spearpoint doesn’t hang together either, especially in the light of their sort of tolerance of the Skullboys. If they hate Spearpoint after that long time, why aren’t they continually firebombing and strafing the Skullboys?

Then there are the carnivorgs. Neat idea, but they belong in another setting – Revelation Space, or something. I don’t think they’d work under the rules Reynolds sets up for Terminal World and its zones.

Then there is the confusion of genre. Is it part of the Dying Earth sub-genre of fantasy? Is it steam punk – its got the goggles, the airships and steampower, but it also has computers, etc. I doubt this part would stick in my craw as much as it does if I’d liked it more.

Finally, the end feels unresolved. I’m not sure if that’s an attempt to get a sequel or always leave ’em wanting more.

Verdict: Avoid. 2 stars.

Likes: Vorg concept; Swarm concept – it’s a neat place to have airship adventures.

Dislikes: See above.

Suggested for: Diehard Reynolds, steampunk and Dying Earth sub-genre fans.

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One Response to “Fantasy Friday – Terminal World”

  1. Zylyn says:

    Ha! I got half-way through this book then set it aside hoping to pick up later. Six months have passed, book is still sitting here. I am a Reynolds fan, wish I could be a fan of Terminal World.

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