Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

Hardcover, June 2010 – 9780441018666
Mass Market Paperback, June 2011 – 9780441020430


Quillion, a doctor in Neon Heights, is examining a dead fallen angel in the course of his duties when the angel revives and tells our protagonist that the people from whom he is running have found him. Quillion must escape Spearpoint, the stronghold of civilization in the distant future, for in truth, Quillion is a renegade angel, one of several post-human races to inhabit Spearpoint. Quillion turns to his long-time associate Fray, who in turn enlists the mercenary Meroka to help extract Quillion out of Spearpoint.

Spearpoint is a city-world separated by zones, wherein each zone is the equivalent of its own  country and even its own atmosphere, technology, and power sources. The divide between zones is so marked that denizens of one zone have difficulty surviving unaided in other zones for long periods of time.  Spearpoint itself is a powerful blending of storytelling and world-building, a characteristic Reynolds has demonstrated in previous novels and perhaps most strongly here in Terminal World. Throughout Quillion and Meroka’s journey, they encounter the denizens of each zone from Skullboys to Vorgs to all sorts of post-human creatures.  In some respects, Reynolds could probably pen a short-novel centered on each zone of Spearpont.

Of course when Qullion and Meroka do finally escape Spearpoint, with some new friends, things don’t turn out to be too much easier when they encounter the Swarm, a nation/collective who has been at odds with the peoples of Spearpoint for longer than anybody can remember. The Swarm is almost like a pirate collective and has echoes of Chris Wooding’s crew on the Ketty Jay, though writ somewhat larger.

The characters are well rounded and Quillion in particular comes across as perhaps one of the most genuinely honest protagonists I’ve read in some time. The relationship between Quillion and Meroka reminded me a great deal of the relationship between Yorick Brown and Agent 355 (at least the early portion of their relationship) in Brian K. Vaughan/Pia Guerra’s landmark comic/graphic novel saga Y: The Last Man. There’s antagonism on one side, frustration on the other and as the story progresses in both Terminal World and Y: The Last Man a level of respect does grow between the characters.

One thing that becomes very clear early on, from Meroka, that thankfully falls short of annoying is when Quillion asks her to clarify something, she says he won’t need to worry about them.  This turns out to be a cue that the reader, and Quillion, are bound to learn about these unsavory elements at some point in the course of the novel. Those elements come to impact not only Quillion, but the fate of Spearpoint and the world itself. 

Terminal World is part world-building marvel, break-neck escape novel, a powerful narrative about just what humanity might look like in a far future that has little memory of its ancestors.  Reynolds touches on the loss of history, the power of survival and the need for understanding when everything could be lost.

This is another winner from one of the leading writers of big idea Science Fiction.


© 2011 Rob H. Bedford

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