Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds
The North Reading Group met on October 9th to discuss Terminal World, by Alastair Reynolds. The book was published in mid-2010 by Gollancz and Ace Books. It is set in the future, in a world with a geography resembling Mars, and begins in a city/structure called Spearpoint. “Zones” existing at different energy states are inhabited by humans, some modified to exist in specific zones. The zones are at different technology levels, and transitioning between them requires drugs and may induce debilitating or even fatal biological problems. The protagonist is an “angel” from “celestial levels” who has been modified to exist at lower levels, who is pursued by a faction intent on killing him to prevent his carrying out the mission for which he had been modified. He is eventually forced to go to ever deeper levels and finally into the “Outzone.” The novel is generally classified as “Steampunk,” at least among some who define the genre, although some of our members didn’t agree.
Eight members attended the meeting, 5 had read Reynolds before, 5 started the book and 3 finished it. The ones who did not finish “got bogged down,” and others simply decided that there were other books to read that would be more interesting. One person liked the book and actually read it twice. He concluded that he would recommend Reynolds, but not necessarily this book.
One of the problems appeared to be that although Quillen (the protagonist) empathized with others on the planet, he wasn’t especially likeable, nor were his associates. Some involved a criminal organization which valued his skill as a physician. One woman helped him because she was unaware of his origin; otherwise she would have refused. The other major objection was that very little happened. Some who finished the book were unsatisfied by the ending and felt they had been “left hanging.” On the other hand, one reader thought the ending was “perfect—answers given, problems solved, and the start of a new journey of knowledge.”
That said, the members were generally appreciative of some of the hard SF features. Those who had read Reynolds’ other works liked them very much and urged the other members to try one of those.