HomeAll postsTerminal World by Alastair Reynolds

Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

A review by Nalini Haynes

Terminal World is the story of Quillon, a fallen angel living among humans on Spearpoint, an artificial construction around which the largest city on the planet has evolved. Early on Quillon meets another angel who has come to warn Quillon of a threat to his safety and send him on a journey whose goal is self-preservation. Quillon flees with Meroka, a human who has good reason to hate angels. Meroka is not aware of Quillon’s race, which has been hidden through surgery and gene therapy, but Quillon is reverting without the ongoing therapies.

The pair set out on an epic journey, meeting various peoples, making friends and enemies along the way. These peoples illustrate the different strata of society and technology that exist on the planet. Zones somewhat like weather zones shifting around the planet threatening destruction by affecting machinery, plants, animals and humans.

Quillon and Meroka befriend two feral humans Kalis and her daughter Nimcha, and then all four are taken prisoner by The Swarm, a fleet of dirigibles that used to be the navy for Spearpoint. The Swarm defected when the captains felt betrayed by Spearpoint centuries earlier, but now the Swarm puts its animosity behind it and goes to the aid of Spearpoint.

Reynolds’ characters are believable, fighting to the death for a chance to live, feeling conflicted over killing when Quillon’s calling is medicine, men whose focus is power ruthlessly destroying people in their way, and mindless mobs sacrificing the better good for a slim chance at personal gain. The altruism of the Swarm after generations of hatred was a bit thin, but the motivation was explained as a combination of internal politics and a desire to prove the Swarm is better than Spearpoint. My favourite point in the story was when a central character discovers that he is not the central character but instead a side character to someone else’s meta-story. His reaction was wholly convincing, as well as humorous.

Terminal World ends in the middle of the story as it were. I don’t think this is meant to be a trilogy, which increases the appeal for me. The story is left in such a way as there has been a conclusion to the primary story of this narrative, threads moving forward to the future, some definite outcomes, some indeterminate outcomes. I found this uncertain ending surprisingly satisfying because I could fill in some of the blanks myself as well as envisage these characters moving into an uncertain future where the only real certainty is hard work and an ongoing story. This is so much like real life, where there are no happy endings, only more stories.

Read this if you enjoyed Asimov’s Prelude to Foundation, which is one of my all time favourite books.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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