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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Review: Terminal World

Terminal World is Alastair Reynolds' science fantasy novel set in an Edgar Rice Burroughs Pastiche World. Now, you might argue that it's science fiction, but the reality is that while Reynolds' does provide somewhat plausible explanations for how the world the story is set in came to be the way it is, there's no actual exposition that makes any scientific sense, so the proper classification is science fantasy.

The central conceit behind the novel's machinations is that the world is divided into Zones. Much like Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought novels, Reynolds provides areas of the planet (or even the same city-spire) that have strongly differing tech zones. In some areas, neon lights, flying machines, and high technology work, while in others, only steam engines work, while in some dead spots, even living organisms could not survive.

The protagonist of the novel, Quillion, is a spy sent from one of the higher zones to infiltrate a lower tech zone. He's offended some people, and now has to make a run for it. This plot device gives him motivation to traverse several zones, and of course that means we get to see the world Reynolds has imagined for us.

It's a fun romp, reminiscent of Escaflowne, for instance, with airships mixed in with machine guns, weird cyborg variants, and of course, magic that turns out not to be. If that had been all there was to it, it'd be a short novel, and fun. But Reynolds tries to explore deeper, and show us the origin of the Zones, and the explanation isn't really very convincing or complete. As a result, when the novel ends with obvious room for a sequel, you don't really care very much.

As with other Reynolds' novels, characters are fairly wooden and stereotyped, and Quillion never really develops.

This is a mediocre Reynolds' novel, but of course, that means it's probably much better than most novels you'll read from anyone else. Regardless, however, I'd only recommend it if you've read everything else he's written and are looking for more.

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