I finally managed to get my hands on Alastair Reynolds’ last book, Terminal World. One of the reasons why I had waited for a while is that the story was very steampunk-ish, and I don’t think that Alastair Reynolds should write steampunk. He should write hard science-fiction. Actually, I don’t really like reading about steampunk. I much prefer to read hard science-fiction, fiction, and fantasy.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
The book centers its story on Spearpoint, the last human refuge on Earth. It’s also called the Godscraper. It’s very high and all along it, humans live in varying technological levels. There’s some kind of event that happened eons ago which created the zones. The zones only allow certain levels of technology inside of them. Some of them on the highest part of Spearpoint allow almost post-human technology, while others at the bottom, are lucky enough to be able to use horses. The story starts with an angel falling to the ground in Neon Heights. He was sent down with a message for Quillon. We discover that Quillon is a deep cover angel and has been living in Neon Heights for 9 years. The other part of the zones is that people from other zones can’t live for long in zones that aren’t their home zones. So the angels can’t live for long in Neon Heights. It gives them a shock to their system.
The angel tells Quillon that they are coming for him and he needs to leave. He does so with the help of a few friends, mainly a mercenary named Meroka and her fixer. He makes it out of Spearpoint and discovers a world ravaged by the zones. Carnivorgs, robots that have been twisted to use biological matter as processing arrays, and Skullboys, sadistic death-obsessed warriors, fight for supremacy. Quillon encounters Swarm, or what’s left of it. It was the military arm of Spearpoint until it seceded centuries ago. Swarm uses dirigibles to fly over the world.
In Swarm, Quillon makes a friend of Ricasso, the leader of Swarm. When a catastrophic event, a zone storm, rearranges the zones in a new manner, Quillon knows that he must head back to do something for the Spearpointers. His entourage now includes a tectomancer, someone who can influence the zones. She is but a child named Nimcha, but her mother fiercely believes that she can help Spearpoint. All of Swarm tries to make it back with some zone drugs to alleviate zone sickness.
They make their way through the Bane and find crashed planes, all with the same insignia. From the description, it could be the Chinese flag. They arrive at a second Godscraper. Ricasso tries to see what’s inside and discovers that it’s hollow. He surmises that Spearpoint is also hollow and that it goes deep into the Earth for some reason. Although the clues let us believe that they are not on Earth, but Mars.
They face adversity in what’s left of Spearpoint and go into the tunnels to deliver Nimcha to the Mad Machines, the machines that take care of Spearpoint. They find them and give her to them. There are other tectomancers there. The machines believe that if enough tectomancers come to Spearpoint, they can repair the Earthgate.
The book is open ended and doesn’t really finish, which is annoying. We are left with a lot of questions. From what was said by the Mad Machines, there was some kind of gateway system in place before the Mire came through and wrecked it. Since then, the Mad Machines have been trying to gather enough tectomancers to heal the Earthgate. My guess is that the gate takes them from Mars, where our story takes place, to Earth.
There are other elements that I disliked, but overall, the general pacing and swashbuckling nature of this steampunk adventure made up for that. It’s by far less interesting than House of Suns and Pushing Ice. It’s a sort of filler novel stuck in between. Of his most recent books, this is by far the weakest. If you pick up any novel by Alastair Reynolds, don’t let it be this one. Check out the ones I mentioned, or check out his Revelation Space series.