Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

Squatch and a good book
Squatch and a good book

Where I Got It: PaperBackSwap

Narrator: John Lee

Publisher: Tantor Audio (2010)

Length: 19 hours 45 minutes

Author’s Page

Dr. Quillon (aka Cutter) is a pathologist working the city morgue of Spearpoint, the last human city. Then a dead angel ends up on his examining table with a secret message and he knows his cover is blown. Now he must flee or die. He calls in a favor and his flight takes him further than he expected.

This is a very interesting scifi book. The world building is fantastic, and rather different, so it took a little while to wrap my head around. The world is divided up into zones, and only certain tech works in each zone (though there is sometimes a little crossover). Each human has their own tolerance for passing from one zone to the next, and sometimes that depends on what built-in tech they have. Of course there are drugs one can take to help reduce the symptoms of zone sickness but sooner or later either the drugs or the zone sickness will kill you. So most folks stay within their home zone, where their body is totally acclimated. However, sometimes the zones shift their borders a bit, so you still have to have an emergency kit around if you live near a border. The tech ranges from incredible future scifi implants and body mods down to horse and cart and everything in between. There’s even a bit of the steampunk thrown in just for my amusement.

While Spearpoint is mostly for normal humans, the higher up you go, the higher the tech. At the top, are the angels. They have wings and sort of glide around up there. The angels are modified humans and they have the most advanced tech. However they can’t really visit the lower levels and others can’t really go up to see them without zone sickness getting in the way. But Quillon had a task once, and that was to see if he could successfully infiltrate the normal human society and live there quietly for years. Things went awry and his life has been in danger for some years. When the dead angel shows up on his table, he knows his cover is blown and he has to flee.

His friend introduces him to Moroca, a very competent, well-armed, foul-mouthed lady that will get him safely out of town and through the zones to a safe place. She was an awesome character. I thoroughly enjoyed her cutting humor, and later on, her cutting anger. So the two of them set off and pretty soon they have more trouble on their tail than they expected. While they manage to evade much of it, eventually they are captured and have to make a deal with their captors.

It’s quite the adventure, with plenty of twists and turns that I did not expect.Eventually, there are airships complete with pirates. There’s a variety of modified, drug-amplified humans. And then there are the part machine, part animal critters that have just enough brain to communicate. I found these to be the most disturbing.

There’s only a few ladies, and while Moroca shows up early on, the rest come quite later. They are all unique and quite different and very interesting in their own ways. They are written well; I just wish there were more of them to balance out the genders.

The ending was not what I expected at all. It was a surprise. The author didn’t try to tie everything up and make it all pretty and neat. He doesn’t sugar coat the seriousness of the situation the main characters and the world is left in. But he gives us hope, even if it is a long-term hope. I found it very satisfying. I do harbor a desire for the author to return to this world some day and show us how things changed after the deeds accomplished in this book have settled out.

The Narration:  John Lee was awesome. He had a cool, composed voice for Dr. Quillon, a harsh cutting voice for Moroca, and a variety of voices for everyone else. He does a very good job at both male and female voices. He even had a creepy, semi-mechanical voice for the modified critters. 

What I Liked: Not what I expected at all; such an unusual world; lots of different tech; the back and forth between Quillon and Moroca; the ending was very satisfying; the cover art.

What I Disliked: It did take me a little while to catch on to what the different zones were and what they meant for the story; only a handful of female characters.

What Others Think:

Little Red Reviewer

SF Site

Strange Horizons

Val’s Random Comments

Fantasy Book Critic

Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic

4 thoughts on “Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds”

  1. I love this novel; I’ve read it twice already. I was especially pleased with how the airships and their crews were depicted — nothing cliché about them! And the zones… I’d really like to know how those came into existence.

    1. It was really well done. It’s one of the oddest books I have read, and yet it all works. I really hope the author revisits the world at some point.

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