Reviewed by carol
Terminal World is my first
Alastair Reynolds, a science-fiction writer known for galaxy-spanning
space operas, and has a plot and tone pretty much the opposite of space
meet Doctor Quillon,’ Fray said. ‘He is, as you correctly surmised, the
new package. I’ve just been telling him you you’re going to do such an
excellent job of getting him out of Spearpoint.’
‘Hope you told him it isn’t going to be
no joyride… Looking at three hard days to get you out, if all goes to
plan, which mostly it won’t. Three days of dirt and worry and less sleep
than you’ve ever had in your life. Then we have to find the people
Fray’s lined up to take you to Fortune’s Landing, and hope they haven’t
changed their minds.’
throw in danger as well,’ Fray said. ‘Cutter’s ticked off some angels.
They’ve got deep penetration agents in Neon Heights, and they’ll be
aiming to stop him from leaving town.’”
The story begins with a perspective bait
and switch as we follow two employees of a morgue wagon waiting for
their 9 to 5 to be over. En route home, they are diverted to pick up a
body on a nearby ledge. Surprisingly, it is not just an ordinary body–it
is the body of an angel, an advanced human from a more elevated and
technologically superior zone. There’s a certain morgue coroner who pays
a little extra for unusual specimens, so the two attendants deliver the
body to Dr. Quillon. It turns out the angel is just barely alive,
having made the one-way journey to warn Quillon the angels are coming
for him. Quillon heads to his friend and underworld contact, Fray, a
former policeman. Fray’s been expecting trouble ever since Quillon
revealed who he is and strongly encourages Quillon to leave the city
quickly. Fray provides an escort, Meroka, to lead Quillon out of
Spearpoint. She’s a fierce fighter
with a tendency to shoot second, cuss first, and has a chip on her
shoulder when it comes to anything angelic.
The two leap from frying pan to fire as they try to escape Spearpoint.
The only possible refuge is the Swarm, the only other large colony of
people on the planet. Before they reach Swarm, they’ll have to cross a
wasteland, avoiding roving bands of Skullboys and the carnivorous
cyborgs, the Vorg. And from there, it gets stranger.
The setting for Terminal World
is a fascinating concept. It takes the idea of microecosystems as
applied to mountains and does something quite similar with technology.
In ecosystems, a different biome corresponds with shifts in elevation,
small ecosystems adapted to changes in atmosphere and precipitation. Lower levels in the Sierra Nevadas,
you might see mixed grasslands and woodlands, mid-levels are varieties
of pine forests, and at the highest alpine elevations, there will be no
trees at all.
So it is with Spearpoint, a needle-like
tower extending into the upper atmosphere of the planet–only instead of
environmental zones, there are technological zones. The highest up, the
closer you are to ‘angels,’ flight, and nanotechnology. Next level
down, electricity and computers. Further down, the industrial age. Go
further, and you descend into Horsetown, where mechanical items barely
function. To complicate travel, as life crosses ‘zones,’ it is subject
to ‘zone sickness’ (the world’s version of altitude sickness),
particularly if the shift from one zone to the next has a steep
technology curve. I was impressed with the world-building and thought
zones were an extremely creative idea. While they aren’t well explained
at first, the journey and careful reading elaborates on many
details–except how they originated. The ending has some explanation, but
I rather thought there were more fantastical overtones than science
Characterization was my sticking point,
the reason I was able to set it down for a week or two and pursue
shinier books. It was hard to find emotional resonance with any of the
characters. Given the length of the book, I didn’t have the feeling that
I knew very much about the major players, even by the end. Although the
narrative is largely from Quillon’s head, I found him the least
interesting. Inconsistent in ideals and action, he acted more as a
mouthpiece for philosophical/moral issues than a person with his own
drive. Although his concerns often served to move the plot forward, I
did a flashback to the old days of literary fiction and sci-fi when the
story was a treatise about human nature as much as plotting. I
appreciated two of the female characters, and found they interested me
more than Quillon. Meroka, Quillon’s guide out of Spearpoint, is the
loner guide, cynical and practical. Curtana is an airship captain,
almost loyal to a fault and devoted to her ship. I enjoyed their
characters and their determination. I was less enamored of a
mother-daughter duo who were essentially defined in terms of their
Plot is sweeping in scope. While it
initially has a feel of detective noir, a dark and dangerous night, it
quickly segues into a fugitive chase, ricocheting from hazard to hazard.
When Quillon and Meroka meet the airship-borne Swarm city, the prior
defenders of the Spearpoint, the story shifts again. It becomes more
about city politics, ethics, exploration and a potential rescue mission.
The result is an amazing variety of ideas and events crammed into one
book; while I found each discrete segment told well, it doesn’t quite
gestalt at the end.
The ending was the really most
disappointing aspect of the story. Not because there was one (I really
only have so much endurance for extreme length), but because it went
into a slightly mystical scenario that turned out to have little
Overall, there’s a little bit of kitchen sink to this story that makes it a bit indescribable. It has the length and detail of Way of Kings, the action of The Iron Jackal,
but without the brisk dialogue and personal characterization to propel
it into five-star territory. Certainly entertaining, but as always, your
mileage may vary.
cross posted at my blog at: http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2014/08/30/terminal-world-by-alastair-reynolds/
Sunday, September 14, 2014
The Liar Society
by Lisa Roecker
Reviewed by Sesana
Two out of five stars
Kate Lowry didn't think dead best friends could send e-mails. But when she gets an e-mail from Grace, she’s not so sure.
Sent: Sun 9/14 11:59 PM
Subject: (no subject)
I shouldn't be writing.
They'll hurt you.
Now Kate has no choice but to prove once and for all that Grace’s death was more than just a tragic accident. But secrets haunt the halls of her elite private school. Secrets people will do anything to protect. Even if it means getting rid of the girl trying to solve a murder...
I liked the idea of a mystery set at an exclusive prep school. And it starts off strong, with an email from a dead friend. But it kind of stagnates after that.
The biggest stumbling block is our protagonist, Kate. Despite narrating the entire book, she never really emerges as more than a sketch of a character. Neither does anyone else, really. Worse, most of her girl detective stuff comes from being directed to specific places at specific times by the mysterious person emailing her from her dead friend's account. Which, incidentally, she never really considers might be anyone but, something I had a really hard time swallowing from a character of her age. It should have been her theory all along.
Like I said, the other characters are flat and interesting as cardboard. I only kept reading to find out what happened in the end. And I was disappointed. There's a lack of resolution that's really unsatisfying. The basic idea isn't bad, but it needed more interesting characters, a protagonist who doesn't need quite so much nudging, and a more satisfying ending.
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