I was browsing through the neighborhood second-hand bookstore when this paperback all but called my name. I’d never read Alastair Reynolds before but airships on the cover will always intrigue me, and on cracking open the first page, the first several paragraphs had me hooked.
Terminal World is a most interesting blend of genres and tropes, with a quirky multi-zoned world of varying tech levels and unstable reality reminiscent of Jack Chalker’s Well World, a Damnation Alley/Mad Max-ish odyssey through a post-apocalyptic wilderness complete with drug-crazed marauders, a steampunk-ish rogue fleet of airships, all tied together with the breathless pace and mazy twists of a hardboiled spy thriller. One cute touch for a medieval geek like me is Reynold’s method of naming his characters for this one – most of them are named for swords, parts of swords, or armor. There’s Quillon (handguard), Tulwar, Curtana, Ricasso, Spatha … names that just roll off the tongue for this virtual sword collector.
The book follows the journey of Quillon, a post-human involved in world takeover conspiracy that he has turned against, as he escapes the weird city of Spearpoint with the original conspirators’ agents at his heels. Driving this conspiracy, and in fact the great concern of the world in general, is the increasingly unstable condition of reality. There is something in Spearpoint that is causing the ‘zones’ to shift, and not only does this play hob with technology, it also affects life directly to the point that drugs must be taken to survive zonal transitions.
Though his cover in Spearpoint is as a forensic pathologist, Quillon’s true expertise is treating this zonal transition syndrome. It’s a viewpoint that gives him a unique perspective and motivation for the story. It’s what drives Quillon to be the vector for addressing the world’s Big Issue, and yes, it ends with a real bang.
I did not put down Terminal World from the moment I bought it to the time I finished it a couple of days later save for meals, sleep, and a couple of shoots.