Sunday, November 14, 2010

Terminal World - Alastair Reynolds

Martian gate fix.

An Angel plummets to the lower levels of Spearpoint, the last city on Earth. Not literally, as the angels are not supernatural, and Earth is not. You pick this up as you realise some odd things - a 'split moon', that the circumference of the planet is smaller than it should be, that a terraforming project is failing, etc. In a few thousand years that would not happen to our planet. Plus, a couple of space elevators.

The title has two meanings then, that of a dying world, and that of one hosting an Earthgate to the stars, thanks to a space elevator or two.

Most of the characters seemed to be named after bits of edged weaponry. Although if you unscramble Curtana's name, you get un carta, too. The captain of the Swarm fleet. Called the Sky Princess by Quillon's escort. She is, of course, a Space Princess in that sense, being Martian. Whether Reynolds chose that name to unscramble like that as an extra nod to Burroughs, who knows.

The space elevator at Spearpoint's characteristics make it more than it looks - to travel along it you need to take drugs to survive going from zone to zone, and the technology levels also change, a la Grimjack's Cynosure. Down far enough, it is horses and flintlocks for you, sonny jim.

Quillon, who finds the 'fallen angel' is also not what he seems - an angel himself, and an experiment in infiltration for those Celestial Level dwellers - to see if they can pass and adapt long-term to living in another zone. Which again takes modification and a lot of drugs to prevent reverting to avian-like form. The worsening instabilities means everything will collapse into complete chaos and carnage if nothing can be done.

Zonal instabilities are worsening, and Quillon ends up leaving Spearpoint and venturing into dangerous realms of skullboys and carnivorgs, and the Swarm - a city-fleet of airships. Here he meets a mother and her daughter - the latter having a strange power to change these zones. Called a tectomancer, they are generally accused of being witches. After dissension with their new Swarm allies they realise she needs to go to Spearpoint, to take her place in the machine and try and start to put things back in livable conditions again.

4 out of 5

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