Harvest of Time – Alastair Reynolds

Harvest of TimeIn many ways Doctor Who is perfect fodder for Alastair Reynolds.  Just as time and memory are the major thematic preoccupations of the T.V show, so too have they become significant subjects of Reynolds’ recent work; most recently Blue Remembered Earth is an unusual SF novel written in the literary mode of the Family Saga, in which two siblings have to come to terms with the painful fact that their family’s history isn’t what they thought it was.

As its name suggests, Harvest of Time continues this examination of time and memory, albeit in a more light-hearted and playful way than Reynolds’ most recent novels. The book features the third incarnation of the Doctor (played in the show by Jon Pertwee), exiled on Earth in the early 1970’s (so, in essence, it’s the reader who’s travelling back in time). The Doctor teams up with the quasi-military organisation UNIT to investigate the unlikely collapse of a North Sea oil rig; an event that’s soon revealed to be a precursor to a massive alien invasion unwittingly instigated by the actions of long-time Doctor Who villain The Master. Much of the book is recognisably Reynoldsian (if nobody’s coined that term yet, I’m doing so now…); there’s a country-sized space ship that stands as a testament to his fondness for massive scale, the narrative action hinges on the unforeseen and tragic consequences of decisions the characters made in their distant pasts, and the book ends with an absolutely brilliant mind-fuck revelation that generates the kind of sense-of-wonder for which Reynolds is best known.

Despite the presence of these familiar tropes of Reynolds’ writing, however, Harvest of Time is very much a Doctor Who story, and the most interesting aspect of the book is the way in which the writer fuses his own narrative style with the tone and sensibilities of the T.V. show.  The sartorial Third Doctor is his recognisable self; calmly authoritative, moral, and very much a scientist (he spends a good portion of the book looking through microscopes and fixing things); but there’s notably less scientific terminology than we might expect from an Alastair Reynolds novel – a concession doubtless made out of consideration for a ‘Whovian’ readership potentially unfamiliar with the tenets of Hard SF.  The Brigadier is also present; a blowhard, gung-ho and right-wing encapsulation of post-war militarism and suspicion of the other, whose blustering interactions with the Doctor are one of the book’s highlights.  Rounding out the regulars is the Doctor’s assistant Jo Grant; she’s more head-strong here than she was in the show, but her inquisitiveness is very effective, and the character really comes into her own during the novel’s second half, when she’s separated from the Doctor and has to take matters into her own hands.

Alastair Reynolds, then, does a great job of capturing the tenor and the atmosphere of classic Doctor Who.  Everything from the characterisation, to the period details, to the little idiosyncrasies of the characters’ relationships feels just right. Even the name of the alien invaders, the “Sild”, sounds like it belongs in the Who universe. The book is also very funny (one particularly memorable sequence involves a stampede of alien-possessed cows), but the humour is always respectful of the source material, and never descends into the campy farce that’s become an unfortunate hallmark of so-called ‘New Who’.

Of course, the advantage of writing for a pre-existing fictional continuity is that all of the groundwork for the lore, character history and technological “rules” of the universe has already been laid in advance.  The fact that Alastair Reynolds doesn’t have to deal with describing any of this stuff gives Harvest of Time an absolutely ferocious sense of momentum.  Where a writer would usually spend pages setting up and developing the world of the novel, Reynolds is free to concentrate on plot, relationships and narrative action. The result is a book that hits the ground running with a strange and intriguing prologue, and doesn’t ever let up from there. The action constantly flits between several groups of characters, and just as the tension feels ready to explode, Reynolds will end a chapter with a micro- cliff-hanger, only to change focus to another group of people in the subsequent pages.  It’s a technique borrowed from thriller fiction, but one that works particularly well here.

***

To return to the themes of time and memory. As the Sild invasion of Earth progresses and the plight of poor old humanity becomes ever more bleak, the Doctor is forced to team-up with his abiding rival – The Master – in order to put a stop to the alien nasties. The temptation at this point is to make some twee comment about ‘the original odd couple’; and yes, sure, there’s plenty of entertaining banter between the two: but Alastair Reynolds’ chief goal in making the Doctor and the Master work together isn’t to exploit any comedy inherent in the situation; rather, this strange union serves to make some interesting points about the nature of Time Lords, and the premise of the Doctor Who universe in general. The invasion of multiple planets by the Sild (and the subsequent slaughter of millions) only transpires because of actions taken by the Doc and the M in their distant pasts. Harvest of Time examines the consequences of lives that are lived so long, and of changes made to history so monumental, that their repercussions become completely unknowable. There’s a brooding sense of pathos that develops as the Doctor travels millions of years into the future to witness the consequences of his and the Master’s actions. Of course, the Doctor is specially positioned to try to fix the mistakes of the past, but it’s nonetheless true that the darker aspects of Harvest of Time are direct consequences of the quasi-immortality of Time Lords, and their galaxy-spanning meddlings in time and space.

D and M

The subtext to this is a suggestion that the Doctor and the Master are more similar than either they (or most fans) would willingly admit. The Master may have more of a handle on the decisions he makes (his basic ideology is self-serving, and to hell with anybody else), whereas the Doctor is often morally conflicted, but the eventual truth is that both characters’ actions change things on such massive scales as to have essentially unpredictable consequences. The moral difference between the Doctor and the Master, therefore, is revealed to be one of intent, and not one of results. I guess this is the ever-present sadness behind the smile(s) of the Doctor: his struggle to do the right thing is pitted against the knowledge that his deeds will have unforeseen effects as they travel into distant time. There’s a slow war of attrition going on between two men in Harvest of Time, but in reality, they’ve never been closer. Jo Grant and Mike Yates and the Brigadier are all here, but the Doctor’s real companion this time around, is the Master.  They’re holding mirrors up to one another, and the resulting infinity of reflections is a fitting mise-en-abyme to illustrate the echoes of their actions travelling to the end of time.

This is all quite extreme material for Doctor Who. Not just time travel, but millions of years’ worth of the stuff. Planets are destroyed, races wiped-out, and there’s a sort-of prison ship that takes millennia to explore (btw, that phallic… thing on the front cover? That isn’t how I visualised any of the book’s spaceships). So perhaps the simplest way of describing Harvest of Time is to say that it’s classic Doctor Who refashioned through the lens of modern Space Opera.

***

At this point I should note that not all of the book’s cast is familiar, and the most prominent newcomer, Eddie McCrimmon, is a potential contender for the title of most interesting character. She’s an executive in the oil company that bears the brunt of the Sild’s initial invasion; she’s self-determining, occupies a position of power and authority, and has a very moving back-story. Eddie is a convincing rebuttal to the frankly appalling way the T.V. show has handled women in recent years (companions now seem to be groomed from childhood, and they’re consistently made into either shallow love interests, damsels to be rescued, or mere plot devices to be explored). And, in fact, you could probably extrapolate that further to claim that Harvest of Time proves Doctor Who’s enduring potential for brilliance at a time when the live action programme seems to have lost its way (how many episodes have there been in recent years that resolve all their narrative difficulties merely by having the Doctor press some kind of reset button?).

But don’t worry if you’re coming to the book with only a rudimentary understanding of the Who-verse (God knows I’m no kind of Who expert). The book doesn’t pre-suppose a deep knowledge of the programme and its history, and any obscure references are inserted more for the benefit of hardcore fans than in service to the actual plot. Harvest of Time is a wonderful novel; fast-paced, funny, inventive and unafraid to touch on the deeper, more philosophical aspects of Doctor Who. If only the T.V. show was this good.

Tomcat

Advertisements

Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds

Blue Remembered Earth feels a lot like Alastair Reynolds sticking a middle finger up at all those pompous critics who like to posit that science fiction writers can’t ‘do’ characterisation.  The book is essentially Reynolds’ take on that classic literary staple the “family saga” (or maybe an attempt to propagate a new sub-genre: the family saga IN SPACE), and explores the tensions, upsets and disloyalties that rise to the surface when a fracted and disparate family is forced together following the death of a long-standing matriarch.  As such, the novel is significantly less batshit insane than his previous book, the steampunk-esque Terminal World; and in fact BRE is somewhat difficult to place in Reynolds’ oeuvre as a whole, coming as it does from a literary tradition more concerned with the microscopic examination of human relationships than the exploration of big, brain-hurty sci-fi ideas that I’d usually associate with his writing.

Idiosyncratically, at least, this is still very much an Alastair Reynolds novel: there’s a fierce inventiveness coupled with his attendant attention to rigorous scientific fidelity; but what’s most striking about the book is also perhaps what’s most unexpected; a tender and convincing look at individual responses to death: from grief to epiphany to opportunistic greed; and the re-kindling of a long-neglected brother-sister relationship.  This casting of siblings as the de facto ‘main characters’ brings a refreshing and playful dynamic to the standard boy-girl protagonist duo by removing the trite will-they-won’t-they sexual subtext that would otherwise colour such a proximal and intense relationship, instead allowing for a keener focus on the moral and political tensions that divide the two – after all, unlike lovers, Geoffrey and Sunday are stuck with each other for life.  Having read BRE, I’ve actually realised what an under-used literary pair-up the brother-sister combination is; I’d like to see it more often.

So, yeah, Blue Remembered Earth is a pretty radical change of direction for Alastair Reynolds – not just in terms of its narrative focus on death and family, but also in terms of its setting: near-future Africa.  I admit I was worried when I first heard that Reynolds was writing a novel with an almost exclusively black African cast – somewhere in the dusty corridors of my mind some cultural misappropriation alarms were sounding (don’t look at me that way – you’ve all got them!) – should a white, Welsh, male sci-fi author be attempting to ventriloquise the voice of a black, female African, I wondered? But I decided to give Alastair Reynolds the benefit of the doubt – why the hell not? Anyway, I’m pleased to report that BRE’s treatment of race and nationality is sensitive and perceptive, with, most thankfully, no uneasy attempts to render vernacular accent and dialogue with phonetic spellings or trite colloquialisms; which more-often-than-not such attempts over-shoot the intended destination of “realism”, charge through port patronising and finally grind to an almightily hubristic stop at racist station (I’m looking at you, Kathryn Stockett, and you Chris Cleave, and you Martin Amis etc. etc.).

Having said that, Blue Remembered Earth doesn’t really engage with race as an “issue”, either; in line with Reynolds’ stated utopianist agenda for the novel (and let’s face it, his novels to date have predominantly favoured very bleak, dark projected futures), the society of BRE is essentially post-racist, post-sexist and post-homophobic.  And while it’s incredibly uplifting that a 21st-Century sci-fi writer is willing to describe a future in which we finally get over ourselves in this regard, I would have liked a little more context and background given to explaining how the end of racism came about; as it stands, it’s all seems a bit sui generis.  Either way though, it’s a joy to find a sci-fi writer with the balls to compose a novel dominated by strong female characters, black protagonists free from caricature, and the presentation of a genuinely tender and affecting homosexual relationship: all of which are character issues alarmingly rare and neglected in modern speculative fiction.  [[As a note: Alastair Reynolds has (on his blog) also written about the shameful invisibility of women writers in the mainstream sci-fi market, and has drawn my attention to both Linda Nagata and Lauren Beukes – both of whom I highly recommend.]]

But if the end of racism is a narrative thread not given any explicit context in BRE, the same can’t be said for the end of violence.  In another ballsy and somewhat genre-defying move, Reynolds has crafted a society in which violence is, literally, impossible: any violent thoughts/actions are immediately intercepted by ‘The Mechanism’, a kind of re-imagined literalisation of Orwell’s Thought Police. The Mechanism reads and manipulates the networked nano-machines implanted into every human being and temporarily paralyses an aggressor before he or she can complete any violent action anywhere on Earth.  While this may seem like the sort of audacious plot device that, though interesting, would eventually stifle narrative momentum, actually quite the opposite is true: The Mechanism helps develop another of the book’s more focused binary sub-texts – the individual versus society.  Geoffrey’s mid-novel decision to physically attack his cousin, for example, isn’t extraordinary in and of itself (believe me, the cousin has it coming), it’s extraordinary because Geoffrey knows that The Mechanism will intercept his swing before his fist makes contact, but he makes the swing anyway.  What follows is a gloriously bathetic sequence in which Geoffrey is temporarily paralysed and collapses, sobbing.  You could probably make some hackneyed comment that Alastair Reynolds is writing about the irrationality and empty-headedness of rage here but, for me, this whole scene carries the broader significance of emphasising Geoffrey’s frustration with the systems of control that make this Utopia possible; his unresolved societal loyalty on the one hand, and his desire for absolute freedom of agency on the other. Some of the novel’s more memorable passages describe the giddy abandon the siblings enjoy on the Moon and on Mars, where they’re free from the over-bearing restrains of The Mechanism.

Similarly, this narrative tension has resonances in Geoffrey’s relationship with his own family.  There’s some nice cognitive dissonance at play in his all-consuming desire to dedicate this life to zoology and the study of elephants, and the pressure he endures from the family to take up an inherited position maintaining its lucrative business. Individuality vs. familial expectancy is an obvious and well-established trope of the Family Saga genre, and like many clichés, is most interesting when so skilfully played with.

Geoffrey’s sister, Sunday, by comparison, suffers from no such internal conflict, and has left Earth and all familial obligations to pursue a career as a sculptor.  Like her brother, she’s far from the two-dimensional heroine I so heavy-heartedly expect from the majority of sci-fi I read.  There are some deeply affecting passages in which Sunday contemplates some commissioned sculpture or other, despairing at the financial necessity at being a chisel for hire, while simultaneously hoping that this will be the piece that affords her enough money and time to work on her own art – all the while, deep down, fearing (and, perhaps, knowing) that her ideas and ability aren’t good enough, anyway.  Sunday’s interest in art permeates the story-telling to the extent that the visual aesthetic of Blue Remembered Earth is constructed by constant references to real-life artists.  Landscapes are often described via references to paintings by, say, van Gogh, or Dali.  Reynolds’ description of a lunarscape and its attendant severe horizon as being a “late Rothko” is extraordinary in its simplicity of expression yet simultaneous exactness of image – it is, without exaggeration, the most spot-on visual analogy for the moon I’ve read in any sci-fi, like, ever.

So, how to finish this? My agenda in reviewing Blue Remembered Earth has largely been to disprove the few ambivalent reviews I’ve read that describe the book as nothing more than a round-the-solar-system treasure hunt at the behest of a dead grandmother (and Eunice is so much more than that – my copy of BRE is covered in notes where I saw her functioning as a metaphor for the God-like role of author:: Eunice may not feature in the novel physically, but her influence both diffuses through and smothers every single scene as she, post-mortem, pulls all the strings, exerting (in some places very literal) authorial control over not just her grandchildren’s lives, but the direction of every event, conflict and tension in the book. Eunice, then, is more than an absent character; she is a metaphor for the process of writing).  As always with novels of this ilk, there’s so much I haven’t covered – weird body-altering cults, the odd business-tech language that makes up the dialogue of cousins Hector and Lucas, and the mesmerising sequence in which Sunday electronically transmits her consciousness into what she assumes is a robot proxy, only to discover that she’s inhabiting an electronic space-suit that houses a rotting corpse (Alastair Reynolds has always had a great eye for the horror implicit in advanced technologies); and not to mention the total mind-fuck ending (among Reynolds’ best – and that’s saying something) – so I apologise if I’ve neglected something of specific interest to someone.

What Blue Remembered Earth successfully offers is a striking marriage of hard science fiction genre proclivities (and all the expected scale and wonder) with a microcosmic focus on the loyalties that hold together and tear apart one family. It’s at once gigantic in scope and pint-point sharp in focus.  Its head may be up there in the unimaginable massiveness of space, but its heart sits very much in the more fragile, brief moment of family. That and dwarf elephants. Amazingly cute, genetically-engineered dwarf elephants.

Tomcat.

The 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction

The more astute among my readers (that’s both of you: hi mum!) may have noticed that the past four novels I’ve written about (One, Two, Three, Four), all have something in common.  No, they weren’t written by Katie Price under the assumed pen-names of Tom McCarthy and Andrea Levy*; nor were they rescued from imminent pulping by an action-hero Judy Finnegan** (Mr and Mrs Madeley, anyone?).  The unifying factor is: they’ve all been longlisted (is that a verb??) for this year’s Man Booker Prize for fiction.

 “What a coincidence!”, I hear you cry; yet be not so amazed, for the action was deliberate.  I’ve set myself the daunting, un-called for and ostensibly pointless task of reading the entire 2010 Booker Prize longlist before the winner is announced on October 12th.  Return here on October the 11th to read my final thoughts on the nominees, as well as my pre-award show gossip and predictions.  Expect it to be an immoderate furore of well-meaning platitudes and civilised propriety.  Unless Peter Carey arrives at the ceremony drunk and naked, tearing pages out  of Helen Dunmore’s The Betrayal and throwing them into the air like so much literary confetti as he declares himself the King of Booker, wearing The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas as a crown.  Don’t look at me that way! It’s possible…Stranger things have happened…

 

The Man Booker Prize, along with the Pulitzer and the Nobel, forms part of the ‘big three’ of literary awards.  It’s a single, annual prize awarded to a full-length novel, in English, written by a citizen of the British Commonwealth (I believe Irish authors are eligible as well).  Despite the patriarchal impression given by its title, both men and women are permitted to enter.  The prefix ‘Man’ is a rider added in 2002 when the Man investment group began to sponsor the prize.

Publishers may enter two novels from their imprint for consideration each year, and books by previous winners are automatically considered.  Judges also reserve the right to ‘call in’ novels which they personally believe are attention-worthy, whether their publishers have entered them into the competition or not.  This year’s most talked-about ‘call in’ is Room by Emma Donoghue, which was requested by the judges before it had even been published; such was the novel’s pre-release hype.

 This year’s booker prize, however, has already become the subject of controversy (that is, if you can call the petty exchanges of bibliophilic dorks ‘controversial’).  The literary press has spent more time discussing what hasn’t been nominated than what has.  And it does strike me as odd that the brilliant Solar by Ian McEwan has been looked-over (surely it couldn’t have been over-looked?) and rejected by the selection committee.  Similarly, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman didn’t make the cut; neither did The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis.  All three are wonderful, accomplished novels; superior, in my opinion, to some of the nominees I’ve thus far encountered.

Perhaps you can infer more from the judges’ omissions than from their inclusions?  These three rejected novels are loaded with risqué, contentious subject matter (global warming, atheism, trans-gender), and it would be easy to accuse the judges of ‘playing it safe’ with their nominations: are they afraid to give the award to a novel that might see them accused of having some kind of agenda? 

Unfortunately for the judges, excluding a book from the longlist is just as much a loaded act of volition as including one.  Maybe they’re deliberately courting controversy by disregarding the more acclaimed books, in a bid to reverse the waning public interest of recent years.  Maybe they’re afraid that nominating Pullman will see them accused of committing to an atheist point of view?  Facile as such concerns may be. 

My greatest fear, however, is that none of these explanations is the correct one; maybe the judges are such terrible arbiters of literary taste that they genuinely  believe Trespass  by Rose Tremain is better than Solar by Ian McEwan.  In which case, they have my pity; subjective as my argument may be.

On the topic of ideal nominations, I would also like to have seen Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds long-listed.  I see no reason why science-fiction should be so disregarded by the Booker judges.  Perhaps giving the nod to a sci-fi novel may challenge the established notion that science-fiction is an esoteric and clichéd genre that lacks depth and literary significance.  Terminal World is insightful, original and very accomplished, and its nomination would only have been a force for good, I feel.

 

Finally, I’d like to make some notes about why I’m doing this.  I’ve always been curious about literary awards.  Don’t get me wrong; I don’t let the judges of such prizes dictate to me my taste in books; but I’m intrigued by the influence such people seem to have over the reading public.  It’s easy to rail against institutions like the Booker prize and accuse such awards of being reductive and popularist.  Yet as I perpetually fail to pin-down and understand my own taste in books, maybe I’ll be helped by gauging the responses of other people: looking outward rather than inwards, for once.

 Last year’s winner Wolf Hall enjoyed a frenzied rise in sales and popular attention once it won, and surely it can only be a good thing that Hilary Mantel’s masterwork finally got the attention it deserves, after spending so many months bothering the lower-regions of the bestsellers list.

I’m also intrigued by all the conspiracy theories that surround the award.  It’s even been suggested by the conservative right of the literary world that, in recent years, the amount of ‘minority’ fiction (gay writing, black writing, Afghan writing etc) nominated and awarded the prize is massively disproportionate to the out-put and quality of the niche that produces it, and that a miss-guided agenda of political correctness is fuelling the engines of the judges.  I’ve not read widely enough to make any comment on this, but it interests me nonetheless.

So, I thought that the only way to make an informed and balanced judgement on the Booker prize would be to do exactly what the judges are doing: read every novel on the longlist and decide for myself which is ‘best’.  I’ve already taken issue with the omission of some of my favourite books of the year, and perhaps my frustration at this will be sated by the process of reading the other nominees.  Also, I like a challenge and it’s nice to have some direction to my reading, for once.

 

It’s also going to be difficult.  Not least because my reading technique is that of subvocalisation; by which I mean that when I read, I imagine the full sound and spacing of words, correct to grammar and rhythm.  I can’t help it; it’s how I’ve always read.  I read in my imagination at the same speed I would read aloud to an audience; hence, for me, books are broadcast in ‘real time’, as it were.

What I’m trying to say is: I’m a slow reader.  Sub-vocal, internalised reading has its advantages: apparently it’s more conducive to analysis and understanding, it’s just damn slow.

But thus far, I’m on target to finish just before the award is announced.  I don’t want to jinx my mission, but I should be successful; pending any major life-changes or disruptive incidents. 

I hope that you enjoy (and have enjoyed) my rolling book-by-book reviews of the nominees. As always, comments and criticism are welcome.  Many thanks for reading.

Tomcat.

*It was, at one point, rumoured that Katie Price’s latest ‘novel’ was being considered for nomination; even though her books are actually written by somebody called Rebecca Farnworth.  Thankfully, this rumour turned out to be un-founded.  I may have to check my sources, but isn’t Jordan winning the Booker prize one of the harbingers of the apocalypse?

**After being named ‘the most powerful people in publishing’ by various sources in recent years, it is constantly rumoured that Richard and Judy are going to become judges of the booker prize.  Apparently, it’s only a matter of time.  God help us.  This, of course, would only fuel the miss-guided notion that quantity of sales is equal to quality of product. Which it isn’t – otherwise more people would be talking about ‘The Wire’ and fewer people would talk about ‘Glee’.

Terminal World – Alastair Reynolds

The galaxy of ‘literary’ science-fiction is a relatively small one, but its brightest star by far is Alastair Reynolds.  Terminal World offers a highly original narrative, characters that are morally and psychologically complex and, best of all, a story that is told through accomplished and sophisticated writing.  Reynolds’ seemingly effortless prose is abundant with creative, diverse metaphors, witty dialogue and acute situational observations; factors which are so often lacking in science-fiction writing.

Then again, to even call Terminal World a Sci-fi novel is to be brash with genre assumptions.  The book is devoid of spaceships, aliens, other planets; in fact, it’s without any of the defining tropes of science-fiction.   The crux of the novel is the atmosphere-piercing city of Spearpoint – a towering metropolis divided into the ‘zones’ – layers of the city each with their own technological limitations.  Thus the base of Spearpoint (horse town) is almost medieval; the next layer (steamville) is early-industrial in its scope.  The ‘zones’ advance in this way until the city’s very highest ‘Celestial’ levels, in which winged post-humans manipulate nano technology and can cure any ailment.  The technology of the ‘zones’ isn’t enforced by governments or clerics, but by the nature of reality itself in this far-future vision of Earth.

This plot device enables Reynolds to enjoy an unusual amount of freedom in terms of setting and characterisation.  Terminal World is very odd sci-fi; a smorgas-board convergence of steampunk, fantasy, planetary romance… the novel even borrows from pirate, naval and military genres.  Crucially, though, the brilliantly original setting isn’t ancillary to the plot in anyway – it’s unusual, but the setting is the plot; I thought that the concept of the ‘zones’ permeated the narrative in fascinating ways – allowing deep exploration of social, moral, psychological and  cultural themes.

Which leads me to the book’s characters.  The majority of whom I found to be convincing, if unusual.  Alastair Reynolds is often criticized for a lack of complex characterisation; and I agree that several of his early works centre upon…mannequin personalities.  Any such problems have been addressed and overcome here.  I thought Quillon, our protagonist, to be a wonderfully bizarre and captivating personality – faced with multifaceted moral dilemmas throughout, he is constructed sympathetic to the reader (gonna get technical for a second here: the prose is formed in ‘indirect free-discourse’, so although it’s framed in the third person singular, the viewpoints of Quillon and the reader are converged); he is physically feeble yet intellectually firm.

I don’t want to give too much away regarding the actual story – suffice to say I found it very original and, like Spearpoint itself, built upon many layers of differing complexity – fast-paced battles and events play out around complicated politics; plus Reynolds offers a very witty and fresh take on the old fantasy cliché of a ‘chosen one’.  Its themes are numerous and engaging – from the philosophical nature of history to cartography and the politics of leadership – there’s a lot going on; even, I believe, some convincing attempts at allegory.

The final revelations come thick and fast – with the eventual explanation of the true nature of the ‘zones’ offering a mind-blowing denouement to the action.  If you’ve ever read anything by Alastair Reynolds, you’ll know that he’s a true master of ‘endings’ – always shocking, never sweetly resolved or cliché and perpetually, relentlessly creative.

 Clearly I thoroughly enjoyed Terminal World – it’s brilliantly well-written, and, in my humble opinion, a genuine and successful attempt at sci-fi literature.

 

————–

Finally, I’d just like to comment on this novel’s exceptional cover art.  I normally regard jacket artwork as neither here-nor-there (especially in sci-fi, a genre plagued by clichéd and over-used imagery), but Chris Moore’s painting for Terminal World is a truly striking visual interpretation of Reynolds’ idea.  Spearpoint towers over the other figures and illustrations; in much the same way as the fictional city dominates the narrative landscape of the novel, ‘like God’s own hard-on’ – as the author wryly puts it.

Here’s a link to a better image of the cover:

Terminal World –  Chris Moore

Tomcat