Sunday, August 17, 2014

Terminal World, by Alastair Reynolds (author), John Lee (narrator)

Tantor Media, ISBN 9781400197118, July 2012 (original publication December 2009)

Zeppelins. A steam-powered cyborg. Mad Max-style savages. Angels! And a city on a spire of--something--rising into the sky, on a cooling Earth.

Overlaying everything are the zones, little understood but very carefully mapped, because what technology works depends on what zone you are in. Highest up on the spire of Spearpoint are the Celestial Levels, where the angels dwell, modified humans who can fly and who are heavily loaded with nanotech inside them. Because the nanotech won't work at any lower level, angels can't leave the Celestial Levels. At the bottom is Horse Town, where the tech is about the level of the American Wild West.

Quillon lives in Neon Heights, just below Circuit City and just above Steamville. He's the last survivor of an infiltration mission from Celestial Heights, his wings and nanotech removed, under a false identity, working as a pathologist.

Until a barely-alive angel fallen from the Heights is brought to him, with the message that the faction that sent Quillon to Neon Heights now wants him and the knowledge hidden in his head back--and they don't need him to be alive to get what they need. Quillon has to run, out of Spearpoint altogether, and right now. He turns to Fray, who might be considered a local fixer, and one of the few friends Quillon has made. Fray quickly plans his escape, with a guide, Meroka, foul-mouthed, impatient, but very, very capable. Oh, and she hates angels, for reasons buried in her past, so it's just as well that Fray doesn't tell her Quillon is an angel in disguise.

What could go wrong?

Along the way to getting shanghaied into the dirigible fleet called Swarm, they meet the steam-powered cyborg, ruthless, drug-addicted savages, a woman who might be a techtomancer and her five-year-old daughter, and the "vorgs," really nasty cyborgs who survive in part by harvesting human organs. Especially brains.

And in the midst of all this, there's a major zone shift, the result of which is really exciting for everyone who isn't killed by it.

I really enjoyed this one. The characters are multi-leveled and compelling, and everyone you care about has a fundamental decency, albeit sometimes very deeply buried and expressed in quixotic ways. The pacing is great, and the world is a fascinating one.

Reynolds does not believe he needs to give us all the answers. There's plenty of room for a sequel, and I'm a bit surprised that there apparently isn't one. (If I'm wrong, please correct me!)

Recommended.

I bought this book.