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Publisher's Summary

Spearpoint, the last human city, is an atmosphere-piercing spire of vast size. Clinging to its skin are the zones, a series of semi-autonomous city-states, each of which enjoys a different - and rigidly enforced - level of technology. Following an infiltration mission that went tragically wrong, Quillon has been living incognito, working as a pathologist in the district morgue.

But when a near-dead angel drops onto his dissecting table, Quillon's world is wrenched apart one more time. If Quillon is to save his life, he must leave his home and journey into the cold and hostile lands beyond Spearpoint's base, starting an exile that will take him further than he could ever imagine. But there is far more at stake than just Quillon's own survival, for the limiting technologies of the zones are determined not by governments or police but by the very nature of reality---and reality itself is showing worrying signs of instability.

©2010 Alastair Reynolds (P)2010 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"A rousing adventure in a widly original setting." (Guardian, UK)

What members say

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  • CRAWFORDSVILLE, IN, United States
  • 09-10-10

This ain't your fathers Alastair Reynolds

I listened to this book several month ago and like it. It was different from what I am used to from Mr. Reynolds, but I thought the story was solid and the characters were interesting and well developed. However, after listening to several other books, including Pillars of the Earth and World Without End by Ken Follett (omg, if you have not read/listened the these books yet, do yourself a favor, NOW!), I find myself comparing everything the Terminal World. I went back & listened to it agin. This is a really good book! Maybe I am a latent steampunk fan and did not realize it, but WOW, I really love this book! I think you should try to erase any vestidual remnant of Chasm City and Revelation Space from your brain before reading this book, because there is NO relation. If you are expecting this, it may effect your perception of this book.
My concept of the word 'terminal' has always been in realtion to death and dying. But, it also means 'end point' as in bus/train terminal. Keep this in mind when listening. Because of my educational deficit in this regard, I had pre-concieved notions when listening to this book the first time and it effected my opinion (amazing how titles & book covers can impact your perceptions!).
As far as Narrator, 2 words... JOHN LEE. If he read the NYC phone book, I would listen to it...twice.

42 of 44 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Michael
  • springfield, MA, United States
  • 06-17-10

Worthwhile slightly lacking

I give this offering from Mr. Reynolds four stars based on his masterful writing style as well as the narration of John Lee.
However, the listener should be aware that this is a marked departure from his previous works, which many people list as genius among British space opera.
This story is more of a quest novel, and the story flows more from the setting and the character responses to cataclysmic changes, rather than deep character development.
Also, the main character has many similarities to the main character in Chasm City, i.e., mysterious past, assumed identity, and what will happen when the main character's true nature is revealed.
That being said, if you are a fan of Reynolds, than it is a worthwhile use of a credit. And although this review may seem to focus on the negatives, I think understanding the book's shortcomings will actually increase enjoyability, because the listener will not anticipate familiar plot points and can appreciate the book on its on merits.

31 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • Andrew
  • United Kingdom
  • 04-03-11

Well written, well read, but unsatisfying

As a Reynolds fan I thought I'd try this, knowing it was different from his other novels. Sadly, I've been disappointed....
This story is very much a science-as-fantasy travelogue, as the protagonist (who goes from loner into someone who hopes to save all his friends) crosses a post-holocaust/steampunk style landscape on a future "earth" (actually Mars)....

While the writing style is up to Reynolds usual excellent style, and John Lee's reading is very good, the story itself is the weak point ;
The unusual sights the protagonist sees (dirigibles, sadistic post-apocalyptic punk gangs) have appeared in a multitude of stories before and unfortuantely Reynolds doesnt do anything particularly new with them. In addition, what ideas he does have that have potential new uses (for example, Angels) are not really used to any great extent and are more or less irrelevant to the majority of the book....

As a result the storyline itself is over-familiar, and ultimately unsatisfying. While not actually bad, this is not a strong selection from Reynolds otherwise excellent stories.....

For fans of cyberpunk/steam punk or fantasy, I'd recommend anything by William Gibson or Michael Moorcock over this . For Reynolds fans, I'd say this is the weakest of his stories I've come across - I'd recommend most of his other work over this.( I particularly recommend 'The Prefect' as a far better story which is read by the same vocal talent)

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • Houston, TX, United States
  • 04-23-14

Interesting world, unsatisfying central character

Reynolds always constructs extraordinarily intricate and ultimately logical worlds, and his central characters are usually fully drawn and complex as well. In this instance he nailed the world building but presented us with a leading character who is limp and unsatisfying. Always the thoroughgoing altruist and nearly terminally naive, he wanders along, captive to the plot throughout, functioning primarily as a conduit for information between the various factions with whom he interacts. He is so passive that he is hard to believe as a survivor. It is not the poor sap's fault since the author keeps him restricted and controlled throughout the entire book, but looking back on it I realize just how sick of him I was by the end.

There were secondary characters who were more dynamic and with whom readers would happily throw in their lot if given a chance, but they never emerged from their supporting roles. Did someone say there will be a series? If so, perhaps the interesting world and the situation in which we are left hanging at the end of the book will provide a stage for giving one or more of the other personae the room to strike out on their own and give us someone to relate to and invest in. That could be worth a credit.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Terminal World should not be the Terminus

I really enjoyed listening to Terminal World and would rate this book much higher if it were the beginning of a series. But Reynolds has written Terminal World as a standalone novel which ends just as a great story is beginning so I found the book a real let down.

Reynolds sets up a great adventure tale that includes a nice mash-up of hard science and fantasy seasoned with steampunk elements. (I really liked the scientific explanations for the variations in technology. Steampunk often just seems to be about cool gadgets and doesn't incorporate enough logic to make me happy and that's not the case in Terminal World.) As we follow the main protagonist, Quillon, and his cohort, Meroka, in their flight to escape assassination attempts on Quillon, we get pieces of the puzzle to explain how their strange world functions, how it came to be, why it is "broken", and how it can be repaired and the great escape slowly evolves into more of a quest. However, just at the point you start to understand the constructs and have an inkling of how this happened, the story ends. It really feels like reading the first of a series and then having no second book available.

These are interesting characters with potential for a lot more development and a totally fascinating world whose history/evolution is only hinted at. There is a universe of room to expand and progress this story and I can only hope that Reynolds considers a sequel to "bring this story home".

Jon Lee does a good turn on narration and the voice he uses for the tough and sassy Meroka is perfect.

On its own, Terminal World is entertaining and, like all of Reynolds work, the story will expand your mind to some very cool new concepts, but it ends on the cusp of something great and may leave you wanting much more.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Would have preferred more closure

As far as Reynolds' novels go, this is not at the level of Revelation Space, partly because Reynolds ends the tale without a satisfying resolution. We are presented with a different Earth 10k years in the future where the bulk of the population lives on a vertical screw-like structure reaching perhaps almost into space. The structure is vertically segregated into segments with unknown restrictions on the degree of technology that can function. Biology is a bit more forgiving, but people still experience "zone shifts" with resulting illness.

Our hero represents a modified "angel" from the highest or celestial level who is on the run due to vague factional, political differences. The bulk of the story is an adventure that alludes to the true purpose of the structure, "Spearpoint" and the "how it all went wrong". The ending doesn't so much as resolve the conflicts as it seems to merely explain the real work left to be done.

As is Reynolds' style, the story explores human evolution and in this case, adaptability to extreme changes in some basic laws of nature. What at first appears random and artificial, the zone boundaries for technology to function in reality, conforms on a loose basis with our world today with examples such as cell phones dropping bars, wireless connectivity being geographically dependent, or electrical outlets varying from country to country indicative of "zone shifts".

This is now the 3rd non-Revelation Space novel that has left me expecting either more or a sequel to quickly follow; which is odd since novels set in the Revelation Space series have all been reasonably self-contained.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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Steamfiction of the far-future

I think it's clear at this point that after completing the many Revelation Space books that the author decided to explore a fascination with old technologies and settings, perhaps dating back to 2004 when he did Century Rain and heavily involved 1950s Paris. This time there is a spread of technology levels, but the book fundamentally takes place in near-zero technology levels, lending the story to wooden airships bound to the principles of air travel and gun warfare.

For a long while I was dissatisfied with the trend of the story, but Reynolds always has that one part near the end of his books that suddenly drop intellectual bombs and grant you insider knowledge that sometimes even the characters can't fully grasp. This book is no exception, but by the end I selfishly wanted just a bit more out of the world's lore.

If I'm being honest, the strength of this story is that it gives you the silent treatment about the outside universe, although there is plenty of speculation provided by some characters. Reynolds even goes through his traditional trouble of presenting plausible explanations for complex problems, and then invalidates the characters' hypothesis so that he can make sure you know that he's in strict control of the story progression.

The untold story behind Terminal World is the way that things arrived into their current state, which would have been a stellar short story, like in the Galactic North collection, but that is likely never to happen. Besides, the strength of this as a story is, again, the assumption that humanity knows very little anymore about its past, save for vague scripture that presumably dates back to the incidents that resulted in the state of the world.

I think that it's also worth making a note, as tangential as it might be, that the relationship development in this story is subtly more powerful than I expected. Character development is always a key area for Reynolds, but the untold and between-the-lines development of Meroka with those around her, including a deniable interest in Curtana, her relaxation around Quillon, and her affinity for the young Nimcha and her loaned storybooks.

Also... assuming you have completed the story, consider the Wikipedia information in the section titled "Which World?" (check revision history in case it changes). You might have horribly missed some very interesting information about "Earth".

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • sandy hook, CT, United States
  • 09-22-10

Great Story and another several book series

This is a well written, well read story that keeps you interested 'till the end.
Does anyone tell a story that can be told in one book anymore?

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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A Steampunk post-apocalypse

Alastair Reynolds has impressed me with his intellectual sorta-hard-SF space operas, but left me a bit cold in terms of characters and storytelling, the grand scope of his plots dwarfing the human elements. He's a bit like a colder Charles Stross who is not trying quite as hard as Stross does to impress you with his cleverness, even though he's very clever.

Terminal World is a departure from his usual space operas - it's set on one world, that vaguely resembles Earth but isn't, in a post-apocalytic far future. The setting is kind of steampunkish, but steampunk done in a hard-SF way, and more post-human than the usual pseudo-Victorian frippery.

Quillon is a doctor living in a city called Spearpoint. Spearpoint is, as its name implies, a towering sliver of civilization stretched up into the atmosphere, surrounded by a wasted, cold and drying planet. Spearpoint is divided into "zones" that determine what technology works there. At the highest levels are the Angels, who still enjoy advanced technology, while at lower levels are places like Neon Heights, Steamville, and Horse Town. Some places, electronics stop working. Other places do not even allow internal combustion. And there are some zones where even humans can't survive.

At first, the characters seem mostly uninterested in how this state of affairs came to be, because apparently it's been like this for thousands of years, and is now the accepted status quo. Indeed, we learn that despite the obvious remnants of what was once a great, highly technological civilization, most people have little awareness of history or a world beyond their own.

It turns out Quillon is an Angel, or a former Angel. Angels can't normally survive in the low-tech lower levels, but he was part of a special infiltration project that went wrong and left him isolated among hostile humans (or "post-humans" as the Angels call them). When the Angels come after him, he goes on the run. His flight eventually takes him out of Spearpoint altogether, and across the wastelands which are occupied by Reaver-like "Skull-boys" and a rival civilization known as SWARM that exists entirely in the air, aboard a great fleet of zeppelins.

So, Reynolds manages to give us sky pirates and zeppelin battles, and a world-saving adventure that does not really uncover the secret behind Spearpoint and its world, but gives us a few glimpses. At times this felt like one of his epic space operas, albeit confined to a single planet, and at other times, it was more like a steampunk adventure. (Zeppelin battles!)

I liked Terminal World - it feels complete, even with a somewhat vague ending. Clearly Reynolds could write more books set in this world, but it doesn't seem like he plans to.

Alastair Reynolds is probably one of the smartest and best writers of hard SF and space opera today, the kind of SF that actually uses physics and big ideas. Unfortunately, his writing still lacks an essential something to make him one of my favorites - it's as if there is always a certain lofty distance between author and creation that one can sense in his work. His characters are intelligent and interesting, but they are largely plot puppets. Still, this was going to be "three strikes and you're out" but it was more of a base hit, so I'll keep reading him.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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A delicious sort of World-Building.

Reynolds creates a fantastic sort of world, with all sorts of questions and concepts to keep me thinking far /outside/ of the book.

I've no problems with his characterizations, and enjoyed the progression the main character made over time - but that having been said, the real strength of this book in my mind is the progression through the world itself, new, mysterious lands, ideas, and concepts.

Through it all, a solid level of tension pervades, and I don't think think any portion felt like a real lull. The ending is both incomplete and complete - that is to say, you can see the direction things will go after the conclusion, and even envisage another book, but it might not be necessary, and can stand on it's own.

That having been said, I'll note I'm very comfortable with Reynold's style, and have more or less ended up binging on everything he's published recently! John Lee seems the perfect sci-fi narrator to me, perhaps because of prior experience - but I've developed a deep fondness for his voice over time, and this book is no exception.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Nigel
  • 03-31-11

Science fiction with a very big point

Spearpoint is an enormous city that rises vertically over a chaotic and apparently unpromising world. For reasons that aren’t clear at the outset, different elevations on the pinnacle-like city, and different zones across the world, support different levels of technology. Machines seize up irreparably if you travel too far, and people need complicated drugs. A dying angel plummets from his elevated level with a message for the cold and reclusive Quillon, provoking a well-paced journey in which our hero discovers something about all the aspects of his humanity, finds a finely conceived set of people groups who have each come to terms with their strange world in different ways, and grasps the secret of why all this is the way it is.
Alastair Reynolds is one of the most thought-provoking and readable hard-SF writers alive, partly because he loves his characters as much as his science. Indeed, most of his novels explore the boundaries of what it is to be human at every extreme. This tale scintillates because of the steampunk, gothic and fantasy elements he weaves in.
The icing on the cake for audiobook lovers is that this book (as with all Reynold's audiobooks on Audible) is read by the prolific John Lee, who could recite an instruction booklet for self-assembly furniture and make it sound poetic.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Charlie
  • 04-10-11

Great but Different

I discovered reynolds about a year ago by recomendation from a friend. This was the final book I read of his after completing his back catalogue. the main reason this was the last one read was because of the whole "steam punk" thing and I am a fan of the whole space opera, sense of wonder type sci fi. No need to worry though this is pure Reynolds but in a reffreshing new setting. The excellent characterisation is there along with the underpinning "big concept" that he does so very well. As for the narration, I love the way Jon Lee does Reynolds. He doesn't go overboard with character voices but gives enough depth to distinguish them and he lends the prose real gravitas. I really enjoyed this book and if you love Reynolds' other stuff you will love this. It's just a bit different that's all.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Christopher
  • 08-18-10

Mechanistic Inferno

Excellent if perhaps not Reynolds at his best- I'm giving 4 stars but this is still better than any other contemporary sci-fi that I know of. For existing fans you will find all the familiar themes reworked with the usual ingenuity but instead of the complex interweaving narrative structure of the earlier novels we have a simple linear adventure story- perhaps Reynolds has his eyes on the more popular Hollywood market, with characters, set pieces and themes lifted straight out of the genre- 'Mad Max II' being the obvious comparison. Or think Dante with Tank Girl instead of Beatrice. At times the narrative seems laboured and the characters rather stereotypical and simplistic as they run through their self-justifying poses. But as always Reynolds' primary focus is on technology (the title is a pun but I won't spoil the plot!) and the human machine interface. There are plenty of nightmare creatures worthy of a place in the Reynolds Bestiary (you'll love the Vorgs) and a calliope-powered man as well as a little girl with very special psychic powers...enough said. If you haven't read the other books this isn't a bad place to start, followed by 'House of Suns' and 'Century Rain' before tackling the Trilogy- they're all here on Audible.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Chris
  • 12-14-15

Frustrated with the lack of a proper ending

Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

Mostly, yes. I was disappointed and frustrated that it ended when it did. I thought I was only about 70% of the way through it when the story just stopped suddenly. It's as though the author got bored and had decided that we didn't need to know any more. The big thing that the book is leading up-to never actually happens.

Would you be willing to try another book from Alastair Reynolds? Why or why not?

Yes, he's a good author.

What about John Lee’s performance did you like?

The voices

Any additional comments?

When reading a book you know where you are up-to in the book and know when it's about to end. When listening to an audiobook you don't have this information (unless you look for it), so occasionally a story can just end and you never see it coming. To me, it just didn't feel right that the story ended when it did. It's a shame because what was about to happen would've been more interesting than what did happen in the story.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark
  • 04-13-13

Twisted and dark and fast paced

You know that Reynolds will come up with something out of the ordinary and he does not disappoint here. It is full of big ideas and strong contrasts with a complex and self consistent world. The science is of a level approaching magic at times. The gritty and treacherous world that humans have shaped in this strange and fractured place is dark and rich and full of sound and smell and danger. I would have liked to have had more answers at the end but Alistair Reynolds does not write that way. All in all, a fascinating read, well performed.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Steve
  • 11-08-10

Terminal World

After reading this author's Revelation Space series of books I was hooked on this author's style & approach to space opera SciFi. Whilst not as free roaming as his space operas, this novel contains the same rich plot element ideas & earthy character development. Always digging deeper into lost Alien & technological mysteries, you discover more layers of the onion being peeled away through the journey the main characters take. Never shown the full picture from the start, but rewarded enough as you read through, so as not to be frustrated & ending in ultimate climactic knowledge of the true nature of terminal world.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Victor
  • 09-07-10

Loved it

It was a novelty to download in audio an author who's works I've been buying in print. A double treat to have it while only the hardback version is out.
It's typical Reynolds: dark and pessimistic in tone, plus an original and satisfying plot.
The narrator has a commanding voice and is good at differentiating between the characters, although his vocalisation of Meroka was slightly grating in the first two parts.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • David
  • 08-12-10

Simply Superb

Reynolds is at the top of his game. The book has solid believable characters that make you care. The author creates a fantastic but believable world and proceeds to weave a cyber-punk story with flavours of mad max and blade runner. If you haven't listened to an Alastair Reynolds book, this is a great starting point.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan
  • 08-10-10

Terminal World

This book captures the imagination and the author moulds the very diverse characters seamlessly. By the time I reached the end I felt like the characters were family and found myself rooting for a great ending, which it delivered. I also felt I knew every inch of the extremely foreign landscapes and zones. Best read I have had in ages

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Tom
  • 10-21-10


Alastair Reynolds has written some top-notch sci-fi - 'Revelation space', 'Chasm City',and 'The Prefect' being my particular favourites. but he produces duds as well and 'Terminal World' is, in my view, nowhere near his best work.

The sci-fi backdrop is just not convincingly plausible and lacks an imaginative sense of wonder, the plot is confused, narrative momentum is choppy, and I just didn't find the characters engaging.

To cap it all, the narrator Stepehen Lee, who is normally very good, has an off day on this book. His narration lacks variation in pace and tone, and his characterisation and handling of dialogue is very stiff and wooden. Maybe the book defeated him.

So disappointing.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful