Sub-par and seemingly hurried Alastair Reynolds effort. Avoid this one, and go for one of his earlier books instead.
Over the years I have picked up five or six books by Alastair Reynolds. While I can't say that they inspired in me an irresistible urge to reread them, I still recall them as tight and reasonably well crafted. I basically found it easy enough to give the Visa card a whirl in his direction when I had a hankering for science fiction. This easygoing relationship has been given a nasty knock by the book currently under review. It has many hallmarks of a stopgap novel, and Reynold's heart does not seem to be in it.
I am always suspicious of the picaresque format where the protagonist is constantly on the road, with no clear aim in sight. The plot is reduced to a string of events where idea shards sitting in a scrapbook somewhere can be tied together with minimal ado. I am not really in the market for scrapbook clearances, and I want plots that engage. Reynolds additionally commits a grave sin by trying to link these events by means of forward-looking signals. Chapter X: "Well I sure hope we don't run into them Skullboys" [and as frightening names go, "skullboys" doesn't really cut it, does it?]. Chapter Y: run into Skullboys, "but at least we haven't seen them Vorgs, phew!" Chapter Z: are attacked by vorgs. You get the idea. Intriguing to me is also that the main protagonist (an educated man apparently) is utterly clueless about the world he inhabits. This impregnable ignorance is what prompts other characters to woodenly tell him, and me, how the world works. Believable? I think not.
There is a lot of plain sloppy writing in Terminal World. An example. On page 204 someone named Curtana falls asleep, utterly exhausted by her extreme effort over the last few days. We then get an exchange between two other characters that cannot last more than 5 minutes, if that. Then (p. 205): "Curtana, who had woken from her drowse, said, `Here we go.' This is not the work of a meticulous author who feels for his story. This is someone who works with mercenary haste.
The Reynolds books I have read before verged on space opera. I am not sure if this huge canvas somehow made me overlook or forgive character diction. At least I have no memory of it being other than reasonable. Here it is often almost farcically awkward. The stilted sentences that keep popping out of most characters' mouths almost becomes a generic diversion. I found myself wondering whether it was authorial inability or part of a master plan telling us something about the barrenness of this future world. But on occasion Reynolds does endow a character with an idiosyncratic way of speaking. "Meroka", for instance, speaks like a stereotypical cowboy eyeing the spittoon in the corner. A doctor speaks like a surgeon pulled out of a Sherlock Holmes novel. Regardless, dialogue is consistently robotic and a chore to get through.
Should you buy it?
I doubt that it will come as a surprise that I cannot recommend this book to anyone. It is poorly written, and the story is astoundingly weak. I will browse Amazon reviews carefully before buying his next one. On the bright side, you have found your way to Alastair Reynolds, and some of his earlier works are indeed worth purchasing. How he has managed to produce this dud, I don't understand.