Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

Gollancz, 2010, 491 p.

 Terminal World cover

Spearpoint is a tiered city whose tip reaches beyond the atmosphere. Post-human angels (though they call themselves human and the other inhabitants pre-human) occupy the Celestial Levels and ride thermals with their wings. These are where the most advanced technology still works. Angels are feared, even hated, by those in the levels below. Down the tiers – through Neon Heights, Steamtown and Horsetown – the transition between different zones is debilitating or worse (requiring anti-zonal drugs to ameliorate the symptoms) and technology becomes progressively unusable. From time to time the zone boundaries quiver or shift due to disturbances in The Mire, aka the Eye of God, the chaotic origin point for the zones. A religious text called the Testament seems to allude to this.

The viewpoint character is Quillon, a former angel altered so as to be able to survive in the lower levels as a kind of spy, but whose wing buds keep growing and must periodically be surgically removed by his friend Fray. Quillon habitually wears tinted glasses to avoid his eyes betraying his angel nature, but has long since abandoned any allegiance to his origins when he found he was being used. The action kicks off when the body of a fallen angel is delivered to him in the mortuary where he works as a pathologist. Just as he is about to cut into it the body speaks to warn him. The angels know where he is and are coming for him. With the help of a man called Fray and his courier Meroka, who hates angels, he embarks on a journey away from Spearpoint. On that trip a sudden catastrophic shift in the zone boundaries affects most of the lower levels of Spearpoint.

Quillon and Meroka have to hide from a caravan of scavenger-rapists called Skullboys (whose clothing and symbology seems to be inspired by heavy metal) but notice a cage containing a mother and her child. Also inhabiting the plain below Spearpoint are metal and flesh creatures named carnivorgs, whose feeding habits are particularly noisome. (The clue is in the name, carnivore organisms, but their gruesome preference is for drilling into and eating brains – often leaving a victim alive but severely incapacitated.)

Later Quillon and Meroka are able to free the mother, Kalis, and child, Nimcha, but both bear the distinctive mark of a tectomancer. Kalis’s is fake to try to protect her child from the widespread fear of tectomancers, held responsible for zonal shifts, a minor one of which had given them Quillon and Meroka the opportunity to free them. Nimcha claims to have caused the shift. Her mother believes Nimcha can close the Eye and Nimcha says, “‘The tower wants me to make it better.’” So it seems they must go back.

This is prevented by them being taken up by the Swarm, a sort of flying circus (in the Richthofen sense) of dirigibles presided over by a man called Ricasso. He has had a project to use captured carnivorgs to produce an anti-zonal drug much more effective than the current one. He is learned and in his conversations with Quillon says, “The Testament tells us that we were once allowed through the gates of paradise.” Beyond the gates lay numberless gardens, each with its own sun and moon. Spearpoint may be a ladder to the stars.

Internal politics within the Swarm and an attempted coup delay things for a while but eventually they embark for Spearpoint with a cargo of the drug, taking a shortcut through a region called the Bane forever known as an area from which no-one returned but now, since the huge zonal shift, likely to be passable. While traversing it they pass over a series of downed aircraft of decreasing technological complexity and a truncated tower which appears to be an exact counterpart of Spearpoint, but obviously defunct before running the gauntlet of Skullboy military positions below the intact tower.

The characters refer to the planet as Earth but there are internal indications (the air is thinning, the forests dying, the planet getting colder, and there are three extinct volcanoes in almost a straight line plus another enormous natural mountain) that it is in fact Mars, backed up by one of the Mad Machines at Spearpoint’s centre mentioning Earth as a separate place.

While it is a powerful plot motor the zone shift is a neat idea which allow Reynolds to write SF without having to think up future technologies.

This is a complex yet highly readable piece of SF with all of the betrayal, loyalty, treachery and power plays that you might expect from its quasi-military/political elements but Reynolds does not neglect character. Meroka is a mouthy delight, Quillon troubled but decent at heart, Ricasso a refreshing input of philosophising. However, Kalis and Nimcha are never any more than plot enablers. It is all very enjoyable stuff though.

Pedant’s corner:- “He scratched a finger under his right eye” (he has a finger under his right eye?) sprung (sprang,) wintery (wintry, which was used later,) amoebas (fine in English but amoebae, or, even better, amœbæ, is more classical,) “the other lying on their side” (‘its side’,) “he was taken not back to the others” (odd syntax. What’s wrong with ‘he was not taken back to the others’?) crenulations (crenellations, I assume,) close-minded (closed-minded?) “from some of other captains” (some of the other captains,) “where the blade had missed it mark” (its mark,) “none of the other skeleton staffers were in any way annoyed by it” (none of the other …was … annoyed,) hiccough (hiccup; hiccough is a misattribution.) “‘He hopes do,’” (‘He hopes so’,) “that was now hoving into clear view” (hove is past tense, ‘that was now heaving into clear view’.) “The best that Curtana could hope for were a few lucky strikes” (the best is singular, hence, ‘was a few lucky strikes’,) “none of the machine guns were operable” (none was operable.) “There were a handful of enclaves” (There was a handful,) staunched (stanched.)

Something Changed 50: Weather With You

Just because it’s such a good song.

Crowded House: Weather With You

River North Tyne at Chesters Fort

The main body of Chesters Fort lies on a hill just above the river River North Tyne.

River from Chesters Fort:-

River North Tyne from Chesters Fort

This shows the spot where a Roman bridge crossed the river:-

River North Tyne at Chesters Fort

Eastern part of Hadrian’s Wall and bridge abutment:-

Bridge Abutment , North Tyne River, Cumbria

Closer view:-

Bridge Abutment, River North Tyne, Chesters Fort

Bridge information board showing how it looked:-

Chester's fort Bridge Info board stitch

Between the bridge and the fort proper you can still see a part of Hadrian’s wall:-

Part of  Hadrian's wall, Chesters Roman Fort, Cumbria

Also down by the river are the baths the soldiers used:-

Roman Baths at Chesters Fort, Hadrian's Wall

Lower part of baths complex:-

Part of Baths Complex, Chesters Fort, Hadrian's Wall

Scottish Cup Fourth Round Draw

Sons reward for beating Sauchie on Saturday is another home tie, this time potentially less winnable.

We will play top division side Dundee on Saturday, January 22nd.

That’s almost two months away.

2021’s Clarke Award

I don’t know how I missed this.

The winner of this year’s Clarke Award is The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay.

I suppose I should look out for it.

Chesters Fort, Hadrian’s Wall

Chesters Fort was one of the Roman forts stationed along Hadrian’s Wall. It lies a few miles north of Hexham, on a position commanding a crossing point on the river North Tyne.

It was a posting for a troop of cavalry originally raised in what is now Spain.

Main Information Board, Chesters Fort

As a result the remains of the stables take up a fair bit of the site towards the entrance:

Part of Stables, Chesters Fort

Stables , Chester's Roman Fort, Cumbria

Chesters Fort Stables

Remains of Stables, Chesters Fort

This one was taken from further up the hill, stables to left, Commandant’s House to right.

Stables and Commandant's House ,Chesters Fort

An interval tower:-

Interval Tower , Chester's Roman Fort, Cumbria

Tower at South-East Angle of fort:-

Remains of Tower at South-East Angle of Chesters Forte

Dumbarton 3-1 Sauchie Juniors

Scottish Cup, Third Round, The Rock, 27/11/21.

It took us a while but we won it in the end.

We were pretty comfortable first half. Sauchie had a few corners but never really troubled Sam Ramsbottom in our goal. Their one clear opportuniyty was blazed over the bar. Not that we had many on target ourselves but we did score a very good goal, Carlo Pignatiello slotting it under the keeper after an exchange of passes between Conner Duthie and himself.

Second half Sauchie came into it a bit more. But their goal was a joke. Their forwards had been falling over easily all game and one finally did it in the box. It was never a penalty. But of course they put it in and that gave them impetus.

Neverthless we continued to create openings, frustrated by a few poor crosses from Edin Lynch and other balls just out of reach plus an away keeper in inspired form.

About five minutes to go and sub Ryan Schiavone poked a cross over the line but neither the ref nor lino gave it. A replay after that would have been sore to take but we worked another opnening and the ball broke to Joe McKee who buried it. In the final minute of added time we got another, a Conner Duthie shot apparently spilled by the keeepr with Schiavone on hand to net the rebound. I say apparently because the live stream had stayed focused on Duthie not the ball. I only had the commentary and subsequent kick-off to indicate we’d sealed it.

A potential banana skin avoided then.

On Monday we’ll find out who we’ve got in the next round.

Friday on my Mind 210: For What It’s Worth

Buffalo Springfield were a particularly North American phenomenon even if they did spark the careers of Stephen Stills and Neil Young. I don’t recall them ever having a hit in the UK. This song though is redolent of that mid 1960s anti-establishment the-times-are-changing vibe. (Not that the times ever did change.)

As to this video I have to say I find it difficult to take anybody wearing a cowboy hat seriously. (That was as true in the mid-60s as it is today.)

Buffalo Springfield: For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)

Ronnie Curran

I was saddened to read today on the club website that Ronnie Curran, has died. He was a centre half for Sons in the mid to late 1960s just at the time I had begun to follow the club, making a formidable companion to Hugh Harra.

He is one of only 32 players to appear over 200 times for the club.

Being a defender in those days meant not getting forward much so his tally of three goals in total isn’t actually too shabby.

Ronnie Curran: 14/12/1940-5/11/2021. So it goes.

free hit counter script