in which i become less of a hypocrite

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 |

When people ask me what my favorite genre is, I usually say ‘SCI-FI and fantasy.’ Just like that, I prioritize sci-fi, even though the majority of my reading is on the fantasy side of things. But there’s a little bit of me that still thinks it’s more acceptable to be caught reading sci-fi than fairy tales or anything with magic. Why? Probably leftover guilt from hiding most books with magic from my mom as a kid. I could read whatever I wanted, but I didn’t show her anything I thought might be ‘questionable.’

Or maybe it’s that while reading sci-fi is undeniably nerdy, it is also proof positive that you are intelligent. Or maybe it’s just the look on people’s faces when you confidently say ‘fantasy!’ It used to be that you’d get vague answers of ‘Oh, you like the Tolkien books?’ but now the stakes have changed. New number one response? ‘Have you read the Twilight series?’ Sigh. Just so you know, I read the first one. Quit after that. Have nothing against vampires except that they’re overdone. Or sparkly. But you know.

Enter Elitist Book Reviews. These people know literary condescension inside and out. Well, and they’re hilarious. You’ll actually like it and start to crave it when they talk down to you. Wait…that’s just me? *ahem* I saw a book over at the site that clearly fitted as sci-fi, and also had airships on the cover (hello, my steampunk obsession?), and the review mentioned ANGELS. I tried to imagine how that combo could be bad. Didn’t succeed. Ordered Terminal World straight away.

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. Horsetown is pre-industrial; in Neon Heights they have television and electric trains.

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, for the angel is a winged posthuman from Spearpoint's Celestial Levels - and with the dying body comes bad news.

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...

There are reasons I love sci-fi. Some of them are obvious: I expand my vocabulary, or it’s a good conversation topic for when I meet a cute, geeky boy. Not that those are real reasons (except for maybe in my subconscious). But the other ones: where I learn about science, and where the plot is often the driving force, where the intricacies of world building really start to matter and add up. Also? A lot of sci-fi novels are big, fat books. You can’t finish them in one sitting. Although I like to gobble up a book as much as the next person, there’s something to be said for a story that you have to consume over a couple days and nights, and makes you dream of the stars.

I enjoyed this book. I read it in as close to one sitting as I could manage. In fact, I stayed up all night before work on Monday to finish it. I enjoyed it, but it was not life changing. I was happy to be caught up in investigating a new/distant future and to see which twists and turns the story would take. But I didn’t love or connect to any one character so much that it flipped the story from ‘like’ to ‘love’ territory. Of course, that doesn't mean I'm lukewarm. It's solidly in 'like,' and nowhere near 'dislike' or 'meh.'

I think part of it had to do with the ways in which the characters and their histories were revealed. We come into a story where everyone has a background, or a dark, secret past. And while some of that was unraveled, a lot of it was left in the background, and it seemed like we were supposed to take it on faith that those things put the characters in ‘gray’ territory. But really? This story could not have been more black and white. I was never in any doubt of anyone’s motives, nor did I ever feel any sympathy for the devil, as it were.

Terminal World did have strengths, of course. The description was really first rate. The inventiveness of the world building and the route of the adventure and the overall mystery were also top-notch. There were action scenes to make anyone's heart pound. There’s also enough left out of the story to guarantee that sequels can follow. It’s just too bad that it didn’t hit the sparkling highs I expected. I guess that means I’ll just have to try another sci-fi novel!

Recommended for: sci-fi fans, anyone with a thing for angels or dirigibles (especially together!), aerial battles and sky pirates, and those who are in the mood for a big, fat book with an interesting plot.

This book counts for the Horns and Halos Reading Challenge.


Alyce said...

I am the same way about sci-fi and fantasy (giving sci-fi priority). I used to get pitched a lot of paranormal books - I'm sure because I list fantasy as a genre I like in my review policy. I finally had to specify that I don't read anything with vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. so that they would understand that I don't read "that kind" of fantasy. :)

Have you read any books by Sheri Tepper? Her books range across the spectrum of fantasy and sci-fi, and are intelligently written (I always learn new words when I read her books).

Cecelia said...

Alyce: I haven't read any Sheri Tepper, but I am going to check her out now. I'll probably buy a book or two. You know how it is. *grin*

Alyce said...

My favorite is The Gate to Women's Country. Beauty is a retelling of a fairy tale. I like all of her other books, but with varying degrees. They are all so different from each other.

Steve the Bookstore Guy said...

Thanks for the shout-out to our not-at-all-humble blog Elitist Book Reviews.

Liked your review, too! Personally, I'm the opposite of you, as in I put emphasis on reading Fantasy vs. SF. Alastair Reynolds though...I'll read anything he writes.

bermudaonion said...

I don't read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy but I see no problems with people reading either one of them.

bermudaonion said...

I don't read a lot of sci-fi or fantasy but I see no problems with people reading either one of them.

Vanessa said...

Awesome. I used to feel the same you did, that sci-fi has more legitimacy, yet I prefer to read fantasy. There's something about getting older/being wider read that fixes that perception. Because fantasy writers are just as good at crafting a good yarn as sci-fi writers. I can only speak for my own experience, but one day you too will no longer feel self-conscious about reading a fantasy tome in public. It's liberating.

Side note: Sheri Tepper's stuff is flawed in lots of annoying ways. While the prose is great, the stories are contrived and full of holes. Just saying. (Hides behind the EBR Overlords.)

Alyce said...

Vanessa - Which books of Sheri Tepper do you not like? I'm just curious because I think her earlier books are definitely better than some of her later ones. My least favorites were The Companions and The Margarets (The Family Tree was also a weaker book). That being said, I still like all of them.

I think sometimes an author just strikes a chord with me though, and I tend to love some authors even if they drive others crazy. :) I like that most of her writing provokes me to think about different societal structures. I think that's why I enjoyed The Gate to Women's Country so much, and also Gibbon's Decline and Fall.

I see that she has a new book out this summer that I'll have to take a look at too (The Waters Rising). Knowing that I like her writing so much, is there someone you could recommend that you think I'd like even more? I'm getting back into fantasy after a break of many years.

Vanessa said...

@ Alyce I didn't like any of her books I've read: Gates to Women's Country (stereotypes and a really horrible surprise ending that made me grind my teeth to nubs), The Fresco (how a utopia would work), and a couple others I can't remember off the top of my head. They just felt agenda-ridden and that ruined for me anything she was trying to say--and it didn't help that she pushed what she was trying to say so hard that she leaves holes along the way. Of course, plenty of other people like her stuff, so this is really personal preference.

But if you like hers you'd also like Robin McKinley or Patricia McKillip. They both write with beautiful prose and have clever settings/characterization, and like Tepper write more standalones than series.

Peaceful Reader said...

It's just funny how we categorize even our reading choices...
even in our own minds.

Alyce said...

Vanessa - That is too funny, those two are both on my favorites list. :)

Thanks for the recommendations of other authors. I do like Robin McKinley's writing and have heard good things about Patricia McKillip.

Mystica said...

I see no problems at all in saying I do not read sci fi or fantasy and that my favourite genres lie in another direction!

Anonymous said...

Girl you are totally hitting the H & H challenge...I feel the pressure! great work x

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