The Terraformers – Annalee Newitz

“Destry could smell the smoke long before she saw its improbable source.

In some distant time and place out in the universe, the commercial terraforming of planets is a centuries-long process overseen by Environmental Rescue Teams. The ERT are concerned with stability and gentle nurturing of the environment in a holistic approach that is almost always at odds with the commercial entities who own not just the planet, but – as far as they’re concerned – every lifeform upon it.

This would include Destry, a vat-grown humanoid ultra-designed for the job she has, from ability to ‘read’ environmental data from the planet’s networks to a vastly extended lifespan. And her ‘mount’, a semi-robotic moose who communicates via sophisticated text messaging – and who can fly. Urm?

From an intriguing concept and strong enough start, that early reveal of Whistle – the moose – and all of his abilities was like whiplash. This is a sci-fi novel, isn’t it? With… talking, flying, moose? What on – or off – Earth?! There is some ‘sciencing’ behind it all, but frankly the whole thing threw me out of the story almost immediately, making everything else a huge uphill struggle. Why a moose? I mean, why not, but also if there is tech that lets him fly, why not just apply that directly to the humanoid character? Or, stick with non-sentient transport? It was just such an odd choice, and not one I ever liked.

Trying not to let that overshadow the rest of the story, it was unfortunately one of good and not so good bits. I’ve seen it described as ‘hopepunk’ – sci fi with a more positive feel (and the opposite of ‘grimdark’). I’m down for some hope, I really am, but it didn’t really work for me here. The characters are all so nice (or, the few totally pantomime-level nasty) and so pro-environment and inclusive and all that (all great things, don’t get me wrong), that to be honest they just came out as very flat, and somewhat naΓ―ve. It took me a long time not to find them all sounding a little bit, well, stupid, frankly. It didn’t quite reach the level of “Hello friend, you appear to have misplaced your knife in my abdominal area. Here it is” but it felt close.

It also doesn’t help that the book is really three linked novellas, each jumping ahead significant chunks of time. So, the characters you try to relate to in the first part are suddenly long dead as we move on centuries. It’s a little unavoidable given the millennia-spanning task of terraforming a planet, but it was a little jarring.

Plot-wise there’s plenty to like, with our main characters discovering an underground city that shouldn’t exist. There’s a lot of conflict between these representatives of nature, and the corporate overlords, explored on several levels. By the end, this was a really enjoyable thread, watching politics start to shift against those valuing profit over life. But, perhaps a little too late, or at the very least not quite strong enough to overcome the weirdness of talking, flying animals and sentient trains, or the many little elements that sort of touched on big themes, but didn’t quite do much with them. Mostly, the mix of the fantastical just didn’t gel for me with the sci-fi stuff.

Really, I wanted to enjoy this book a *lot* more than I did. The writing is great, the overall ideas are intriguing and well conceived, but somehow it didn’t fit together for me and rather failed to capture my imagination – which perhaps just isn’t quite evolved enough for it all πŸ˜‰

Terraformers book coverNetGalley eARC: 352 pages / 47 chapters
First published: 2nd February 2023
Series: none
Read from 2nd-12th January 2023

My rating: 6/10


5 thoughts on “The Terraformers – Annalee Newitz

  1. I saw your comment and wanted to discover your views regarding this book – which I LOVED. That said, I entirely understand where you’re coming from! It took me a few pages to get used to the moose. I haven’t heard the term ‘hopepunk’ – but like you I’m in desperate need of it. Thank you for a fair-minded, excellent review – I thoroughly enjoyed reading it:)).

    Liked by 1 person

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