Book Review: The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz

Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Books (January 31, 2023)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

I wanted to like The Terraformers a lot more than I did. Needless to say, the premise, having been compared to the works of Becky Chambers and Martha Wells, immediately caught my attention. However, when taken as a whole, the execution of the novel made it a challenging one to embrace.

The story first starts by following Destry, a top network analyst working for the Environmental Rescue Team on the Earth-like planet Sask-E. Vat-grown specifically to perform her job, Destry’s duties include patrolling the surface of the planet overseeing terraforming efforts while riding on a bio-robotic moose mount named Whistle. So far, so awesome. But then Destry and her colleagues stumble upon a city hidden deep inside a volcano—a city that, if discovered by her superiors, would have deadly repercussions for everyone o Sask-E. Caught at a crossroads, Destry ultimately makes a choice that will ripple across generations and change everything for better or worse.

Skip forward then to hundreds of years later, the focus suddenly switches to a whole new direction. This first time jump was what started me down the path of disillusionment, realizing that not everything is as good as I believed it to be. It didn’t help that the author made me care about the characters and the scenario in the introduction, creating entire lives and histories, only to then turn around and pull the rug from under me, snatching me away from all the things I’d inevitably grown attached to. How rude!

Up to this point, the story had sensation of being heavily stage-managed, nothing really occurring organically, instead relying on character tropes and feel-good cliches—which wasn’t exactly a negative point against it. In fact, the vibes worked quite well for the lighthearted Wayfarers-type atmosphere and tone the novel was trying to establish. But the problem again arose with the abrupt and unceremonious way we were ripped from the first timeline, essentially hitting a reset button, and I was decidedly NOT as patient and forgiving the second time around. Almost immediately, characterization took a nosedive; for the rest of the book, I struggled to connect with anyone else for they all came across as either an embodiment of idealized goodness or pure depravity with no middle ground.

The tragedy of course is that The Terraformers contains much deeper ideas about environmental conservation, the concept of intelligence and what defines it, along with other such thought-provoking themes—even if the narrative sometimes goes about it in some goofy ass ways. Also, when they weren’t completely nonsensical, some of the messages in the book were laid on a bit too thick for my tastes. Still, in the end, none of it mattered anyway, because all of it was lost in the noise.

I honestly believe I would have enjoyed this novel more had it not been so frustrating. There were moments that truly shone, such as the first third of the book. Then there were the world-building elements involved, like the terraforming processes and engineered creatures, which were all very fascinating. The first section featuring Destry would have made an excellent standalone novella, for instance, or it could have been expanded into a more impactful novel. Instead, what The Terraformers ended up being was more like a collection of ideas cobbled together without a plot or focus to drive it. What ultimately made this book a middle-of-the-road read for me was its failure to pull it all together coherently, or for a overarching story to fully materialize. Rated 2.5 stars for potential unrealized.

15 Comments on “Book Review: The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz”

  1. Missed opportunities end up leaving us more sad than angry: I was very intrigued by the mere mention of the title (planetary colonization is one of my pet themes), but the way you describe the development of the story cooled my enthusiasm considerably…. (((SIGH)))
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂


  2. Uh oh… I have a copy of this one incoming from a giveaway. Keeping my fingers crossed I’ll get a little more enjoyment out of it than you did. 🙂


  3. Pingback: Bookshelf Roundup 02/05/23: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads | The BiblioSanctum

  4. And this is why I love this community sooo much! We both read the same book and got very different things from it. I thoroughly enjoyed your thoughtful review, which gave me an alternative view on those time jumps.


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