Annalee Newitz’s The Terraformers, a book with famous author fans such as Kim Stanley Robinson and John Scalzi, takes us to the far future. The novel is set 59,000 years from now, on a planet called Sask-E which is being terraformed to support human life by a huge corporation, as a business venture for rich clients. Destry is a ranger on the Environmental Rescue Team, caring for the planet and assessing its ecosystems as it develops according to a grand plan.
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But Destry discovers a whole subterranean city under a volcano, populated by people who shouldn’t exist, and what she unearths about them throws all her preconceptions about her own life out the window. Newitz uses this set-up to look at different kinds of society – some more cooperative, some authoritative – and examine how they compare. Destry has previously been tied to the strict company who created her and her colleagues, but she discovers new possibilities are within reach. The author also tackles issues of different consciousnesses, as many of Destry’s colleagues are sentient animals with varying intelligences, as well as AIs, drones and more. The universe she paints in The Terraformers is far from a dystopia, and she uses her far-future thriller narrative to suggest ways in which we might live better lives and create a more inclusive society today.
The Terraformers is a remarkable piece of world building with almost boundless imagination, and it’s written so vividly that it feels real on the page. Entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.
Doug Johnstone is an author and journalist