Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton
I’m far from the first reviewer to point out the obvious—that Terminal Core is certainly sci fi, but it’s also filled to the brim with the flavor of the old, wild American west. On the remote, small planet of Aon (which has a solid core made from Calladium, the most valuable element in the universe), cities no longer exist and the world is very much like an open frontier. Characters wear Stetson hats and cowboy boots and ride horse-like six-legged animals carrying saddle-bags. Some characters speak in dialects that would be equally appropriate for 19th century ranch hands, cattle drivers, or prospectors. On this world of mostly men, much time is spent engaged in drunken fist fights inside old-fashioned saloons where everyone wants their whiskey.
On this back-water world, earth’s president and some duplicitous humans plan to destroy Aon to harvest its valuable core. To accomplish this, crude oil from Earth is shipped to Aon, refined and used to dissolve Calladium. In response, an animated, telepathic being that lives in Calladium incongruously calling itself J. Smith takes two of his “bug thugs” and two human hostages to earth to destroy the extraction centers for the oil. Even more frightening are the lethal creatures on Aon that burrow through earth and flesh. It’s as if the planet is defending itself against the intrusive offworlders.
As the story progressed, told with various points of view recounting a batch of alternating storylines, I was reminded of the novels of L. Sprague de Camp, especially his books of light, entertaining adventure populated by humanoids living among strange aliens using weird, exotic technology. De Camp didn’t explore speculative themes but rather took readers to faraway worlds where nothing was intended to provoke deep thought. Seems to me, Lynn Steigleder is in that tradition.
While not publicized as a YA novel, I think that readership would be an ideal target audience for Terminal Core, especially when all the frightening “monsters” start popping up from the ground. Likewise, I’d think Baby Boomers who might be a bit nostalgic for the breed of sci fi adventure stories we got to read before “hard science fiction” came to dominate sci fi might enjoy a book that is simple entertainment. I’ve read reviews that suggest that fans of Western stories might like Terminal Core, but I’m rather doubtful about that. As it goes along, Terminal Core becomes less and less earth-like with the settings, characters, devices and animals more and more fantastic and unusual.
Yes, Terminal Core is often grisly but few modern readers are going to be put off by weird creatures eating or squashing people and other biped species. The violence kicks into serious high gear in the final chapters when a band of hearty humans battle a relentless tide of killer beasts trying to exterminate all the humans on Aon. I must admit, the final sentences of the book are the most out-of-left-field twists I’ve ever read. Seems to me, the conclusion is a bit gratuitous—to say more would be a major spoiler. And as Terminal Core is apparently planned to be a stand-alone saga, you might find yourself fantasizing your own sequel to Lynn Steigleder’s very imaginative grand finale.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on July 31, 2017: