Cover Image: The Terraformers

The Terraformers

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Member Reviews

The comparisons to Martha Wells and Becky Chambers are spot on as this is a book about characters (in space).

The book reads like a couple of not-quite-fully-developed novellas joined together to form one book. I found the jumps in time to be jarring especially after we just spent so much time world building and getting to know a cast of characters who are all but forgotten in the next section. Would have been better if there was a stronger connection of place and a tighter connection between the two casts.

One of the things I love about science fiction is that it presents us with situations that push our thinking on societal norms. I didn't feel like this book presented anything new on the topics that it raises- the environment, politics, sexuality, and gender.

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I loved this book, and I loved it because it was like 95% urban planning and 4.5% relationships and 0.5% sex scenes. And it was amazing. The ways in which our relationships and our communities are built are also amazing. Please read other reviews for more coherent summaries. And possibly more mathematical accuracy. Those percentages were the strengths of the book for me personally as a reader -- Highly recommended!!!

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THE TERRAFORMERS is set on Sask-E, a corporate owned & terraformed planet in a far future where most "people" are some mix of genetically-engineered tech+biological components, animal, & bot. Occasionally confusing as that concept of personhood could be (a mental challenge perhaps intentional on the author's part), the drama that enfolds these characters is all too familiar: the battle against hierarchical thinking; being forced to advocate for their right to autonomy. An infatuation with throwback biologies & "Pleistocene-era earth" dominates the galactic economy & leads to a warping of the "balance in all things" ideology that supposedly underpins terraforming work. Resource depletion on Sask-E intensifies social stratification, leading to dislocation --> resistance, violence, & revolution. Tale as old as time, but you've never seen it look quite like this thanks to inventive world-building.

Terraformers mostly worked for me as an intellectual exercise, because the questions & ethics it transacts in interest me. It was also entertaining to see the preoccupations of FOUR LOST CITIES threaded into Newitz's fictional constructs. But I was never terribly invested in the story or characters, who at times felt like voice boxes for ideas the author wanted to explore.

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The Terraformers is divided into three parts, each a significant event in the planet Sask-E's development. The first part was my favorite where we learned all about the planet and how it developed and how people are classified not as humans but as whether or not they have an intelligence rating. also known as the InAss rating. Different ratings classify you into different areas. My favorite part was following Destry and her mount/friend a moose named Whistle. Destry and her fellow ERT Ranger Nil along with some others locate a hidden community in a volcano called Spider. They all work together to make Spider and its inhabitants safe from Verdance, the company that's terraforming the planet.
I would have loved an entire book focused on Destry, it was easy to get sucked into her mission, and really get behind what she was trying to do.

The other parts were interesting but not as compelling a read for me. The time jumps felt a bit abrupt and it was hard to get sucked into what was going on. I thought part two was a bit slower, but by the third part, things had picked up again. I liked the new characters but I didn't feel connected to them like I did Destry.

This book has a lot going for it, with very interesting ideas, and a compelling storyline. If you like Sci-fi I would definitely give this book a try.

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This is such a beautiful story about finding peace in the future. I loved exploring the different parts of the story, and it was interesting to follow the changes in the world. The writing was lovely.

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For me, The Terraformers was a refreshing reminder of why science-fiction is so important. In order to progress as a society, it’s imperative that we are able to imagine hopeful futures. And throughout the course of this novel I always found myself thinking, “Wow, wouldn’t that be nice?” Is there a future that awaits us where communities can work in harmony, democracy functions as it’s meant to, gender is something you can opt into, and there are talking cats just hanging out? This isn’t to say that the world of The Terraformers is a paradise — that would make it a pretty boring book. Instead, Newitz does a fantastic job of crafting a world where some human ills (homophobia, short life spans, disease) are a thing of the past, whereas others (namely, capitalism) still continue to perpetuate harm. It’s a hopeful vision of the future tempered with what feels to me to be a realistic forecast.

Full review on Ancillary Review of Book. Link attached.

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In three loosely connected novella-length sections hundreds of years apart, we see a planet at different stages of its terraforming and how its citizens rebel against capitalism. Ultimately, this is a Big Idea book. And there are some neat ideas including:
- Our current definitions of gender and sexuality are too constrained
- Our current definitions of humanity are too limited
- Capitalism is going to be a problem, maybe The Problem, into the distant future
- Big changes can happen incrementally, and daily work is important

The big ideas are neat , but it's an awkward juxtaposition with the character's minute focus on things like a survey for public transportation. Further, like some other books from the same author, The Terraformers often has little nuance. Good characters are good. Bad characters are bad and not that interesting (but really, what's up with these immortal technocrats running the show? I wanted more about them).

Long story short? And I kind of feel like I read a really long, convoluted joke about how a catbus comes to be (yes, part of that third novella is about the budding relationship between a train and a cat).

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It’s a measure of the optimism and ambition of The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz that a cat and a train enjoy quite a lovely intimate romance towards the end of the final section.

Set more than 50,000 years into the future, on a world that would make the pronoun-averse shudder, a couple of megacorporations are transforming a world on the galactic rim into one habitable by OG Homo Sapiens. Using a variety of genetically engineered humans, plants, and animals, the Verdance corporation has cracked, shaped, and seeded Sask-E (known to most as Sasky) to shape it as fast as possible into a pristine, sellable, Pliocene-era planet.

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What a strange, interesting book this was!

I was able to follow the world building easily, which says a lot about Newitz’s writing ability, because I typically struggle with fantasy stories and world building. This book, I simply rolled with the bizarre premise and it grew on me.

Without giving away any spoilers, I’ll say there were two abrupt transitions in the story. The first one was completely disconcerting for me and I was shook. By the time the second one happened, I was more ready for it but still found it a bit jarring. I can’t say much more without potential spoilers. I will say I longed for a more thorough explanation of the events which the reader misses during that first transition, even at the end of the book. I need others to read this so I can talk about and process this, to be honest.

Overall, the story is creative and thought-provoking, the characters are diverse and interesting, and the plot is fast-paced and exciting. A fun read, for sure!

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I was pretty excited for this book when I requested an arc, but then I saw many negative reviews and kept wondering if I should read it or not. It didn’t help that my health isn’t cooperating with reading much these days, and if not for the audiobook that Macmillan Audio sent me, this might have been languishing on my kindle shelf forever. But some good weather out, and me listening to the audio on my walks really made for a very unexpected and interesting experience.

I don’t wanna give away too much about the book but I have to say that the concepts and themes the author tries to talk about here are very intriguing, and somewhat relatable too. The story might be taking place tens of thousands of years in the future on a terraformed planet called Sask-E, but all the discussions about biodiversity, keeping carbon footprints low, working together with all the species on the planet, the ethics of bioengineering humanoids and talking animals and robots and more but also limiting their rights and controlling their actions, the forever clash between democracy vs complete corporatization - they all are very much in line with the kinds of issues we are facing today on our planet and it felt fascinating to read them from a secondary world perspective.

And it was so amazing to meet so many interesting characters including multiple species of humans - both augmented and decanted - and many different animals with different levels of forced intelligences. But the bonds and friendships they shared with each other as well as the dedication they had to preserve their way of life on Sask-E as well as make it better for other persons was admirable. The only problem was that the book takes place in three parts, each with a time gap of thousands of years, and hardly any characters remains from one part to the other. So we always feel a bit dissatisfied because we never get a full picture of these wonderful characters’ lives and what more they did in their lives. But it was also lovely to see the impacts they had on future generations centuries later, especially someone like Destry as well as the idea of creating the flying trains.

The production of this audiobook also definitely helped in keeping my interest. There are many sounds as per the context in the story, as well as music perfectly encapsulating what the characters are feeling. It’s really a great audio, very well narrated by Emily Lawrence. Because no other cast is mentioned, I assume she did all the voices including the robots and animals and it’s a phenomenal job.

While I did mention my dissatisfaction with not getting enough of the characters, I think it works well with the ideas in the book. It’s about how individual people might contribute for a bigger movement and influence generations to come, but it’s not always their names that stay behind but what they did. It’s optimistic in its approach but also cautious, reminding us how easy it is to go with the flow and the status quo without fighting until it’s too late. This book may not be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it a lot. If you’ve enjoyed Ruthanna Emrys’s A Half-Built Garden, I’m sure you’ll like this too - they are very different books right from their setting, but the ideas and optimism in them are very similar and I’m excited to explore more sci-fi books like this in the future.

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This is a fantastic book! I love the way Newitz combines naturalism, robotics, and capitalism. It is beautifully written with a wonderful story! Highly recommend.

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Sci fi is the best genre, sorry if you don’t agree. But even if it’s a book I’m not totally in love with, I still find parts to fascinate me and make me think — that’s what happened with The Terraformers. it was both a little too much like Earth (people are terrible and will always give into capitalism!) and a little too out there (anthropomorphized train and animal sex?) for me, but I still enjoyed the reading experience. It was a little jolting shifting centuries ahead in a couple parts, but ultimately super interesting to see how the civilization on this planet shifted over time, and the long-term effects of the decisions made so many years ago. Also the cover is just awesome.

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Another amazing thoughtful work from Annalee! Their deep future tales of an amazing array of persons with conflicting agendas on a planet being shaped by assorted forces -- some commerce-driven, some more benign, some more intentional and some more incidental -- is not only a stellar projection of future sciences, but also of future communities and their values. And, like the best SFF, it has thoughtful resonance for today's world.

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Book Summary:

Destry is on planet Sask-E with a very specific mission – preventing ecosystems from collapsing. As such, she's here to terraform a world that's similar enough to Earth to pass. At least, that's the hope. There's only one problem – she's come across a clay that shouldn't exist.

Meanwhile, centuries into the future, Misha is working hard to build a transit system on Sask-E. While working, he and his engineer come across a deep dark secret of the planet. This secret could destroy everything they know about the planet.

My Review:

Okay guys, if you're looking for a science fiction novel that will suck you in and refuse to let go, you've got to check out The Terraformers. I'm not just saying that because I loved the environmentalism elements (though there is that). It's everything!

Whoever marketed The Terraformers as a book perfect for Martha Wells fans was spot on. This book is perfection. It's split into two timelines – the past and the far future. Together they help us understand the extraordinary set of circumstances that kick off a mystery of the century (or several, in this case).

Not only is this book a blast to read, but it really makes you stop and think. The heavy focus on the characters makes it feel deeply personal, even while dealing with such a massive scale. I highly recommend it to all readers.

Speculative Fiction
Science Fiction
Environmentalism Themes
Martha Wells Vibes

Trigger Warnings:
Environmental Concerns

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DNF @ 67%

I made it to 2/3 before I realized that... I wasn't invested. I don't tend to enjoy "multi-generational" sci-fi, so when our main cast got replaced by a new group after a time jump, I pretty much lost all interest.

I really liked the way gender and personhood was addressed and the inherent violence of colonialism, the dichotomy of existing for the environment but being owned by the aggressive colonizers... But the plot progression was too slow and I didn't want to start completely over at the halfway point with new characters...

Basically, it was totally a me thing.

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A truly evolutionary novel, covering thousands of years in the life of planet Sask-E. The story begins with Destry and her moose Mount, Whistle, traveling through Sask-E making sure the environment is progressing on schedule. With advanced technology that allows for sensors in the plants and animals to be treated as people, The Terraformers also wrestles with what it means to create a world for the purpose of capitalism, and what the costs are to all living things. Engaging and unique, though the perspective shifts and time jumps can be a bit disappointing - the readers get used to Destry, then the narrative jumps forward 500 years, then the next story segment becomes normal, then another jump. The concept of the Grand Bargain, where every living thing is given the chance to participate in determining the future of the planet, is really cool, as is most of the technology on display - maybe naturepunk is the right term. Highly recommend for people who love science in their scifi and people who would like a bit of hope in their reading.

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Destry is part of the Environmental Rescue Team on the planet Sask-E. Just like her parents and grandparents, she’s part of terraforming and protecting the planet.When she discovers a city full of people inside a massive volcano and begins to learn more about them, she’ll have to make a hard decision about which side she’s on.

Though it’s not my favorite Annalee Newitz (that title belongs to The Future of Another Timeline), it’s a timely and impressive epic covering thousands of years. This audiobook is an epic, 13+ hours, but it’s a good story with unique and interesting characters, and it’s apt social commentary. There is cool extra sound production that I appreciated, and if you like Newitz’s earlier works, definitely check it out.

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Dear readers, I have done myself a disservice by not reading Annalee Newitz’s work before now. I had picked up a copy of Autonomous from my library back in 2017, but I never managed to get around to it. Now, I know that I have to come back. Newitz is a phenomenal world builder, and in their latest book, The Terraformers, they do it literally.

The Terraformers tells the story of Destry, a sort of forest ranger of the future. Destry lives on the planet Sask-E (or Sasky, as most of the locals have taken to blending the name), and along with her partner, a moose named Whistle, she has spent centuries carefully guiding the ecosystems into an Earth-like state. Destry and Whistle are members of the Environmental Rescue Team, or ERT, and on Sasky, they work under the corporate authority of Verdance, a real-estate company that deals in planets.

Destry and Whistle are used to working on a slow scale, shaping a world in a way that maintains its harmony. Neither of them is expecting the sudden shift in Sasky politics when a city full of older ERT rangers is found, hidden away from Verdance’s knowledge. Soon, the two are caught up in a storm of corporate ideology, civil rights, and what it means to be a person on a planet that’s isolated from the rest of the universe. After all, terraforming is long series of violent actions, forcing a world into the condition you desire. The tools that are used can be deadly in the wrong hands.

The Terraformers is a deep dive into politics and relationships the likes of which I haven’t read since Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness. It’s the story of a planet that spans centuries and generations. It’s dense, queer, sad, and beautiful. My utmost thanks to the folks over at NetGalley and Macmillan-Tor/Forge for providing me with an eARC in exchange for a fair review. It’s out today. Go check it out.

This review originally appeared here:

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THE TERRAFORMERS by Annalee Newitz (Four Lost Cities) seemed to me as if it was two books in one. The first part featured Destry, an Environmental Rescue Team ranger with sensory powers who served as negotiator between her all powerful (and somewhat corrupt) employer and a previously hidden civilization. The world building was interesting and creative (she works with a sentient, communicating moose); plus, one felt empathy for the characters. The second part, however, shifted focus to the adventures of Misha, a protégé of Destry's, and Sulfur, an Archaean (related to Homo sapiens) civil engineer. Yes, they explored other habitats and cityscapes while raising key questions about "personhood," urban planning of public transit, and corporate goals, but there was too much gratuitous sex. While I would have given the first part 5 stars, the second was 3 stars at best and therefore, I did not read a third section which dealt with yet another generation. Please note that Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly all gave THE TERRAFORMERS a starred review.

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The Terraformers by Annalee Newitz (Tor Books, January 31, 2023)

On the one hand, The Terraformers is full of great characters, solid science, and socio-political conflict, with enough action to move things along and keep you turning pages to the end. On the other, it’s not actually about terraforming and it’s told in 3 novellas set hundreds of years apart with only a few characters able to provide links between them.

The Terraformers opens when Environmental Rescue Team Ranger Destry is out in the terraformed forest with her faithful steed, the uplifted moose named Whistle. Destry and Whistle come across a human doing all sorts of disgusting paleolithic things, burning wood, killing small game, defecating on the land, and generally upsetting the ecological balance of Sask-E. It’s taken 10,000 years for Sask-E to be made habitable, and it’s Destry’s job to make sure it stays that way.

The squatter isn’t supposed to be there, is harming the environment, and giving her lip besides, so Destry shoots him and spreads reducing goo over the body and his site to return it all to the soil and keep things in balance. Don’t feel bad about it, he was a jerk, and only a remotely operated body besides. Why was he even there? Because the planet is now ready for real estate to be sold off, the sales pitch is that it’s a pristine early Earth environment where humans can be human just like they used to be before animals got turned into people and we all had to eat tofu.

Sask-E is owned by the Verdance corporation, a galactic real estate developer that turns lifeless rocks into habitable worlds, and Ronnie, the head of the project, who is nominally Destry’s boss, has little use for maintaining “the great balance,” but just wants Destry to keep the ecosystem from collapsing long enough for Verdance to make its killing.

Things get more complicated for Verdance when Destry, Whistle, and some of their ERT friends go to investigate the sighting of an abandoned machine near a doorway set into the base of an inactive volcano… and discover not just a hidden city, but the descendants of the first generation of terraformers, humans tweaked to survive in a low oxygen atmosphere and other early conditions. They were supposed to die off of natural causes to let newer generations take over in the now Earth-normal conditions, but shredded the memo, going underground instead.

Not only are they not supposed to be there, but they’ve also decided that they’re a free city, and while their ancestors may have been owned by the corporation (oh, yes, there’s lots of corporate slavery here) they’re an independent city on the otherwise corporation owned planet.

Open conflict follows, with Destry siding with the hidden City dwellers, and Ronnie turns out to have no compunctions against mass murder. Somebody should have told her never to go up against terraformers.

But that’s only the first novella and the next two open 700 and 1000 years down the road. The characters are all very long-lived, but the second begins during the citification of Sask-E, and just after Destry has died, leaving her protégé Misha to carry on. He’s on a scouting mission to come up with an intercity transit system that nobody seems to want and which Ronnie’s preferred solution pays mere lip service to both transport and terraforming.

The final part takes up 300 years after that, and now it’s Misha that is fondly remembered by the few continuing characters. The new main character is a sentient member of the transit system they created, and the conflict is about the gentrification of the cities, which are keen to rid themselves of the non-homo-sapiens types that built the cities and decided to call them home. There’s a revolution coming down the tracks for sure.

I didn’t mind the second time jump, but there’s a lot of story between the first two parts, where Destry and Whistle have been separated and Misha is still in training that begs to be explored. If the author wants, I can send her the outline of my imagined tie-in short story, “Destry Rides Again.” which rejoins Destry and Whistle as they join forces to save Misha, lost in the woods.

Annalee Newitz is a science reporter turned novelist and there’s no question but that she scienced the hell out of the terraforming process, getting input from planetary geologists, biologists, and the grand master of fictional terraforming himself, Kim Stanley Robinson. All that work clearly informs the novel and lets her create a very believable world for her characters.

In the end, though, she decided that all the actual terraforming should happen offstage so that she could frame the story around the following human consequences. The result is insightful, entertaining, and ultimately hopeful, though the most believable parts are all about corporate greed and the limitation of human rights on workers.

The Terraformers is Newitz’s third sf novel, but in between her last (The Future of Another Timeline, 2019) and this, she wrote the equally brilliant non-fiction Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age (2021), which is just as influential in the new book as her research into terraforming. Highly recommended.

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