For whatever reason, the Axler-verse has been spending time in the snow lately. Back in November we had Deathlands make a trip to Antarctica with Polestar Omega, and now we have this month’s Outlanders taking a trip to the Great White North to visit the hidden ville of Terminal White. Where Polestar Omega was a gonzo tale of generational science run amok, Terminal White follows a much more clinical foray into behavioral science and rigid population control. There is certainly plenty of action to be had, but (as is frequently the case with Outlanders) the real battle is one of ideas and the value of self-determination.
The book opens with a rollicking action sequence in which the Cerberus team deals with some of the continuing aftermath of the Ullikummis storyline. During the op, they hear about a mysterious and perpetual snowstorm that has been raging in the wilds of Western Canada seemingly for years. When satellite surveillance both confirms the existence of the storm and denies any insight as to the root cause, CAT Alpha is sent on an away mission to investigate the situation.
The book is effectively actually two books - the first half following the ill-fated mission that results in the capturing of Kane, Grant, and Brigid, and the second half taking place several weeks later. After the compactness of the previous book, which took place in a very compressed time frame, it was interesting to have it followed up with a story that slowly builds a more creeping dread.
The story is interspersed with journal entries from Terminal White citizen 619F, detailing the nearly robotic life of the occupants of the hidden ville. These entries serve to gradually paint the background of the city and its true purpose, while also providing slow insight into the true identity of the citizen in question. It was an interesting and welcome narrative technique that paid dividends as the story progressed. I can’t say that I was particularly surprised by the revelations there, but then again I don’t think that it was intended to be shocking.
As the back cover copy reveals, the entire function of Terminal White is to “…turn citizens into docile, obedient sheep.” Interestingly, the primary villain in some ways reminded me of Japanese soldiers from the Second World War — cut off from command, and completely oblivious that the war they are fighting actually ended years earlier. Here we have a Magistrate who has been working under orders from the Barons, with no idea that they had disappeared several years ago following their transformation into the Annunaki Overlords.
The technical macguffin of the story has to do with the use of “curved air”, which as near as I can tell is not actually a thing. (Well, I mean, it is a thing, but that thing is an obscure British prog rock group…) As the human-controlling technique of Terminal White was revealed I did have a little trouble really believing in it’s efficacy. I wanted there to be more to it than what was explained, but on the other hand I don’t know that the addition of some Star Trek-style techno-babble would have materially improved the plot in any way. It’s just a minor quibble, and didn’t reduce my enjoyment of the book.
Overall I quite enjoyed the story, particularly in that it was very Brigid-centric. I enjoy, as Craig Ferguson once famously put it, “…the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism.” Terminal White has all of the action you could hope for, but it ultimately all comes down to the power intelligence and the value of individuality. It is certainly a worthy entry into the series and well worth the read.