Review: The Fortress At the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott

Saturday, January 14, 2017
Title: The Fortress At the End of Time
Author: Joe M. McDermott
Genre: science fiction
Series: N/A
Pages: 305
Published: expected January 17 2017
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 2.5/5

Captain Ronaldo Aldo has committed an unforgivable crime. He will ask for forgiveness all the same: from you, from God, even from himself.

Connected by ansible, humanity has spread across galaxies and fought a war against an enemy that remains a mystery. At the edge of human space sits the Citadel—a relic of the war and a listening station for the enemy's return. For a young Ensign Aldo, fresh from the academy and newly cloned across the ansible line, it's a prison from which he may never escape.

Deplorable work conditions and deafening silence from the blackness of space have left morale on the station low and tensions high. Aldo's only hope of transcending his station, and cloning a piece of his soul somewhere new is both his triumph and his terrible crime.

There's a pretty even split on reaction to finishing this rather short science fiction story; I really liked the technology/inventive side to this novel, but I disliked or didn't care about the people/clones/[alien thought experiments, according to one solder] concerned. So it's a sturdy 2.5 out of 5 with a note that what didn't work for me may be a better fit for less character-driven readers.

The ideas used here, for travel, for terraforming, etc. are cool, creative, and above all, smart. In veteran author Joe M. McDermott's universe humanity has fought a war against an alien enemy, won, and now uses ansible and clone tech to guard and wait the possible return of enemy forces. For all that it's established on the effects of a former intergalactic and interspecies spacewar, The Fortress at the End of Time is more introspective than action-packed. The author has a clear ideas on how that high stress and high boredom scenario would affect the people and explores it though his characters.

 The story is told from the view of a newly-transmitted clone sent to an isolated and troubled station at the edge of a universe. Everything about The Fortress at the End of Time's narration through Ronald II is rendered in his remote, removed POV. It makes the story dry and emotionless in tone no matter the events being described. It's hard to really care about either Ronalds I and II or the majority of his acquaintances on the station. The choices Ronald makes, the guilt he constantly mentions... well, those don't exactly help, either. It's often a dour book, for all its imagination.

The rather slow plot hinges on the narrator revealing, piece by piece, story by story, some past major indiscretion that has lead to his subsequent imprisonment and the telling of events that lead here to The Fortress At the End of Time. It's an oft-used concept and McDermott reveals the rules of Citadel life to fully illustrate and show how Ronaldo has come to his current situation, both through his own actions and the machinations of others. The plot is interesting but takes a long time to develop and a lot of patience to watch build. The high concept nature of the plot can only carry the book so far and the ending lacks impact.

Short version: cool concepts, lots of detail and creatives idea, but unfortunately falls entirely short on personality and characterization.



  1. This does sound like a dry (yet interesting) read. Too bad it didn't work out. At least it was short? :)

    1. Yep! Just not my kinda scifi story. I'll just go reread Long Way XD


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