Short Story Review

‘The Great Wall of Mars’ by Alastair Reynolds [Short Story Review]

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My brother and I share a love of intricate and usually odd science fiction that results in us having intense conversations that probably make little sense to anyone unfortunate enough to overhear us. But it also means that we’re pretty easy to buy presents for–like when my brother bought me this collection of Reynolds‘ stories for Christmas.

I’ve been trying to figure out what the best way is to describe this short story. Is it a story about a failed attempt to terraform Mars? Or a galactic war because of differing beliefs on the use of technology? Or is it just that giant, weaponized, robot worms are cool?

Yes, dear reader, yes it is.


I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m a big fan of robots. I think they’re neat.

Now, when those robots are giant worms with mines that are used to target opposition in a war zone on Mars? I mean, come on, how awesome does that sound!?

Alright, I’m done with my little tech-nerd moment.

This story really is about the relationship between humans and technology. The story centres around a potential war between the Coalition and the Conjoiners. The Conjoiners have embraced the potential of technology and have created a neurological web that connects their brains together with the help of machines implanted in their heads. And the Coalition is apposed to this.

The story questions at what point the machine ends and the human begins. What’s more important, to be fully organic or to feel a true connection with those around you? Is it biology that makes you human or the empathy you feel for others?

Add some fast-paced action to those philosophical questions and this story had me engaged almost from the first few pages.

Low Points

There are always limitations when it comes to short fiction. The obvious one being that there are only so many words before it stops being “short” fiction.

There’s a lot of history and technical jargon in this story that I think would put off a lot of readers who weren’t sure what they were getting into. And Reynolds can’t take the time to explain it all.

For my part, I’d like the opportunity to explore this world more. I was sad when I got to the end and it didn’t feel like an end. It felt like the beginning of a story I wouldn’t be able to be a part of.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

This was a really interesting story that became more and more engaging as I read on. Sure, the technical side was cool and there in some interesting examination of that technology but mostly I found Clavain to be a character I could empathize with–a character that I felt the failures and successes of.

Overall, I’m excited to read more of Reynolds’ stories and see what else this collection has in store.


By Sarah Carswell

After spending 5 years studying language and writing, Sarah spends most of her time thinking critically about popular works of fiction, and after a lifetime love of music they have made themselves a place where they can analyze music and interview musicians. To learn about their struggle with learning to read and write please check out the About page. You can send a message to Sarah by going to the contact page and sending an email with your feedback and suggestions for new content.

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