Terminator, Urbanism on Mercury

A few days ago American writer Kim Stanley Robinson shared on his Facebook page an artist impression that I made a few years ago, featuring Terminator, the mobile city on Mercury from his science fiction novel 2312.

Robinson called it a beautiful visualization; or well, actually his literary agent called it that, but of course she wouldn’t have done so if the author didn’t agree. Enthusiasm by the creator of the concept, that is of course a nice compliment for an impression artist.

Artist impression of Terminator, the city moving accross Mercury from the science fiction novel 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Science fiction: a travelling city on Mercury

I made the illustration two years ago after reading 2312. For some reason Robinson’s work often inspires me to make impressions. Take a look at, for example, my model of the Ares, the recycled spacecraft from Red Mars. But in fact the Sulawesi Space Elevator, the asteroid interior of Psyche 16 and the Mars 2.0 map can also be traced back to one of his books.


The story of 2312 takes the reader to the far reaches of the Solar System. Mars is not visited until the very last pages; that must be a joke from the writer whose greatest claim to fame is his Mars trilogy.

One of those far reaches of the Solar System is Mercury, the smallest of the eight planets and also the one closest to the sun. At first sight not a very attractive piece of real estate, because during the day it is 400 degrees above zero and at night some 600 degrees colder. And yet in the year 2312 there is a city on this barren world: Terminator.

Top view of Terminator, the city moving accross Mercury from the science fiction novel 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Terminator top view

Dawn Wall

The name Terminator has nothing to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Terminator is what the astronomers call the boundary between the day and night sides of a planet. The city with the same name constantly moves along with that line, over twenty elevated railway tracks that expand by the light of the rising sun and so push the city forward. The so-called Dawn Wall protects the inhabitants from direct sunlight.

It’s a clever piece of engineering work and currently still a little too ambitious. But give it three hundred years and some breakthroughs in robotics and other technologies and it becomes quite feasible.


And indeed, it’s a great target for terrorists. But, without revealing too much of the plot, that is an important theme in the book.

Front view of Terminator, the city moving accross Mercury from the science fiction novel 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
Terminator approaching

Recommended reading

For those who want to read more from Robinson’s extensive oeuvre, I have a number of recommendations. First of all of course the aforementioned Mars trilogy Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars. In just 200 years, the Red Planet is transformed into a new world with flora and fauna, rivers and oceans, cities and villages, forests and tundras. And that has quite a few political, social and cultural implications.

The Years of Rice and Salt is something completely different. It’s an alternative world history over the past seven hundred years from which the Europeans are edited out. Their role is taken over by the Chinese, Indians, Arabs and Native Americans. Who largely make the same mistakes.
And let’s not forget Robinson’s great debut novel. The Wild Shore, a post-apocalyptic coming of age story that, despite the grim setting, nevertheless has a feel-good element to it.

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