I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
What a bleak view of humanity this book presents! The only semi-believable emotion portrayed is anger and there is a LOT of violence, especially since these are supposed to be the new & improved humans who finally made it to the mysterious tower on Riverworld. They soon prove themselves to be as self-involved and poor of judgement as Humanity 1.0.
Good things about the book? Farmer’s version of Sam Clemens does not appear, nor does King John. He only gives measurements in metric (rather than metric & Imperial, as in previous books). And it really does finish the series.
Bad things about the book? Still too much description of what people are wearing and eating which is completely unrelated to the plot. Too much fighting and too little cooperation. All the characters are cardboard cut-outs, very one dimensional and over the course of 5 books they have not grown or changed or deepened.
Weird things about the book? A strange aside as Burton attempts to solve the Jack the Ripper mystery. And then all the people involved in that sad situation are mysteriously resurrected causing chaos and distrust. And a creepy party given by Alice (of Alice in Wonderland fame) with android versions of Lewis Carroll’s characters as party favours.
There is no doubt that Farmer dealt with big issues in this series—the nature of the soul, the role of religion in society, the question of free will vs. determinism. Unfortunately, I didn’t think the quality of the writing did these big issues justice. Better characterization, tighter plotting, more realistic emotions—all these would have contributed to a much superior product.
I am relieved to be finished this series—thankfully I’m not entirely unhappy to have read it, as it is one of the seminal science fiction works of the 20th century.
Book number 182 of my Science Fiction & Fantasy reading project.