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).
WARNING: This review contains spoilers! Read at your own risk!
This fourth book in the classic Riverworld series continues the adventures of Samuel Clemens and Sir Richard Francis Burton as they travel through Farmer's strange and wonderful Riverworld, a place where everyone who ever lived is simultaneously resurrected along a single river valley that stretches over an entire planet. Famous characters from history abound.
Now Burton and Clemens, who have traveled for more than thirty years on two great ships, are about to reach the end of the River. But there is a religion, The Church of the Second Chance, that has grown up along the River and its adherents, possibly inspired by aliens, are determined to destroy the riverboats. A coming battle may destroy Burton and Clemens, but even if they survive, how can they penetrate the alien tower of the Ethicals, who created this astonishing world? What can humans do against a race capable of creating a world and resurrecting the entire human race on it?
This book takes an awfully long time to get to the point, namely who are the Ethicals and why have they created this world? There is a LOT of rather pointless fighting, in my opinion, which lends nothing to the plot and includes enough technical detail to send an insomniac into a coma.
When we finally get to hear from an Ethical, Mr. Mysterious X no less, it is underwhelming in the extreme. They are basically "advanced" human people, working under another race, who in turn were deputized by the "Ancient Ones." And they aren't so ethical that they can't disagree and squabble amongst themselves--plus they guard their computers with death rays. Still want to call them Ethicals?
One blessing is that Farmer finally committed to one measurement system, so the dimensions of everything aren't repeated in both Imperial and Metric.
Although I'm glad to know a bit more about the Ethicals and what they were up to, I persist in thinking that so much MORE could have been done with this concept. I finally realized with this (the fourth) book that religion was one of the issues in play in this series (so I guess its good that Farmer really lambastes the reader with it--I finally caught on). Its just so swamped in details--what they are eating, what they are wearing, how they produced this or that item, etc., etc.
And I think he did make an effort to produce some characters that women could relate to in this book (although the women are still very focused on the male characters and don't talk to each other).
There's only one book left, and what with the abrupt ending of the Magic Labyrinth, I will probably, against my better judgement, read it. Anyone who can explain the title to me, I would be most obliged. I'm probably being as thick about that as I was about the religious themes!