Philip Jos? Farmer is a master of creating worlds, and Riverworld's probing of history and religion, mixed with a world of seemingly endless life is a..Show More » perfect example. The only drawback is the other books in the series haven't been released yet- Let alone The World of Tiers series.
In this installment of the Riverworld series, Farmer goes for somewhat of a reboot. Instead of following Richard Burton, this book focuses on Samuel C..Show More »lemens and his struggle to also reach the head of the world-spanning river. The motivation for this comes from another (or the same?) "Ethical", who tells Sam that he is one of twelve that must reach the river's head in order to unravel the mystery of the Riverworld.
The "Ethical" points Sam to an area where the materials to build a riverboat can be found, and here lies the bulk of the book- the struggle to build the Riverboat. This means dealing with some of histories baddies and the ills of society while overcoming the shortcomings of the world in which they are placed.
The book is a little slow in the beginning as it needs to build relationships set up the plot. However, once it becomes engrossing--and it does--the sense of adventure that was prevalent in the first book comes back in force. Part of this is due to another great reading by Paul Hecht, who uses just the right smattering of accents for the characters. In fact, the book finishes on such a high note, I again find myself wishing the third book were available for download.
I first read "Riverworld" in the 70s, & I remember enjoying it. I didn't enjoy it enough to get all 3 books, though...& after listening to this dog, I..Show More » wish I'd kept it that way.
We do get (sort of) the main characters from the first 2 books together, which was nice; I missed Burton & his bunch in #2. But for some reason, Farmer decided to intro a brand new main character & couldn't have come up with a more annoying person if he'd studied for years. Jill is one of the more obnoxious characters to appear in fiction in a long time. She's constantly, aggressively on the defensive, knows everybody is out to get her & deny her genius & incredible capabilities, & --best of all-- she has the amazing ability to take ONE LOOK at anyone, determine their gender, race, & time of origin, & immediately she knows EXACTLY what that person thinks about her, about women, & precisely how badly they're going to treat her. And then she condemns them for their egregious bigotry. Um, hypocrite much? She even periodically tells herself that she should quit this, but does she ever actually improve? Take a guess.
Other than the loathsome Jill, & bouncing back & forth between Sam & Burton's groups, with quite a few LOONNNNNG & incredibly boring side lectures on religion, the plot can be summed up fairly briefly: 1. someone wants to build a great big something to get to the source. 2. They toil mightily, get into intrigues & war with the neighbors for the raw materials, 3. They spend all their time in wild angst over who gets to run the thing when it's done. 4. Then they usually lose it. Repeat, with different or the same people, different or the same great big something.
Unless I dozed off at the end (possible; I had to keep backing up b/c I'd gotten so tired of building, bickering, & bi*ching) we never really get a satisfactory idea of who or what is behind the Riverworld, or why. And by then, I didn't care.
The reader does an okay job; he's not too good with voices, so it wasn't always easy to figure out who was talking if there weren't adequate cues in the text, and I'm not wild about his voice, but he was...acceptable. At least as good as the book itself, which is sorta damning with faint praise. I gave him 1 more star than the book itself because his performance didn't inspire me to want to commit actual violence, unlike the book.
Unfortunately as this series has progressed, the quality has continued to deteriorate. Much of the opening portion is largely concerned with vain atte..Show More »mpts to list every human that was ever born and studiously report their birth year and death. Sam Clemens has been reduced to a paranoid, psychotic mess merely seeking revenge (he should have been sent to Gardenworld). Most of the middle portion involves a naval battle that could probably have been outlined with as much detail as found in 3rd grade textbook renditions of the Merrimack and the Monitor in terms of what it actually contributes to the overall story.Also, Heman Gohring as a new age spiritual pacficist is also a bit of a stretch and his final appearance just comes out of nowhere. He appear to be inserted whenever the plot bogs down.
The final resolution of what began as a promising conceptual series consumes only about the last 2.5 hours and arrives after a detailed trek that is remarkable for only it unremarkable quantity of cliche. Even more unsettling is the notion that "ethicalness" which is major theme throughout the series has actually been somehow quantified and made measureable such that machines can exclude individuals who don't measure up. The "trick" at the end to finish is totally derivative from a Star Trek episode that displays the quaint 60's concept for dealing with uncooperative computers.
Unfortunately, the whole tale is trapped in a time warp of post-Vietnam pacificism combined with a new age "Zardoz" type spiritualism that doesn't resonate well today with a more complex and nuanced worldview. The "watan" origin was probably most interesting, but was rushed only to drag along after that. What was launched as a grand concept has floundered from a lack of imagination.
The 5th installment of the Riverworld saga appears to have been an afterthought. Book 4 saw the entry into the tower with an explanation of its origin..Show More » and purpose. While the immediate problem of the impending computer failure (in this regard, Farmer should get credit for his prescience with a protein based computer given DNA counterparts today) had been averted, we were left with the ongoing resurrection failure due to prior irrevocable commands.
Most of the tale is engaged with our rag tag intrepoid band trying to figure out how to operate the whole complex. They possess limited resurrection capabilities (they can bring back specific individuals inside the tower) and this leads to ever growing unintended consequences. The final resolution is totally unsatisfying and question the underlying premise of the entire series with regards to "ethicalness" that is treated as a quantifiable, unambiguous property that people "train" to attain. Farmer's final twist allows him to even offer the possibility that good intentions of striving for a perfect ethicality may even engender psychosis.Burton's final rejection of the ultimate reward for being as close to "ethical" as he can reach strives to capture the essential human qualities of independence, but only comes across as a stubborn toddler.
As mentioned previously, the past generation's conception of computers constrains the credulity of the reader. The computer displays a Kafkaesque devotion to rigid ridiculousness that becomes quite tiresome. There are long discussions of whether to resurrect politicians and/or religious leaders, but at no time does anyone even consider resurrecting a scientist or computer specialist. As a result, the fumbling and bumbling has more of Keystone Cop sense than a group of focused individuals attempting to save the lives of 18 billion people. Strategies devolve to what if: they'll think that we think that they'll think that we'll think ad infinitum.