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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 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.
So sad for what began so brilliantly.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful
Book five turns some well accepted theories about why the inhabitants are on Riverworld completely inside out. Everything you thought was true will be revised based on the final truth revealed in book 5. Probably my favorite in the series after book 1.