I’m exhausted. This series has spanned 2.200+ pages and more than 10 centuries! It covers lifetimes of characters, many lived over and over and a few lived once throughout the entire story! (20 years shy of 1000 years old, one character!) The story was convoluted and continuously changed which ultimately worked for and against the series.
As the concluding novel in this epic story, it felt a little hollow. There were definitely moments of amazement and creativity and Simmons intelligence once again comes across unquestionably, but for some reason it just felt a little hollow and most definitely rushed at the end. Even though I hadn’t fully thought through the end of the novel when I got there I was not surprised at the ending. It did feel a little deus ex machina, but with a “machine” like the Shrike, how could it be any other way?
What truly struck me were Simmons observations about religion. I briefly touched on the switch from capitalist/materialist hedonism in the first two novels to overbearing/arching religion in the latter two novels, both created/encouraged/furthered by the AI entity known as the Core. There was a point where Simmons almost convinced me the opposite of what he’d been working towards for all three books was not true and I had a reading identity crisis, but thankfully he didn’t spurn the reader like that!
What I appreciated most was Simmons way with describing ridiculously indescribable entities such as religious texts and religion,
“All these holy books lie not from intention of failure of expression, but by their very nature of being reduced to words; all the images, precepts, laws, canons, quotations, parables; commandments, koans, zazen, and sermons in those beautiful books ultimately fail by adding only more words between the human being who is seeking and the perception of the Void Which Binds.” (401)
And his views on art, artists and creativity, after all the entire series is a book written within the book (by Martin Silenus and Raul Endymion),
“No lifetime is long enough for those who wish to create, Raul. Or for those who simply wish to understand themselves and their lives. It is, perhaps, the curse of being human, but also a blessing.” (684)
And at the forefront of the novels and highlighted in this quote, Simmons wrote and discussed the idea of humanity. What is humanity? How has it, if it has, evolved? Should it evolve? How should it evolve? And the answers he provides throughout the series are fascinating and controversial. You can definitely see the inspiration of older science fiction works and the idea of technology we’re seeing come to life today already there!
Recommendation: To tie up the entire series I would definitely recommend this one. I wouldn’t recommend reading the four back-to-back, but they’re all fascinating reads and these last two were as unique and different as the first and even hold their own.
Opening Line: “The Pope is dead! Long live the Pope!”
Closing Line: “Already trusting the North Star as our guide, softly discussing a likely looking campsite on high ground some kilometers west, we passed over the old poet’s grave where the Shrike still stood silent guard, flew out over the river where the ripples and whirlpools caught the last glows of sunset, and gained altitude as we gazed down on the lush meadows and enticing forests of our new playground, our ancient world…our new world…our first and future and finest world.” (Whited out.)