Joe Valdez (a reviewer here on Goodreads) summaries my take on this book well with a single point: "[Dan Simmons'] great thinkers are not my great thinkers".
I just couldn't get into any of it. The stories weren't poorly written, they just weren't engaging at all. References to other real world authors and works that I've either read and felt were lackluster in their own right, or others that I have not yet read but certainly don't have high on my priority; continuously bombard the reader throughout. There were at least two novel things that I haven't much come across in a sci-fi novel before: heavy religious tones and poetry. Turns out this is also an unabridged list of things I don't enjoy in a sci-fi novel. Either that or I just don't tend to jive with Simmons' writing (this is the first of his work I have read).
Temporal jumps and weaving in and out of context is something that can truly form a great work. Illuminatus! by Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, or House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski are testaments to this. Here though, the stories are confused mismatches of view point or description level that always shook me back to the stories 'present', and I would have to ask myself how ridiculous some of these people would sound, as a group listened to them explaining their origins in this manner.
Now really, the book isn't even a story. It's the start of a story that gets cut off at the beginning of the main act, but happens to have a bunch of filler up to this point so we round out a decent book thickness. Seemingly we are following a pilgrimage, a quest even. The quest to end all quests. Certain death and all. Ultimately though, a bunch of people take the bus, then have to swap to a tram, and afterward need to take a cable car up the mountain. But it's a Sunday and no-one is at work, so they break into a control room and turn on the cable car. Oh, the trials and tribulations!
Other than some campfire tales to pass the time, that's literally the entire quest and the end of the book. Sure, there's a part two, but jeez. That's really not something I'm dying to pick up next.
Hardcover, 481 pages
Published April 16, 1989 by Doubleday.