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The Magic Labyrinth (Riverworld Saga, Book 4) Paperback – July 28, 1998

3.5 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

At the end of The Fabulous Riverboat, Sam Clemens finally set out in the great iron riverboat Not for Hire to reach the headwaters of the massive river on whose shores humanity has been resurrected. After 33 years on the river, Clemens and his crew--including the giant subhuman Joe Miller--are finally near the end of their journey, and only one obstacle remains: the evil Earthly king, John Lackland. John is waiting just upriver in the Rex Grandissimus, the first riverboat that Sam constructed and the one that John and his crew hijacked, and he's hell-bent on sinking Sam's boat (and vice versa). Complicating the battle is the fact that both ships likely contain agents of the Ethicals, the group of advanced beings who created Riverworld for reasons unknown. One or more of the Ethicals themselves may even be on board, as are various humans that the rebel Ethical, known as the Mysterious Stranger (but known to Clemens simply as X), enlisted in his cause, which may or may not lead to humanity's salvation.

The battle is set to take place along the shores populated by members of the Church of the Second Chance, a group that believes they must attain ethical perfection in order to proceed to the next phase of existence. The Second Chancers are not violent, but their charismatic leader, La Viro, may attempt to sink one or both of the iron ships in order to prevent the battle. Among the Second Chancers is former Nazi officer Hermann Goring, who had a run-in with Sir Richard Francis Burton in the first Riverworld novel, To Your Scattered Bodies Go. Burton and his companions--among them several people who were contacted by the Mysterious Stranger--are reluctantly serving on John's boat in order to reach the headwaters of the river. But will any of the humans working for X survive the coming battle? And if so, how can they possibly hope to penetrate the tower in the North Sea where the Ethicals are thought to reside? And what could lowly humans hope to do against a race so advanced that they can reshape entire planets and resurrect all of humanity? --Craig E. Engler


“Farmer's blend of intellectual daring and pulp-fiction prose found a worldwide audience…. Sprawling, episodic works gave him room to explore the nuances of a provocative premise while indulging his taste for lurid, violent action.” ―The New York Times

“The greatest science fiction writer ever.” ―Leslie A. Fiedler, author of Love and Death in the American Novel

“An excellent science fiction writer, far more skillful than I am.” ―Isaac Asimov

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Riverworld Saga
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; 1st Ballantine Books ed edition (July 28, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345419707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345419705
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,670,831 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Magic Labyrinth is the fourth of Farmer's five volume Riverworld series, and was originally the final book in the series. Here all the various quests of those travelling to the headwaters of the river end for better or worse. Here to, the mysteries of the Riverworld planet and how and why all humanity was resurrected there are revealed.
This is a most uneven book. There are episodes of thrilling action and adventure, and long sections of mind-numbing boredom. There are characters who have been well developed throughout the books, and others that are barely sketched out, but still are central to the action. The writing is often barely competent, yet many of the ideas presented are still fascinating.
The strongest part of the book is its middle, which recounts the final drama of a forty-year, up river chase of two rival riverboats. The first boat, The Rex, captained by King John Lackland, who stole it from Sam Clemens, is pursued by The Not For Hire, the boat Clemens built to chase down his hated enemy. Clemens' quest for the headwaters of the river, to storm the mysterious tower there that may contain the answers to this world's riddles, has been subsumed by his thirst for revenge against King John. Most of the action of the book takes place when these two mighty boats, both heavily armed and manned by crews of Earth's famous and near famous, have their final clash. Two great set pieces have French ace George Guynemer, and German ace Werner Voss fighting a last fantastic dogfight over the river, and an awe-inspiring fencing duel to end all duels between Cyrano de Bergerac and Sir Richard Francis Burton. It is here that Farmer works his grand concept for all that it is worth, and shines.
The quality of the book drops sharply after the resolution of this battle.
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Format: Paperback
The first book in the series, "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" was fantastic - filled with original ideas and interesting concepts. Unfortunatley, it was all downhill from there. The second book, "The Fabulous Riverboat", maintained interest by introducing Sam Clemens. But then the rot set in. The only thing that got me though the third volume, "The Dark Design", was the hope that in the end a satisfactory conclusion would be reached, and reading that book was the only was to get there. Finally came "The Magic Labyrinth". The best thing that can be said is that it was obvious Farmer had no conception of how to end the series. The important characters, the ones you care about, are killed off with no apparent purpose except to create an artificial shock. The ending, involving secondary characters, in incredibly weak and shows a complete case of, "Well, I have to end it, so let's do THIS". A total disappointment, not at all worthy of the promise the first book showed. I pity the people who followed this series all the way to the end only to be confronted with this. There is a lesson to be drawn here - never start a series if you have no idea how to come to a competent ending. This has all the hallmarks of a book that was written to fulfill a contract. I would give it no stars except that I have to give it at least one. My advice: read "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" for good Scifi; read "The Fabulous Riverboat" for enjoyment; but forget "The Dark Design" and definitley do not read this book. Whatever explanation you may conjure in your imgaination can not help but be infinitely superior to what is in this book. Without doubt, one of the most disappointing books I have ever read, in any category. Avoid at all costs.

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Format: Paperback
Well, now that I am through reading _The Magic Labyrinth_ I have to conclude that it is a step up from the previous book, but there are still some things that irk me enough to give it three stars. The good things: at least Farmer got rid of the psychedelic dream visions from _The Dark Design_. The bad: unfortunately, the pacing really stinks. A lot of sections drag on forever; we know it's coming to battle between the two ships, but it takes forever to get there. Also, the ending comes in the last few pages at such a speed that it feels like a shock. And the very last few lines are such a cheat. I thought I was reading the last book, not so. On to _Gods Of Riverworld_. All in all enjoyable, but it could have been written better.
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Format: Paperback
This is the final novel of Farmer's original Riverworld cycle. Like the rest of the series, it is audacious, often fascinating, but also very problematic. "Labyrinth" is often long-winded and unwieldy, particularly in the beginning. But everything comes together as the rival riverboats commanded by archenemies Sam Clemens and John Lackland meet for their final confrontation, after which the survivors struggle on to gain entrance to the mysterious tower in the North Sea. The battle and the final leg of the journey are well-written and full of adventure and mystery. However, once they gain entrance to the tower, the story becomes dull and stagnant. The nature of the Ethicals, their struggle, and the truth about the human soul are presented in a series of interminable conversations. It is very unsatisfying, after having made the commitment to reading over a thousand pages of this series, to have it resolved with the introduction of a character who simply explains away all of the mysteries. Also, by the time the series ends, Farmer has killed off the majority of his most interesting characters, often in rather off-handed ways that are at odds with all the attention, detail, and craft that went into developing them in the first place. Of the final band that reaches the tower, most are relatively minor characters that I really didn't care about and whose personalities had not been well-developed.
In my opinion, the Riverworld series has turned out to be quite a disappointment. It does not live up to the high reputation that it has garnered within the SF community.
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