Final Phase, by William Neven

final-phase-by-william-neven coverGenre: Science Fiction
Publisher: 1st Books
Published: 2002
Reviewer Rating: two stars
Book Review by Heather Hunt

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If The Final Phase by William Neven had been divided into a trilogy, it would have been much easier to read. At its current 714 pages laid out in a very dense, oversized-paperback format, this book is a tough slog; in a mass-market-sized edition with a more readable page layout, this book would easily be over 1,000 pages. Divided into three books of 300 pages each, however, Neven’s story would be much more enjoyable-and easier to market. Trilogies are, after all, de rigeur in the sci-fi world.

This is unfortunate because in a better layout with some appropriate reading aids this deeply-themed science fiction odyssey could be an intriguing intergalactic yarn.

The Final Phase explores the questions of immortality and life after death through the adventures and disasters experienced by our human descendants across the galaxy thousands of years in the future. Biological, astronomical, geological, and anthropological topics are all touched upon by a large cast of oddball characters.

Which brings me to the first of my reader’s aid recommendations. Future editions would greatly benefit from a dramatis personae list in the front matter of the book. It took me until about page 100 to keep the characters straight, especially when the story jumps from scene to scene.

Other reading aids could include a map of the galaxy that includes the Main Run of Worlds and the locations of named planets. Also a list of ship’s names and where in the galaxy they are traveling would help to keep the reader oriented.

Neven has his own writing style, which can take some getting used to, but for sci-fi readers who love to be taken into another world, including the manner of speechifying of the characters, then you’ll love to spend hours disappearing into this galaxy. Unfortunately, for non sci-fi buffs, there is really no central character with whom to identify or empathize and therein lies the fault at the center of this tome. Readers need someone to care about to keep them turning the pages.

The science is good, but there’s an overabundance of it. There are several long stretches of people talking back and forth about mitochondria, peptides, evolutionary stages, event horizons of black holes, etc. There’s also some ghoulish and grotesque violence with science experiments gone awry.

However with so much going on and so much talk, the theme can get buried. So much so that I find Neven’s conclusions, well, inconclusive. Is there life after death as described in the Bible? Part of the science is the exploration of an artifact that contains a copy of the Bible and so there is much quoting of Scriptures as the characters translate it and try to understand its concepts.

By the end of the story, which is a spectacular finish with literally universal ramifications, there doesn’t seem to be one true conclusion on the matter and form of immortality. Different characters seem to go on different paths. Mr. Neven was inspired to explore the themes in this book by his father’s unexpected death. Did he comfort himself with his conclusions?

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