If you don’t want to waste your time, my verdict: Avoid reading these books.
Still with me? Okay, here goes the critique. Simmons manages to create interesting characters that I actually wanted to root for. They are motivated, each by their own reasons. Some things don’t make sense until you read all four books. For example, there is a reason why Het Masteen is so reluctant to share his story but only the fourth book will reveal the true reasons. The story includes time travel but actually in a way which makes sense. It did evoke strong emotions in me – one of the most important goals of any work of art.
That were the good news. My sore points: The books are deeply depressing. Most characters die one way or the other and the survivors aren’t much better off. No happy end. Lots of abusive relationships on top of incredible flaws in logic. There a few highlights and a few good ideas but everything is drowned in incredibly stupid characters that just plod on, fail to prepare even when they have years to do so, they never learn, most of the time, they are just dragged along by events. Whenever it suits the author, the characters are smart and cunning. And when it’s too bothersome, they are as dumb as a post and completely helpless. Raul knew for years that he would have to start on a dangerous journey. How does he prepare? By staring holes into the air. His love vanished for days. What does he do? Nothing. One day, he is woken by his love and sent through hell. It makes sense from a story point of view but I simply couldn’t fit this with the desperate attempts by Simmons to portrait Raul as a survivor type. It’s as if everyone is constantly on drugs.
And the logic holes. Computers abusing the mental power of all of mankind but too stupid to get rid of a little paranoia? Slagging a chrome-coated killer machine from orbit while the protagonists watch from a few meters away – sure, no one gets hurt. Any time the author has written himself into a corner, the Shrike shows up and kills whoever blocks the exit. The thing is a convenient deus ex machina every dozen or so pages. Resurrection in Endymion takes a couple of days – unless the author needs it to happen in a few seconds. Slagging a sphere with 1 AU diameter in a few hours? Sure, why not. Let’s just ignore the surface area and the fact that even the most powerful weapons would take years to burn more than 1% of that area away. Not to mention that the drives used are visible to the naked eye over millions of kilometers, so there is absolutely no way to a fleet to do surprise attacks: The fleet attacking the world sphere would either have to jump so close that the sensors of the Ousters would have noticed them while the crew was still resurrecting or so far away that the defenders had weeks to prepare. I never had the feeling that the author spent more than a few minutes to plan in most of the fights.
Nemes set a trap for Aenea on God’s Grove. Of course strapping the monofilament directly after the farcaster, too close for the group to avoid it, would be too easy. Instead, Nemes installs several complicated traps but no explanation why this might be better. It was probably beyond the authors ability to come up with a believable explanation. Later, Father de Soya saves the day by slagging Nemes from Orbit. He melts the stone below her feet until she is swallowed in the molten rock. Obviously, the author isn’t aware of the physics involved. The protagonists watch this process from a few meters away with no cover whatsoever. Nemes is protected by her chrome forcefield, so a lot of the energy would be deflected, killing anyone close by. “Close” being several miles in this case. How long does it takes to melt rock? How much energy is necessary for this? Nemes can walk on water but not on molten rock. Okay, she has to struggle to keep her shield up. But how about flicking her hand and deflecting a tiny fraction of this torrent of energy to kill anything within a 1 mile radius? That could have been a strong scene but I simply couldn’t follow the story, I was so frustrated.
Other examples. Aenea sacrifices herself and her followers use some form of telepathy to let billions of humans share her torture. Simmons pictures this process in detail over many, many disgusting pages. I just imagine sitting in a café somewhere on Pacem, nibbling my croissant when I suddenly feel as if I was strapped to a steel frame while evil robots use all their skills to inflict insufferable pain on me while the dignitaries of my church watch the proceedings. What would my reaction be? Would I think “Oh my, this is horrible! We must end this!”? Hell no! I would either commit suicide to get these images out of my head or I would be convinced that this was some evil plot by the Ousters and I would do anything to wipe the bastards out.
So after Aenea has sacrificed her life, most people are either dead or cases of PTSD. I can’t see how her followers could survive the emotional backlash of their actions. And the rest of humanity will be in a mindless rage. Well, the Core will be done for, once and for all: Most humans will be dead and the rest will be mentally unstable. Victory!
More examples? There is no way to get supplies close to the Tombs or get Father Duré out? Are you kidding? We, on Earth, today, can communicate with satellites in orbit, no problem. I guess being able to put space ships into orbit means you can no longer do that. Why? Simmons doesn’t know either. Why not take a comm laser along for a dangerous journey? Or a powered parachute? Or a mirror? Or tell someone to have a look after a few days, just in case. Their ground-surveillance satellites are probably not advanced enough to make pictures of the ground. Yeah. Whatever.
It would be barely bearable if this was published as fantasy: The technology is based more on magic than physics. In a few places, the author starts to paint an advanced, future civilization but it’s always sketchy at best. Space ships don’t make something science fiction.
My conclusion: Frustrating. Avoid.