I've really wavered about how much I like this book. After ploughing my way through a few monstrously long post-apocalyptic novels, I refreshed myself with Neville Shute's much more elegantly paced On The Beach before approaching this, which I thought would be another overblown epic. I was delighted when I realised it's far less self-indulgent than some others in the genre and weighs in at about 400 pages, a length which feels 'right' for the story to be told.
It starts really well, constantly changing direction as Gordon Krantz struggles to survive in (yet another!) post-apocalyptic North America. It's realistically done and I enjoyed the focus on the rights and wrongs of life in this much battered society. In this respect this early section is rather like The Road, albeit nothing like so dark and without Cormac McCarthy's lyrical psychological insight. The core idea, that a small lie can snowball and serve a much bigger and better truth, is a really interesting one and kept me engaged off and on to the end. In fact there are interesting ideas throughout - the book also meditates on the nature of leadership and how leaders should relate to society, for example.
The book was originally written in three sections, which is obvious but actually works in its favour as each section has a different theme. It lost me slightly in the last section, as this element felt more like pulp scifi than the first two, but each to his own and I can hardly blame Brin for being a scifi author! Still, I found the final section less original than the first two and in this section the themes being explored are less subtly drawn, coming down to a physical confrontation between adherents of two different philosophies. For me, this has lost this easy to read and entertaining book one star.