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Project Pope is one of Clifford.D.Simak's final science fiction novels and takes the controversial approach of tackling the subject of religion. On a remote planet, out on the furthest reaches of the universe in what is known as the Rim system, a group of human robots have gathered to try and discover the one true faith; collating information from all across the stars and inputting it into a vast super-computer that represents their own cybernetic version of the Pope. Information is gathered through the use of human Listeners, or sensitives, who send their minds out amongst the stars to encounter new worlds and civilisations. But whenone of them comes back claiming that she has discovered Heaven, it threatens to throw the whole project into jeopardy!
Three outsiders on the planet also throw their own spanners into the works! Decker crashed here many years ago and lives a lone-wolf existance out in the woods but may know more about the newly discovered "Heaven" planet than is at first recognised; Dr. Jason Tennyson comes to the planet fleeing political unrest on his previous home and soon finds himself compelled to stay and Jill Roberts comes in the hope of breaking the biggest story of all time thus making her career as a journalist. Add to all this different factions in the project who all want different things and what we are left with is a highly complex and interesting novel that asks many questions but ultimately provides few answers.
This is not perhaps one of Simak's greatest works but is still nonetheless enjoyable. It's decline into more traditional sci-fi at the novel's close is a bit of a disappointment and the whole thing almost descends into cliche space-opera at one point but there are some interesting ideas and concepts thrown out even if they are never quite fully explored as much as they might have been.
It almost feels like two books merged into one, the end chapters being far different in style to those that begin the novel, and there comes a point when the reader does feel as though Simak is just returning to type! Still, this is still enjoyable just not the best work this writer produced!
If you have never read this, then it is worth picking up and is better written than his fantasy novels which really did never quite work. Long time fans may be disappointed by this though and should only perhaps pick it up if they are paticulary dedicated!