So much potential, and it’s actually pretty decent, but having done some writing of my own since I last read it (July 1997), it suffers in the re-reading.
Don’t get me wrong, the prose is nice, the worldbuilding is interesting (there’s less of the everywhere-is-California feel to this than many of Niven’s other books…I suspect parts of it are even based on Icelandic terrain), and in bits and pieces and then a big data-dump, he gives a bunch of tantalizing detail linking together and fleshing out the Rammer/Heorot/Smoke Ring universe.
It’s just that it had no soul.
I don’t know how else to put it. Jemmy the protagonist goes from place to place, gets up to crazy adventures, but nothing seems to affect him very deeply. For example (spoiler): his wife of twenty seven years dies as a result of a freak accident, and he just shrugs and moves on…as he has with everything else in his life. The character comes across at times as emotionally shallow verging on sociopathic, which is kinda hard to relate to in a protagonist.
And beyond that, from the moment Jemmy makes his escape from the caravan about 40% of the way into the book, the plot goes off the rails. The entire sequence in the Windfarm is baffling, and all through it I was asking myself What is this? Where did this come from? Who gives a crap about this stuff and these people? Am I still reading the same novel? Then they all escape, and Jemmy escapes from the escapees, and then…it’s twenty-seven years later. What? What was the point of that baffling and Brian-in-the-alien-spaceship-like digression? It suffered from the same problem as Prometheus: there was good material, but it seemed like portions of the story necessary for it to make sense had been cut out. Editing may be to blame here – there were a number of glaring editing mistakes (e.g.: stating that Destiny has no polar caps, then a page and a half later referring to Destiny’s polar caps), so perhaps something essential actually did get cut out.
Not Niven’s best work, unfortunately. But I would happily read more stories set in this universe – we’ve already had two novels and a short story concerning the Avalon colony, and the third colony whose information Jemmy is unable to access presumably becomes the Smoke Ring colony, which has figured in two novels. The “hydraulic empire” that has emerged in Earth’s system by the time of Destiny’s Road is seen in “Rammer” (the short story that became A World Out of Time), but is not a positive future. It seems to me that a second Destiny novel would be in order, perhaps one explaining what happened to the Argo and what becomes of the settlements on the Crab after Jemmy does what he does at the end of the first novel. Or possibly a prequel, covering the events of the arrival of the original settlers, the mutiny, the collapse of Base One, etc. Or maybe something far into the future, when Destiny has fully matured, Earth technology has been fully recovered, the Otterfolk are somehow made ‘portable’…or another ship from Earth arrives, bearing a detachment of Checkers…