With the jokes out of the way, I have some real thoughts about where I stand on ISSTH. If you're currently in the process of reading ISSTH, or are planning to read it all in spite of me saying you shouldn't, I will be talking about the overall big picture of the series, which necessitates spoilers. I won't deliberately mention "plot twists" where I can help it, but I think this review will be best appreciated by people looking to talk themselves out of wasting their time reading the whole novel, or those who have finished reading and are looking to commiserate or else nail down what they did and didn't like about it. Otherwise, you may be best off just stopping after the McDonald's jokes.
Unfortunately, ISSTH was a real slog to finish. I only kept going because of the time I'd already put in, and feeling that I might as well go the rest of the way. But this amounted to a few hundred tired and unstimulating chapters; after a long interplanetary war arc, the story never revitalizes itself.
Frankly, I don't think Er Gen is a great writer. Some might say he's a good planner, because he interweaves a bunch of world lore across thousands of chapters and maybe even his other novels before resolving his setting's mysteries, but it's not terribly hard to randomly sew a few seeds around to reap later on, and I find that he doesn't fully remember all of them, nor are they particularly clever or even fun to read in terms of the resolutions. I don't want to be mean here. I think the series' translator is incredibly diligent at finding, adjusting, and appending footnotes to all the little vague quotes that turn out to mean something later, even though I have no interest in continuing with other Er Gen novels. I actually feel a little bad for caring so little when all this obvious work was put in.
But I find it formulaic and boring. Most of the time, it's just going through the motions. It's no wonder Er Gen seems so taken with his own brand of numerology; it really helps pad things out to have a character break through nine barriers in nine chapters when one barrier and one chapter would have the same narrative impact. 300 kilometers will be traversed in 300-meter increments. Some people will probably disagree that it's solely intended as padding, but to me these chapters are joyless and rote. 80% of the series feels like reading a checklist. "Meng Hao has climbed 5 of the 9 towers, igniting 94 of his 120 soul lamps." OK. "The beam of light that judges his power level has shot up to 2400 meters now." Uh huh. "The bad guys have broken past 2 out of 9 mountains, and 3 out of 9 seas." Great.
I think Er Gen likes to drop little story nuggets behind that he has no real plan for what to do with: it's hard to believe, after all, that things like Dong Hu's pearl were always intended to just be some footnote in Meng Hao's arsenal--he probably just overlooked some opportunity to work it in a thousand chapters ago, and then kept it in his notes to meet the minimum requirements by shoehorning it in later. Countless treasures and abilities that MH obtains are totally forgotten or never used satisfyingly, because MH powers up too fast to ever truly get stuck in as many bad situations at the Dao Seeking realm the treasures belong to, or whichever. It's fine if the story mentions little details on the side that don't ever get incorporated into MH's personal journey; for example, never personally walking the Transcendence Path or learning the full Mountain & Sea scripture. But I think it's a different story when you say stuff like how there's a second statue guardian somewhere out there, waiting for MH, and it never comes up again. Or what about his immortal slaughtering sword collection? If the hype about MH's various fortunes and legacies that he stole or fortuitously encountered had any actual meaning, his ability to turn into a roc would have been up there with finding the copper mirror, while the dragon core in his cultivation base would have been some trinket he obtained in the same chapter as a dozen other forgotten things.
Really -- he turns into a roc basically every other chapter, and it isn't even conveyed just why it's so apparently effective to for an immortal to be a bird when they hit someone. There's no weight to this writing and it makes each fight insufferably boring. Where in another series the hero might have some appropriate exploit that makes readers grin, like going to rock some tournament in the poisoner capital of the word after obtaining full immunity to all poisons, MH instead just uses the same moves interchangeably in some stunlocking fighting game combo. And despite all the actual little nuggets which the writer leaves behind to ostensibly find a use for later, often when he does suddenly pull some new move out it's instead something that's never been hinted at before, like a certain teleportation ability (chapter 1408), or a certain ability MH gets to possess a lamp, which wasn't mentioned when he got it; only when he needed it. Ultimately, fights devolve into something a lot like those mentally fought between elementary schoolers: one says that he has "the power to destroy everything" and the other replies that he has the power to destroy everything times infinity. This is barely an exaggeration.
Of course, there are parts of the series I like. It's hard for anything to go 1600 chapters without having some good ideas. I liked a simple mortal, Little Treasure, being able to decide the mighty Meng Hao's fate. I loved his trick with Greed... although this was entirely recycled when he went to Planet Vast Expanse. Going back further I probably liked the series best in the Violet Fate Sect disguise arc. That's no surprise: Down-to-Earth interludes with alchemy trial exploits and character moments are of course more enjoyable than reading MH cycle through his god steps and hexes for the thousandth time. But this story arc mostly repeats itself too, in the Feng sect. Even so, generally I think the series could have spent more time away from the big picture checklist Er Gen had to work through. And many opportunities for getting back to what made the original heart of the series good are also overlooked, like when MH has a young clone and they blow through the clone's early life in a single chapter.
Other parts that I liked a lot about the series early on are essentially subverted later. MH was a scrappy kid with no valuable background, an unremarkable bloodline, and even average talent. For those who have read the first hundred chapters, remember he stole good fortune beyond what he was born with, from the heavens themselves? But even back then I suppose the series put too much of an emphasis on the quality of your foundation as a cultivator, where if you made one wrong step you were no longer perfect going forward, which meant that we would always have an existing, incontrovertible benchmark for how perfect MH had to be. That's writing yourself into a corner.
Some people might like the quaint folk-cosmology where being able to topple mountains is more impressive than destroying the stars in the skies. I think it's good to have some unique influences as a writer, but I found these cultural fables and origin stories kind of expressively fake: when some Native American god is said to sweep all of the stars into their pocket to impress some human girl, I always end up wondering what it means to live in a world where objects don't necessarily get larger when they're brought closer, or what happens to the life on the planets orbiting those stars. Of course, whoever came up with such a story wasn't expected to know anything about how far away the starlight was, or what it signified. To suppose the same things, but then have your characters also visiting those other stars, is just a weird choice.
The author's philosophical passages and talk of enlightenment of natural laws also always ring hollow to me. MH is described as needing buddha-like philosophical breakthroughs to reach higher levels as a cultivator (and let's just laugh off his enlightenment on the physics of time and space, without bothering to get into it) but at every new level of power-creep there's a million more people there and they're still as dumb and arrogant and immature and "silkpants" as the last bunch. So being an immortal seems like nothing much, and at the same time we're not grounded by anything; we rarely know or are expected to care about the perspectives of, say, the mortals who are ostensibly affected by the goings-on of these trillions of figures more important than them.
The series borrows a lot from IET novels like Coiling Dragon, and I think it uses these influences as a crutch sometimes. IET novels are flawed in their own ways as well as in similar ones (such as the missed opportunities to tell human stories, and love interests who lack character), but they at least tended to elaborate more on the presence of things like interspatial rings and lightning tribulations and explain what it really meant to have such things there. In ISSTH these and other things are just sort of there inexplicably: an idea was liked, so Er Gen used it without really providing the concepts with their own two legs to stand on in his world. These aren't the only things that tend to mean little; when a character "sacrifices some of their own longevity" with some technique? If I were an Er Gen character I'd sacrifice my longevity to win every time, because it's never going to affect me later.
The hundred-plus-chapter wars are naturally the worst part. If you loved the third Hobbit movie, then maybe it's for you. But I also really dislike the fundamental ideas presented in these large-scale conflicts. When MH is destroying the homelands of his opponents, he is able to look into their hearts or something and see that they're all fundamentally beasts anyway, so it's okay to commit war crimes like killing their non-combatant family members, which sounds a lot like something out of a manual on how to justify ethnic cleansing. He does the same thing with the Ninth Sea. At least have the guts to just say that what your protagonist is doing is unethical and then paint him as an antihero instead of trying to portray it as good, you know? It's cowardly, and it's doubly ironic for a Chinese writer, considering that these things were said about them in the most grotesque parts of the Second Sino-Japanese war. And the biblical-scale sadism of burning people's souls for eternity, for reasons that Er Gen could just barely contrive them to be responsible for (when you include children who weren't alive when the initial crimes were committed) is absolutely the kind of thing that makes me want to see the main character lose.