on January 29, 2003
This is one of those novels that the simple setup will keep you interested and on your toes long after the author drives the story into the ground. It is dissappointing because at many points I felt that Famer was onto something really special. The idea of having every human for ten thousand years put onto a planet together creates an infinite number of possible story lines. Farmer even sets up some very interesting plot lines with Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, but then fails to treat them in any real intellegent or significant way. It's nice to see Burton meet Goering, I wanted to see into Goering character or into the character of a different society that would use his talents as Germany did. This is not done however, and is what keep this book from being any better than mediocre. The end result is like talking to someone who keeps asking, "What if", but lacks either the words or the imagination to take it any further.
on January 15, 2003
This is fairly run-of-the-mill old-style science fiction. There are two notable shortcomings: first, he doesn't make any attempt to resolve the main questions of the book (who made the Riverworld, and why?). I don't think the book was good enough to bother reading the many sequels to find out the answers. Second, as with much old-style science fiction, the female characters are all more or less helpless. I also didn't really like the use of actual, historical characters (like how Goring kept popping up -- it was just weird).
on January 11, 2003
Explorer Richard Burton, along with every other human who has ever lived, is resurrected on the shores of an impossibly long river on an alien planet. His premature awakening among countless bodies connected to some type of machinery prompts him to go in search of the river's source and purpose.
The criticisms leveled by other reviewers on this page are well-taken. It is not as enlightened as it could be with regard to women and other cultures, and the prose, though serviceable, is not of literary quality. I'm also surprised that it took the Hugo for Best Novel. However, I was entertained by the concept and Burton's quest.
on August 11, 2002
Usually, the Hugo Awards are a good recommendation for entertaining literature.
Not in this case. I really don't understand how this book could have been given an award of any kind. Were there NO other sf novels published in 1971?
Farmer uses historical figures as his characters as an excuse to not bother writing any characterization of any kind. Every character in the novel is completely two-dimensional. It's pretty hard to make such an interesting and multi-dimensional character as the historical Richard Burton dull and flat - but Farmer manages it.
Moreover, the book is offensively, insidiously sexist. By which I don't mean that, in the grand tradition of adventure stories, that lusty buxom babes abound! (if only!) Rather, I mean that not one female character in the book displays any initiative, independence, or intelligence. Men regard them as property, and women's only instinct seems to be to find a male "protector." The stereotypes of women as "prude," "nag," or "whore" are found in abundance. Women are only an accessory to a man, to be admired physically, used sexually, and then tired of.
Here's one direct quote: "She was the product of her society - like all women, she was what men had made her."
One cannot excuse this attitude in writing as being a product of its time - check out what Ursula LeGuin was publishing in the late 60's and early 70's!
Sexist stereotypes are not the only ones found... they're practically incidental to the ethnic and cultural stereotypes! In a world supposedly populated with people of all cultures, time periods, and places, everything seems to run in a remarkably Eurocentric manner. To regard cigars as a universal luxury item is particularly bemusing.
Still, all this would be excusable, if only the story was fun, exciting and interesting. Not so. For such a short (222p.) novel, the plot was inexcusably meandering and dull. I fell asleep on it last night, and finished it this afternoon out of some sort of sense of obligation.
I think I'll be sending the copy of World of Tiers on my to-read shelf straight to the recycle bin.
on June 27, 2002
This is the 1st Riverworld book and probably the best at least in terms of originality. The Idea is that everyone who ever lived is resurrected on a planet with a huge river.
Pretty simple, the main character is Sir Richard Francis Burton (a real life explorer who spent much of his life searching for the nile) and he forms and leads a party that includes a Neanderthal, an alien, and Alice from Alice in Wonderland. The rest of the book is spent with them journeying towards the headwaters of the river to try and find out the mystery of how their situation (i.e. being resurrected on the vast river planet) came to be.
As already said this is most likely the best book in the series. The idea is fresh and the character of Burton who was a real person is a good one to have lead an adventure. The story is also fleshed out well with the assistance of the interesting supporting cast. I especially liked the inclusion of Alice.
The major enemy in this book is Hermann Goring another person of historical fame, who provides the readers with an exceptionally good and real antagonist for Burton, who is a very well done hero.
Despite the questionability of the later books(I've written reviews on them as well) this one is exceptionally well done.
on May 2, 2002
...perhaps there's no point to the award. I am stunned by how bad this book is. I will work hard to be succinct so as not to waste neurons on it: (1) I like "boys in space" as much as the next woman, but this is horribly sexist in a way that angers me, given that it was written as late as 1971. Women are for sex, or are killed when no longer useful to the (nominal) plot. Heinlein, with all his sexism, at least reflected the mores of his times, and provided us with numerous excellent "juvenile" novels that avoided the egregious bad taste of this one by virtue of including no females whatsoever. (2) It contains more uncalled-for violence than anything I've read in the last few years. (3) Do we really think mysterious saviors would provide steak, marihuana (sic), and LIPSTICK in our lunch-buckets? Who's catering this resurrection, anyway--McDonald's? Mary Kay? The Grateful Dead? (4) Even leaving the deplored-yet-articulated anti-Semitism, this book is rife with cultural stereotypes. (5) I kept stumbling over plot problems. To name one: Gee, if you only get fed by putting your "grail" in the "grail stone," and only you can open your own grail, I'd assume that beings intelligent enough to put lipstick in lunch-buckets would be able to track Burton's grail if they wanted to find him. Perhaps Farmer suffered a lack of imagination because he wrote the book before ATMs. (6) I would be impressed with the prose if a 6th grader wrote this. Perhaps that is the intended audience. I can't believe a publisher printed such a wooden, poorly-structured piece. I am ASTOUNDED that it won the Hugo. Compared to the winners on either side of it, it stinks even worse. I am a book packrat, but I'm seriously considering throwing this one away because I'd feel terrible if I donated it to charity and some other poor sucker accidentally read it.
on February 18, 2002
This science fiction classic is based on a fascinating premise. The world has been destroyed. All of mankind has been resurrected by unseen all-powerful aliens on a strange planet. They are given the minimum requirements for survival and are secretly observed as they fight, make love and build communities. No one can die (not for long, anyway) or grow old. All people from prehistory to the present day are resurrected together with geographic considerations preventing complete mingling of peoples. The hero of this novel is Sir Richard Burton, the 19th century writer.
In a scene that the makers of The Matrix must have cribbed from this book, Burton awakes just prior to resurrection and sees endless rows of unconscious bodies tethered to strange machines stretching out in every direction as far as the eye can see. The memory of this makes him unwilling to accept his condition and he travels the length of the endless river that snakes over the surface of the planet to try to find the aliens and determine their motives
So far so good. The story bogs down in fleshing out of what must have been a great short story. Burton is interesting enough choice as the protagonist but given that Farmer had all of mankind to choose from, why not Alexander or Caesar or Napoleon? Why choose Hermann Goring as Burton's archenemy? How about Hitler or Attila? There are far too many actions scenes that end with Burton killing himself or being killed in order to pop up re-resurrected at another spot on the planet. My only interpretation of this childish literary "device" is that Farmer couldn't think of any other way to have the story move forward. Despite these stylistic flaws, the central conceit of life after death as a space alien's science project makes this book worthwhile reading.
on January 26, 2002
OK , let me give it to you plain and simple.
This is the best science fiction concept EVER!!! But wait, there's more! This book trancends the label of " science fiction". It is also part biography , part history novel, part adventure, part damn good read!
Critics of the book mainly get all caught up in the fact that the writing is perhaps not as brilliant in a literary way as the great authors. But you need to give Farmer a bit of leeway here.The great authors could never have come up with a concept like this, and sustain the excitement throughout the novel. It is also very well researched and he brings characters like Sir Richard Francis Burton and Alice Hargreaves back to life. The concept is also so incredibly grand and breathtaking, that it would really take 20 books to do it justice, so Farmer is doing the best he can in one short book, and the trade off is that the pace just keeps you on the edge of your seat.
Do yourself a favour and read this book!!!
on November 28, 2001
Something you have a book that has such an amazing concept that the entire book can be carried on just that one concept, regardless of how stirring the plot is or how deep the characters are or how exciting the prose is. With the concept that Farmer introduces in this novel he sure comes darn close but he really needed just a little extra to boost this novel into "true classic" status. What's the concept? Basically every human that has ever lived wakes up alongside a seemingly endless river on some strange planet for no apparent reason to basically do what people do. Food and even clothing is provided for, but really it's just a big question mark. Enter famous explorer Richard Burton who very quickly decides that he must penetrate the center of this mystery and try to find exactly what this is all about. Along the way he meets bunches of people from different times, some famous some not, gets involved in a series of adventures and sort of figures it out. But not quite. Burton is probably the best character in the book in the sense that he's supposed to the hero and yet there's quite a few reasons not to like him (he's a bit racist and a tad sexist, among other things . . .) which is good because being a historical character it shows Farmer was at least doing some research. The other characters don't make out so well and being that most of them seem to drop out halfway through the book, you really don't miss them since the focus really is squarely on Burton (the alien in particular seems to have just been included because he could make important revelations and thus it would make sense because he's an advanced alien and thus knows everything . . . not explained why he was resurrected though . . . also Peter Frigate mostly cries unless he needs to fight and then he kills with reckless abandon, er, mood swing anyone?) and as long as it stays there you can overlook things like that. Farmer has great fun with the concept and frustratingly gives us just a taste of the Riverworld, bypassing entire communities in a sentence that he could have spent a whole chapter on. The plot moves swiftly, with the usual absurd coincidences that only occur to you after you stop reading because he keeps the story moving so fast there's no time to think, which is good. Sometimes it's a mite too swiftly, subplots start but don't go anywhere (there's hints of romance that never turns into anything) and imminent revelations either are ignored or turn out to be nothing special. But the book is way too short and the ending is basically just a "To Be Continued" that reveals a bunch of stuff that may or may not be true. In the end it feels like the world's longest prologue and while enormously entertaining as such, doesn't leave you with a whole lot to take away from the book. Still the concept is one of the greatest in SF and just watching Farmer pull it off and lay down the foundation for the rest of the series is great fun. But his inability to really turn the book into a standalone epic on its own keeps the book from achieving truly classic status. But, like I said, it's worth a read simply for the concept itself.
on October 24, 2001
To be honest, the writing style of this book is enough to make any seasoned reader wince with frustration. Simply put: it is pitiful.
The characters are so cardboard that they are not even two-dimensional characters; they are one-dimensional. They are clearly acting out of the author's motives, and have no motives of their own. One can literally see the clunky mechanics behind them, it is quite sad. They have sudden bursts of wisdom and understanding that they could not possibly have, and there is so much data-dumping that often one gets the feel of reading an encyclopedia entry. They also see to be speaking with the same voice: that would be the author's voice.
Another thing was the way he handled descriptions. He simply gave off exact details in absolutely no order. One of the most importiant things in description is putting the details in an order (e.g. up to down, left to right, near to far) that is accessible to the reader. Farmer ignored this primary rule, and as a result it came out as unsortable. It is alright to break the rules, but one has to know how to break them. In his inept hands, the writing of the book is garbage, and he only embarrases himself and falls flat upon his face in mud. He was also far to exact to leave any room whatsoever to the imagination of the reader. Do I really care that the guy's nose was exactly three and half centimetres long or that the objects were spaced five and a quartet inches apart? I often had the impression that the characters carried measuring sticks about with them. Another thing was that he switched from the Metric System to the American Measuring System. That is called inconsistency.
There is also rampant sexism. When Burton said that he did not care much for woman's brains, I nearly threw the book across the room, but lucky for the book it did not belong to me. Besides, in a society where there was no pregnancy, the whole male-domination thing would not have happened. For some reason, Farmer seems to think that women were only there for one function and I will leave it at that. Anyone with any sence would be appaled by this [...junk] just as I was. It is due to people like him with attitudes like that, that women had to endure thousands of years of riddicue and suffering. It was simply unacceptable to find views such of his in a book in this modern, civilized age.
The only things that kept me reading to the end was that it was quite short for a novel, and the plot was original enough that I just wanted to see what it developed to in the end. And in the end there was no reward for my time enduring his ill-wrought pose, and I do not feel like investing more time to read another volume.
Trust me, you do not want to repeat my mistake and waste your time on this book too. Had I the option, this would have received negative stars. This was hands-down the single worst book that I have read, and the worst book that could ever be produced, ever.
And one last question: How in the name of goodness did this ever manage to get published? It is so maddening that this can be published, when there are far better authors out there slaving away who do not receive any recognition. Where were the editors? Asleep? Hypnotized? It is sad that such a book ever won any awards- but hey, if this is the cream of the crop, I hate to even imagine how bad the terrible books are.