on June 26, 2004
Philip José Farmer is a groundbreaking writer that in the '50s & '60s starts turmoil in the scene of Sci-fi. Up to that time the genre was almost aseptic, romance: yes, sex: no. PJF launched his short story "The Lovers" (1952) and started a change; "Flesh" (1960) and "Riders of the Purple Wage" (1967) are interesting examples amongst other of the same kind. The other unconventional thematic he approached is: "What happens after death", good example of this was his dark novel "Inside/Outside" (1964) and an excellent short story as "A Bowl Bigger than Earth" (1967).
"To Your Scattered Bodies Go" pertains to this last group. Humankind as whole is resurrected, except those who had died in childhood. Along both coast of an immense river, 15,000 miles long, they are scattered in groups composed 90% from an age and place and a 10% from elsewhere and elsewhen. They are all given a 20's years old body but with full memory of their past lives. Sir Richard Francis Burton, an English a mid 19th Century explorer and adventurer, is the central character of the novel. He is described unadorned, as a ruthless egotistic person, yet full of charisma and an energetic drive. He put himself to the task of discovering what's going on. Along his stride he meets other famous and infamous historical characters as Hermann Goring, Alice Liddell (the little girl that inspired Alice Wonderland to his author). He also encounters fictional people as a Neanderthal and an alien from outer space.
On this background an interesting and captivating novel is developed. Unfortunately this is the first installment of Riverworld series and as volumes passes the quality dwindle as well as the interest in the story. Nevertheless this book and the next are great and deserve to be read.
Reviewed by Max Yofre.
on May 27, 2004
Philip José Farmer picked up his third Hugo Award for this 1972 book, his first win for Best Novel. He deserved it. Packing the story into a mere 215 pages, a slender volume compared to doorstops most science fiction and fantasy writers churn out today, Farmer managed to create a science-fiction novel of grand scope that wears many different masks: it's an adventure story, an examination of the development of cultures, an amusing literary exercise, a satire on human tendencies, and a character study. Every reader will find something here to enjoy, and because Farmer knits it all into a seamless whole, even the most discerning and picky reader will find him or herself enjoying every dimension of the book.
This novel introduces the setting of "Riverworld," a mysterious planet where the entire human race from all time periods is suddenly a inexplicably 'resurrected.' Constructs known as grails provide food and other items for the billions of humans. Who or what created the Riverworld, and why did it reconstruct the whole of the human race? That question hangs over the entire story, as our hero, the legendary Victorian adventurer, Orientalist, anthropoligist, writer, and swordsman Richard Francis Burton, sets out on a quest to locate the masters of Riverworld. He has some interesting companions: a 20th century American, an alien visitor from the last days of Earth, a Neanderthal, the woman who inspired the character of Alice in Wonderland, and...well, Nazi leader Hermann Göring. Burton want to uncover the secrets of Riverworld, but the entities responsible for it want to find him as well, for he holds a secret that they desperately need.
"Riverworld" moves at a rapid page-turning. Farmer lets you explore the wonder of this collision of ALL Earth cultures in one place, and you never quite know what will happen next. Sometimes Farmer grabs you with a tense fight scene, the next he amuses you with watching the developing cultures and colliding civilizations of this stew-pot world. The emergence of many famous individuals in the story is one of the novel's best features. Farmer is one of the first authors to exploit the dramatic potential of slamming together many different legendary figures into one story. (Today this is commonplace, such as in "Van Helsing" and "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," although in "Riverworld" the famous people are all strictly historical instead of fictional). In Richard Francis Burton, Farmer picked the perfect hero. Burton is strong, brilliant, driven, and completely egotistical, just as he was in the real world. He's the sort of hero you can't stop reading about because you enjoy watching him overcome obstacles and constantly rankle the other characters. Burton is larger than life, the ideal hero for this larger than life setting.
"Riverworld" will leave you with plenty to ponder, and fingers itching to pick up the next novel in the series, "The Fabulous Riverboat."
on May 16, 2004
Suppose you could be alive on the same planet as all the most interesting and intriguing people who ever lived (along with all the others who, though less interesting, took up space, ate, fornicated, fought wars to suit the interests of others and generally made nuisances of themselves)?
It's a great concept and Jose Farmer managed to carry the fantasy to amazing extremes through this series of books. The wars of the final future of humanity, the dreams and aspirations, the mysteries and the ennui involve all the humans who ever lived, plus an alien or two and some others. Every intelligent being, I might have said, ever to die on the face of the planet earth, all at once.
Any world where John Longshanks, Sir Richard Burton, Mark Twain, Jesus, Hermann Goering and everyone else is striving, competing and following the agendas and personality traits of their life on Planet Earth is bound to be worth a read, and this one is.
Go for it, lean back and allow yourself to imagine the afterlife in a way you'd never dreamed of it being.
on March 24, 2004
This is the first of the Riverworld series I've read, and picked it up quite by accident and found within the first two chapters that I was reading the inspiration for the SciFi TV movie "Riverworld" which I quite enjoyed about a year ago.
Famous explorer and author Richard Burton awakes after his death to find all the pains of life near the end gone and himself floating among many bodies all around him. He is discovered and then plunges back into darkness to find himself awaking in a grassy meadow by a river surrounded by hundreds of others just waking. They are people from various times, some who know of him, and an alien and a proto-human neanderthal among them. Many belive themselves to be in purgutory, heaven, or hell, but a few know this cannot be an afterlife, there is something else at work here.
Amid the chaos which first ensues he embarks to gather a group to protect themselves from any others who may wish them ill, and then to build a boat to navigate the source of the river. Along the way they find historical figures, both great and evil who help or impede thier journey. And, miraculasly, it seems they do not die permanently in this world, but are rather resurected again somewhere else along the eternal river along who's banks the entirety of every human who has ever lived now exists.
Burton is driven to find the source of all that has transpired, why are they here? What is the purpose of thier resurection? Are those forces malevelont or benevolent? I must now embark to read the rest of the series to find out!
A quick read, I finished in several hours. Charachter development is lacking, but the quest and concept are quite intriguing.
on August 6, 2003
Some really scathing reviews here and some quite unfair given that this novel was written 32 years ago. Film, theater, television and, yes, novels all age just as we do. They (like their author's)are products of their time. I haven't read this book since the mid-70's and decided to revisit based on some of the reviews here to see if it was all that bad.
Guess what, it's still a pretty terrific book. Science fiction ages a bit less well than most mainstream or contemporary lit. Why? Because you're imagining the future--science fiction is like gambling you know the odds, you know that you could lose or be wrong, yet you do it anyway. Sometimes you're right and sometimes you're wrong. Really, predicting the future isn't the point but observing human behavior because science fiction--the best science fiction--isn't just about doo hickeys and gadets. It's about human behavior.
If Phil Farmer's Rvierworld books are a bit dated, it's because the author wrote the first installment (before it was a novel) in 1966. The only thing that's kept the novel interesting is 1)Farmer's fascinating concept and 2) The general quality of the writing. Sure, it's not the generic formularic writing we've come to expect--it's actually got something missing from much modern writing--character.
That said, the concept and execution are terrific. Sir Richard Francis Burton author of The Arabian Nights and well known explorer is our hero. He dies on the first page. He awakens to what he believes is the afterlife where he sees millions of other bodies suspended in what appears to be hibernation. The next thing he knows he's been resurrected with all of humanity (and one alien creature)along the banks of a great river.
His journey is dictated by his exploring nature; he plans to get to the mouth of the river and discover who has resurrected humanity and why. The journey allows him to encounter many historical figures and some ordinary folks as well (including a well disguised Phil Farmer).
While the series went on a bit too long (Farmer clearly relished the concept and the challenges it presented), the first three books are like a ride down white rapids and just as fun. Their also full of interesting ideas, characters and strong narratives. The last two books in the series drag out a bit but are still worth searching out to provide closure for the series. I'm usually not much of a fan of series books--it's usually a case of the author having one great idea and dragging it on as long as possible. Farmer's first three books are an exception to this rule and are well written journeys.
on May 20, 2003
Reading the other reviews, as I usually do, I was horrified to find that no-one seemed to understand the Riverworld series. "Not too deep", "Not really science fiction" ... ?? I don't know if i'm reading a different series than the rest of the people reviewing this book, but it's a very deep, very classic science fiction novel.
It's not set on a far-off planet (well, not exactly); no space ships, only one alien; barely noticeably set in the future at all. If that was what made a good SF novel, then Star Trek would be the be all and end all of the genre.
Any good SF reader, though, knows that Riverworld is what makes SF great reading: Deep philosophical and sociological questions, answered by way of an artificially created society that tests the author's answers to the questions, or else helps discover the answers. Riverworld, and particularly To Your Scattered Bodies Go (by far the best of them), is an interesting attempt to analyse the creation of civilization from anarchy, as well as being an amusing exploration of several historical characters, probably some of Farmer's favourite personages from history. I say attempt, because it's not perfect; I find myself disagreeing with his ideas of what society would become, mostly because it is a bit too simplistic for my tastes.
All in all, it is an interesting experiment, and a thoroughly enjoyable one. Read if you like Asimov's Foundation novels, Clarke's Rama novels, or some of the less academic alternate histories.
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.