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 April 6, 2004
As a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy literature, I waited with bated breath to read a novel so grand in scope. And yet -- just like RINGWORLD or RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA -- the novel fails (miserably) to deliver the other two key aspects of good fiction: strong characterization and conflict.
While the character of Richard Burton is complex, he is far from sympathetic. Indeed, he is rendered so unrealistically that the normal suspension of disbelief requisite to speculative fiction is inadequate to overcome.
This protagonist is better suited to a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The alien from Tau Ceti -- who piques considerable interest -- is inconsequential. The repeated encounters with Goering are preposterous. And the fact that every woman has a great figure despite her lack of hair is really tiring.
I'm very disappointed; I had hoped that this would be an exciting new series for me to explore. But given the poor quality of this opening novel, I have no desire to read the other books in the series.
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 January 3, 2004
I just finished reading all 5 volumes in this series and had to offer a review.
Book 1 starts off tremendous (!!) and offers up a good mystery - why are millions of people resurrected on an alien planet???
Book 2-4 spends grossly too much time delving into the history of the characters and not enough time getting to the Tower and the Ethicals. On a number of occasions, Mr. Farmer seems desperate to display the historical knowledge he has labored over.
Book 5 really grapples with the issues from book 1 and is the second best book of the series.
Book 3 was just awful in my opinion. Wayyyyyyyyy too much history of characters, it was like watching wood warp. I almost stopped reading the entire thing over book 3.
Overall, in my opinion, the series would have been much better working the mystery of the Ethicals and a whole lot less time with the history of various people. It was a great opportunity squandered.
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 July 29, 2003
I read this back in 1979, and recently reread the series through "Magic Labyrinth." It was better the first time. This first volume has a gosh-wow factor second to none, but the writing is so amateurish that it could never get published today. That really doesn't improve much as the series progresses, so I must rate the first volume as the best of the bunch. I DO recommend the series as an SF classic, but it also shows how far the genre has advanced in the years since it was published.
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 April 12, 2003
When Sir Richard died he thought that it was all she wrote. He could not have been more wrong, he had been resurrected on a giant river with most of the rest of humanity. It's a whole new world, so he decides to go up to the source of the river and find out hw had restored them all to life. This was the guy after all who snuck into Meca and got out alive, why should a river 200 million miles long populated by every bad(or good) person in history prove to be any obstacle?
Overall-I think that the book is great, though I don't know if I could acuratly describe it as science fiction. The book is wonderful but it has a lot of extra information that takes away from the overall force of the story...