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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.
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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.
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on November 25, 2000
If forced to choose the single factor (other than crippling lack of ambition) that lead to my posting a 2.42 my Freshman fall of college, this book would be the culprit I'd point to. You see, I made the mistake of reading this book just before finals & immediately followed it up by reading everything about or by Sir Richard Francis Burton that I could find.
The central conceit of Farmer's Hugo Award Winner is that everyone who ever lived on Earth is resurrected along the banks of a river on a mysterious world. One of the first people to understand their predicament and take action is the linguist, explorer, translator Sir Richard Francis Burton. Along with Alice Hargreaves (of Alice in Wonderland fame), a Neanderthal named Kazz , an alien from Tau Centauri named Monat Grrautut (who precipitated the Apocalypse that destroyed Earth in 2008) and others found along the way, Burton sets off upriver to try to figure out why they've been brought to this place. But when they figure out that The River may be 20 million miles long and then they are captured by Herman Goring and a band of Ancient Romans, things get even more complicated.
Farmer has a wonderful idea here & he plays it to the hilt, dropping in interesting historical characters & playing off cultures and ethnicity's against each other. I especially like the way he's taken his characters to the promised afterlife & instead of finding answers to the question of existence, they find that it's just as confounding as life on Earth.
But the great revelation here is Burton. If you've never heard of him, you'll want to read more & if you're familiar with him, you'll want to read about him anew.
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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.
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on October 17, 2001
You already know the premise: Humanity reincarnated on the shores of a river 20 million miles long. Unique spin on life-after-death, and the first book (To Your Scattered Bodies Go) is good enough to make you want to read more. The snippets of 'something bigger' looms large throughout the series and much of the good writing and story telling carries through into the second book (The Fabulous Riverboat). There is, of course, a requisite amount of 'cheese' that you must eat, but not so much that you get a stomachache.
If you make it through book 2, STOP THERE! If you continue on this little 'adventure' you are destined for a profound disappointment, as the story is seemingly more compelling, but descends into an ever-increasing series of convenient coincidences, plot shortcuts, and a finale that is ultimately such a hack job that I wish I could slap the author (Philip Jose Farmer) and sue him for false advertising.
Book 3 and 4 ('The Dark Design' and 'The Magic Labyrinth' respectively) are an abomination! Never mind the gratuitous follow-up 'The Gods of Riverworld', which convinced me that, at some point in the writing of this series, Farmer decided to start smoking crack. I can only say that he completely destroyed the compelling fantasy that he began as surely as if he'd thrown it into a blender and hit 'puree'. Save your time and money...please.
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on April 10, 2000
I picked this one up at a used bookstore and was pleasantly suprised. It is one of those books where the concept alone is fascinating, that every person who ever lived is reborn somewhere along a seemingly endless river(approx. 36-37 billion in all). They can't reproduce, and they need not work for their food, and neither can they die and stay dead so seemingly they have nothing to do but enjoy peace and pleasure for all eternity....well we are talking about human beings so it doesn't work out that way! It is the questions about this world that pulls the reader along. Who could have built it? What is its purpose? And will it all end as suddenly as it began? And through it all there is The River, it is the central feature of RiverWorld, presumably millions of miles long, one could travel upon it for millenia and never get to the end. For that matter does The River even have a beginning and an end? This novel is very spiritual, what would you do if you had eternal life? Sit back and enjoy it or fight against the current(literally) to find out the meaning of it all? Warning if you read the first book in the series you're going to be compelled to pick the rest up to.
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on August 24, 1999
What captures your attention and holds it is not just the brilliantly creative story premise, which by itself would be worth a read, but the quality of research which Philip Jose Farmer clearly put into creating this novel. By using Burton as his main character, a flesh-and-blood anti-hero plucked straight from history, the fantastic action takes on a very believable feel, being no more amazing than anything else Burton accomplished in life. JPF has done an incredible job of researching Burton and painting him in a completely understandable and human way. I'd almost consider this book a hybrid of science fiction and historical fantasy - the historical characters are generally, more fleshed out and better developed than any of the fictional characters. I highly recommend this book, but suggest avoiding the rest of the series - they are just a series of cliff-hangers clearly designed to milk the River World story for everything it's worth. This first story makes a wonderfully self-contained adventure, and the rest of the books add nothing (and subtract much through revisionist plot-adjustment) that I sincerely wish I'd avoided them myself.
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on May 11, 2000
The premisse of this book is fascinating: what if after you die there is nothing. No heaven (or hell, for that matter) no reincarnation. Just nothing. Until someone develops the technology, and the will, to bring back everyone who has ever died on this planet. Bring them back with no possesions, no tools, no clothes, no infrastructure, and not a clue. Just billions and billions of naked confused, semi-immortal, multi-cultural human beings. What will they do? What is the meaning of all this?
The actions these resurrected peoples take are very well written and highly believable (unfortunately). The motives of the people who are responsible for all this are the mystery we are trying to solve.
Farmer received the 1972 Hugo Award for this book that did survive the test of time, and is still a good read now. Then why not 5 stars? --- This book is not a well rounded whole, with a plot that comes to a resounding conclusion. At 3 quaters of the book the pace changes, slowes down. The answer is pushed further to the future, and it soon becomes clear a further quest will be nessessary, even though the book ends. I suppose you'll (and I'll) have to read the rest of what now turns out to be a series to reach the fullfillment of a filosofical conclusion. That's why I feel a bit cheated.
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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.
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on March 24, 1999
This is a crafty novel that asks the question: what if all of humanity was resurrected on an unknown planet? The first book in the Riverworld Saga follows this question as asked by the book's protagonist, 19th century explorer Richard Burton. Burton finds himself alive and well just after he thought he had been killed on Earth. The story follows him and his occasional group as they try to survive in this new world. Being an explorer and of insatiable thirst for knowledge and the truth, Burton tries far and wide to understand the reason for this mass resurrection. The book does provide some answers, or better, Burton is given glimpses of the truth, although it is uncertain whether this new heaven (hell?) was promulgated by benevolent beings for benevolent reasons. I find it a bit unfortunate that this book, which is the only one I have read so far, has an unsatisfying conclusion with Burton richer in knowledge that is of dubious veracity. From the postscript it appears that the second novel deals with Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain?) and his attempts to grasp his role in this "resurrection".
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