To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer Golden Age Of Science Fiction, Pohl, Asimov, Clarke, Philip K Dick, Baxter


A Hugo award winner, this is the first book of the "Riverworld" saga, a series of books dealing with the adventures of different characters in the same strange world.

The book opens with the death of Sir Richard Francis Burton, translator most famously of the original kama sutra, and world adventurer. He dies of old age in the city of Trieste, in the Austro-Hungarian empire, in the year 1890. The very next thing that occurs is his immediate resurrection, stronger, younger, and completely naked, in a most peculiar way-station for souls. Here he hangs, weightless alongside millions of other human bodies, some of which are not yet completely clothed in flesh, wondering what kind of strange afterlife he has come to. He is put back to sleep by strange beings as soon as his consciousness is noticed.

Weird, eh?

Weird is no longer an adequate descriptive, when, only another few moments later, Burton finds himself awake again. This time he lies on the temperate and beautiful banks of a seemingly endless river. He is not alone. He soon discovers that not only he, but every single human being who ever lived on Earth has been resurrected with him, along the edges of an endless river here on the Riverworld.

Resurrection in this manner naturally comes to all as, let me understate, something of a surprise.

Each person comes to Riverworld naked, in perfect health, at the physical age of twenty-five (if they died when older than this). Each carries a personally-keyed metal charger, which, when plugged into the common recharging devices, provides three meals a day, the odd packet of smokes, some marijuana, bits of random clothing, and a peculiar narcotic chewing gum. The bemused inhabitants of Riverworld gradually discover that if you die, you are merely resurrected in the same fashion somewhere else along the river. All are infertile. So it seems that none of humanity shall leave, and no new arrivals shall either be entertained.

There is flint, cherts, bamboo, some wood, and fish in the river who delight to dispose of wastes, and keep things sanitary. The Neanderthals and other early races quickly disperse the skills of tool-making. There are no metal deposits or ores, and so only a basic technology can be developed.

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Burton immediately begins his explorations. His indomitable spirit, and his unique knowledge that this is not Gods heaven leads him on an inexorable search for the whys and wherefores of this unnatural afterlife. He soon forms a team of unlikely compatriots Alice Liddell, the model for "Alice in Wonderland", a Neanderthal, an alien responsible for mankinds' demise in 2008, and a twentieth century anthropologist set out to find the source of the river, and the solution to the big "Why" of it all. They build a boat, and sail to discover the rivers source.

As they sail down the river, they encounter an astounding number of civilizationshumanity has mostly been grouped with those who are from a common heritage, but random members of other times and places are also interspersed. Slowly, they learn that very occasionally there is also hidden among them a non-human observer. Interrogation of one such interloper reveals that there is a base of operations of this race, calling themselves the "Ethicals", at the end of the river. Burton is more determined than ever to get there, even if it must be by endless suicides, playing the gambit of randomly being relocated at the rivers end. The remainder of the book tells the story of his struggle. Who built the Riverworld? And why? Can Burton outwit them, and hide from them, the only man they know to have awakened in the way-station?

This book is, as you can see, based on a magnificently imaginative premise. The single most overwhelming thing about this book, and indeed the whole series, is this central idea. It permits Farmer to pluck anyone from a history both real or imagined, and interact them in a common struggle. Gadgets are not part of the equation, and only mans ingenuity and sense of adventure can help him gain a better understanding of his predicament.

The book raises the question of what one would do with a second chance. Stripped of all prior social constructs and contracts , how would humanity react? What kind of societies would form, what philosophies would develop to explain the inexplicable Riverworld? Farmer reflects through his work on the endless interpretations that peoples can bring to the same facts. For some Riverworld is heaven. For some hell. For others, nothing more than a challenge, a puzzle to be deciphered before it is interpreted. Burton is an excellent choice for protagonist. Vividly and accurately portrayed according to our historical knowledge of the man, he illustrates that the sense of adventure is timeless, and reminds us that long before our own time there were those who reached for knowledge of the unknown with outstretched fingertips.

The first book in the series is by far the best in my opinion. Once you have gathered the basic premise, and seen this first adventure in Riverworld, I advise you take your pleasant thoughts and considerations, and quit the series. This book is superb, and it doesn't need to be a series. Personally I don't mind being left without some of the answers. I can quite happily leave that job to my imagination.

Arthur C. Clarke and Edgar Allen Poe are good examples of authors who understood what to leave to my imagination. Farmer never quite gives explanations in the rest of the series, but he does keep messing with the premise, and is constantly teasing with half-explanations. The remaining books are essentially rehash, and not even good rehash at that. I think maybe Farmer watched too many Flash Gordon cliff-hangers as a kid, as was comfortable re-writing his material to avoid a conclusion. Oh well. Just my E-pinion!

In this particular volume, I would have liked to see more of the enclaves of peoples and cultures explored in depth. Burton sails past so many cultures and societies, I found myself drooling for the hope that the next page would tell me more about them, but alas, this was rarely the case. Having said that, the essence of the tale is Burtons' urgency to get to the riverhead before he is detained by the Ethicals. I defer to the Authors prerogative, but retain my own greedy desire for getting more of what I want!

This book contains descriptive sexual and violent language. I judge it solely for an adult audience on the basis of these facts. It's a really original idea, and great brain food. I've thought about the ideas in this book for much longer than it took me to read it.

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Posted in Recreation Post Date 11/12/2022






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