Reviews Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
The Riverworld Saga
Philip José Farmer
Del Rey Books
Volume 1 To Your Scattered Bodies Go
Volume 2 The Fabulous Riverboat
Volume 3 The Dark Design
Volume 4 The Magic Labyrinth


Art: John Stevens
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
The Fabulous Riverboat
The Dark Design
The Magic Labyrinth
Philip José Farmer
Philip José Farmer was born in 1918 in North Terre Haute, Indiana. He attended Bradley University, receiving a BA in English in 1950. His novella The Lovers, published in Startling Stories, won a Hugo Award in 1953. He won another in 1968 for the story "Riders of the Purple Wage," which was written for the Dangerous Visions series, and a third in 1972 for the first novel of the Riverworld series, To Your Scattered Bodies Go. Farmer has written also under a number of pseudonyms, the best known being Kilgore Trout.

Philip José Farmer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Nothing Burns in Hell
Philip José Farmer Tribute Page
Philip José Farmer Tribute Page
Philip José Farmer Tribute Page

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steve Lazarowitz

Advertisement
I originally read this series almost twenty years ago, while still in high school. Thus it was with no small trepidation that I set out to reread and review what had once been an exciting and innovative reading experience. I have been disappointed by quite a number of movies and books that I have returned to after a span of years, and I am ecstatic to say that The Riverworld Saga is not among them.

The Riverworld Saga is a set of four books, but it is really a single story. (Ed. Note: a fifth book exists titled Gods of Riverworld (1983).) You can't just read the first and be done with it. At least, I couldn't. From the beginning, To Your Scattered Bodies Go gripped me in a way few books have been able to match, so it does not surprise me that Mr. Farmer won a Hugo award for it.

Imagine if you will, a race of beings powerful enough to build a planet and wind a twenty-million-mile-long river around it. A race that is able to record Earth's past and resurrect everyone that had ever lived along the banks of that almost endless river. Imagine thirty-seven billion inhabitants all being reborn on the same day, in the same bodies that they had inhabited in their mid-twenties. People from every society, of every race and every time. Imagine them all living at once, in a world where food and other necessities are provided for them, without them having to support themselves. If you can imagine that (no small task I can assure you) then you have some idea of what it is like to live on the River World.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the first book of the series, chronicles the rebirth and subsequent adventures of Sir Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor). During his adventures, he meets (among other people) Alice Hargreaves (the young Victorian girl who was the model for the central character in Alice in Wonderland), and Hermann Goring, the infamous Nazi.

Burton's adventurous and restless spirit leads him to build a boat with the intention of sailing it all the way up the river to its source. Along the way, he meets people from many different times and locales. It helps, I suppose, that he was such a great linguist during his time on Earth.

This is another aspect of the books that I really enjoyed. Farmer has done his homework and given us a glimpse into several ancient cultures and quite a few historical figures. From the way the masses reacted during the first day of rebirth, to the establishment of society, of slavery and borders, Farmer's creation is made to seem plausible. His character's reactions are well thought out and entertaining.

The real quest of the books is trying to discover the purpose of this mass resurrection. Without giving too much away, let me just say that during the first book, I changed my opinion on the subject several times. Farmer kept me guessing throughout.

The second book, The Fabulous Riverboat, adds Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) into the cast of characters, along with a boatload of tenth-century Vikings, Lothar Van Richthofen (brother to the famous WWI flying ace), King John of England, Cyrano de Bergerac and the Greek adventurer Odysseus. It also strengthens the mystery of the series by introducing a surprising twist. One of the beings that created Riverworld has very different ideas than his brethren about what he calls "the grand experiment." It is his intervention that allows the characters to attempt to learn the reason behind mankind's "new beginning." In this second book, Mark Twain constructs a fabulous riverboat in yet another attempt to follow the river to its source.

The Dark Design, the third book of the series, takes place somewhat after the first two. There is little I can reveal about the latter part of the series, without ruining some really finely woven surprises, but I can state happily that the cast of characters doesn't change much from this point on. This is good, since by The Dark Design, I had really grown to love both Burton and Twain. I find myself wondering how the actual people might have reacted in the same circumstances.

The final book, The Magic Labyrinth concludes the series, solves the mystery, ties up the loose ends and in general, satisfied me. I love the interaction between different people of different times and the progression of "civilization" as it is reborn and rebuilt. Farmer has done a marvelous job of drawing me in and holding me throughout.

While I wouldn't call it "hard" SF, The Riverworld Saga is one of the most imaginative scenarios I have ever encountered. Within the varied playing field of history reborn, Farmer has designed and executed a SF mystery that is thoroughly entertaining in every way.

Copyright © 1998 Steve Lazarowitz

Steve Lazarowitz reads and writes fantasy and SF. His work has been published in a number of online 'zines and he is the editor of the Dragonclaw Showcase. His short story anthology A Creative Edge: Tales of Speculation is due out from Domhan books in 1999.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide