Philip Jose Farmer:To Your Scattered Bodies Go

The Riverworld series is doubtless Philip Jose Farmer's chef d'oeuvre, or at least his best-known work. To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the first in the series, is probably the reason for this.

The protagonist of the novel is Richard Francis Burton, explorer, polyglot, and original translator of The Arabian Nights. He dies on Earth, and wakes up in a strange chamber surrounded by countless others, of which only he is awake. After that he is flung into a strange world, youth restored, on the bank of a river.

It soon becomes apparent that all of humanity has been restored on this riverbank, and a few aliens as well. Many of the other characters in the book are historical figures--Hermann Goering, Alice Pleasance Liddell Hargreaves(about whom Lewis Carroll wrote), John de Greystock(Greystoke?), Tullius Hostilius(a king of ancient Rome), and other lesser-known figures. Soon social structures are set up, despots putting themselves in power wherever they can...

But Burton has a higher goal. He is determined to find the source of the great River which spans the planet, and, once there, to find out why they had been resurrected for this task. He meets several Ethicals, as they come to be called, one of whom is secretly a traitor to his race, and becomes even more determined to overthrow them.

Death on the Riverworld is not permanent; if you die, you wake up again in a new body the next morning, somewhere along the River. Burton uses the Suicide Express, as he calls it, to travel up and down the River; somehow, he is linked to Goering, who is often resurrected in the same places.

The rest of the series doesn't quite hold up to this promising beginning, but this book is worth reading even if you don't continue on to the rest of the series. The idea of the Riverworld is one of Farmer's best and most highly original. Recently, one or two volumes of short stories set on Riverworld, written by different authors, have been published, and the milieu Farmer has created is rich enough to support many more.

%A Farmer, Philip Jose
%T To Your Scattered Bodies Go
%I Berkley
%C New York
%D Copyright 1971
%G ISBN 0-425-04816-0
%P 222 pp.
%S Riverworld
%V Book 1
%O Paperback, US$2.25

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The Den of Ubiquity / Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com