To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld 1)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld 1)
Philip José Farmer, 1971

Hugo Winner - 1972

Premise: Sir Richard Francis Burton saw many things and had many adventures in life. He is rather surprised to continue doing so after death. All of human history has been mysteriously resurrected along the banks of the great River, although no one knows why.

This is one of those books where I found the premise really interesting but the execution lackluster. The descriptions of the Riverworld and the juxtaposition of people from different points in history was pretty neat. (Not as neat as in The Big Time, but still.)

Burton is an interesting choice as protagonist, a historical person whose life reads like fiction. However, because the narrative so closely follows Burton and his (dated, chauvinistic) attitudes, it has some issues with its female characters. They feel a bit like props used to prove a point when they are present at all. Somewhat oddly, the character of Peter (J) Frigate seems to function as a slightly awkward mouthpiece for the author to explain what is both great and problematic about Burton. (Problematic so far as racism goes. His behavior toward the women in the group goes unexamined.)

I very much liked the initial adventures as everyone explored the Riverworld, the early conflicts and solutions. However, then there was a huge time jump, and the character focus shifted, and the story becomes more about asking questions about how and why all the dead have been reborn here. This would be interesting if there were any answers in this volume. I have skimmed ahead on Wikipedia, and it looks like those answers aren’t much to be had until book 4. I’m not going to bother reading that far, given how tedious I found the second half of this book.

There are intriguing things hinted about the Ethicals (people in charge of the resurrection) and their mission, but there just isn’t enough pay-off for me here. I did enjoy the first half or so, and I was interested to find out that the book was adapted from two short stories. You can definitely see the seams where they were pasted together.

3 Stars - A Good Book, at least for the first half.

List of Hugo Winners

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