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Of all the bizarre head-trips and out of this world scenarios that science fiction authors have subjected their characters to throughout history, few can compare to the awe-inspiring mystery and twisted brilliance of Philip Jose Farmer’s To Your Scattered Bodies Go. As the first book in Farmer’s Riverworld series, the book introduces us to a strange world in which all of earth’s inhabitants have been resurrected along the shores of a massive ongoing river. From prehistoric neanderthals all the way up to present age men (and women), the entirety of human seems to have been suddenly re-awoken at various points along the river by some unknown entity. Using a combination of actual historical figures and fictional characters from a variety of eras and cultures, Farmer is able to sustain a mixture of mystery, wonder and dread, as those who have been resurrected learn to adjust to their new surroundings and start asking questions about what, or who, is behind this mysterious “Riverworld.”
To Your Scattered Bodies Summary: While many characters move in and out of the story, the novel mainly revolves around Sir Richard Francis Bacon – a real life explorer, adventurer and ethnologist in the 19th century who was known for his travels in Asia and Africa. Having died on Earth, Bacon finds himself mysteriously resurrected, naked and hairless, in a strange land alongside hundreds of other people in the same situation. After getting his wits about him, he slowly begins to interact with some of his fellow companions, including Alice Liddell (the real-life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland), a stone-age man named Kaz, a science fiction writer named Peter, and even an Alien named Monat (who explains that he was a resident of earth at a time in Bacon’s future). Together, they start to acclimate themselves to this strange world and learn how to survive . This includes the discovery of a giant stone table that periodically deposits food and other supplies to the travelers as necessary, as well as the discovery that the gum that is provided along with supplies is actually a powerful hallucinogenic drug which makes them crazy and sexually charged.
One night, a hooded figure (known only as The Mysterious Stranger) comes to Bacon and informs him that he is a member of the race of beings that brought them all to this world. Being against the sinister plot to resurrect humanity, the Stranger implores Burton to try and find the headwaters of the river in order to discover the true nature of the plot. Being the intrepid explorer and restless wanderer that he is, Burton sets off down the river with a group of locals. After a few weeks of traveling down the river (which is rumored to be endless), the group passes by a kingdom run by the Nazi Hermann Goering and is captured and enslaved. After leading a slave revolt against Goering and being reunited with Alice, Bacon discovers that an agent of the beings that control Riverworld has been living amongst them. Fearing for his safety, Burton sets off again to find the source of the river, using the “suicide express” to escape capture whenever necessary (killing himself allows him to be resurrected at another point along the river). When Burton is eventually resurrected in a Tower at the headwaters of the river, he is finally confronted with the true architects of Riverworld.
To Your Scattered Bodies Review: While most science fiction authors provide endless explanations of the worlds they create and the scientific underpinnings of everything in their universe, Farmer takes a much different approach to setting up his world. Part of the thrill and sense of wonder of To Our Scattered Bodies Go is the lack of explanation that we get for why this world exists and what the main characters are doing there. While the characters are interesting and their relationships and conflicts involving, the matter of why they have been brought to this seemingly alien world is the real that mystery that moves the plot along and keeps us guessing. And even if Farmer doesn’t give us a complete explanation of that central mystery (there are other books in the series), he at least keeps our attention throughout the novel and teases us just enough with clues and hints that we can’t help but follow Burton down the endless river is search of answers.
February 9, 2010#62 - To Your Scattered Bodies Go Review - Philip Jose Farmer,