Philip José Farmer
To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
Winner of the 1972 Hugo Award for Best Novel.
Well, it won a Hugo, so it can't be all bad, can it? Farmer's best-known novel is a book of a single, somewhat preposterous idea: All of humanity, from all ages, is resurrected simultaneously on a strange planet. Some 36 billion people that have died find themselves on a world whose surface has been reshaped into a single river valley. Young, healthy bodies, and basic needs magically provided for. I guess that's original if you have never heard of ancestor simulation.
What does Farmer do with this setting? Not much. The protagonist is Richard Francis Burton, famous 19th century English explorer. Unfortunately the author fails to transfer his obvious fascination with this character to the reader. Burton comes across as a rather bland man of action. Part of his early entourage is a certain Peter Jairus Frigate, whose life story offers some remarkable resemblances to the "About the Author" blurb in the back of the book. Farmer populates the Riverworld with a mix of fictional and historic characters. People react and reorganize in expected ways and ask the obvious questions. Burton stands out because he is the only one to have a fleeting memory of an event between his death and his resurrection. Together with PJF and sundry other characters he ventures on an expedition to learn more about this world and its creators. For much of the book, the plot meanders like the river, only picking up direction towards the end. Since To Your Scattered Bodies Go is only the first installment of what became the Riverworld series, there are only tentative glimpses but no answers.
Another book by Farmer that rests squarely on the author's fertile imagination, with little else to commend it.
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