Philip José Farmer
To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
Author: Philip José Farmer
Genre: Science Fiction (New Wave)
All 36 billion people that ever lived on Earth have been resurrected, naked and hairless, in an Earth-like setting that includes a huge river. In this new place, grail-stations provide everyone with food, liquor, cigarettes, drugs, and the occasional lipstick. But this is not the afterlife that everyone was expecting; all of humanity's faults and weaknesses (as well as strengths) have been resurrected with it. Indeed, it is found, one can still die in this environment, only to be re-resurrected elsewhere in the valley. The story follows Sir Richard Burton, who, unlike anyone else, awoke during the transport to this place; a secret he carries which could destroy those who made the “new” world. He is thrown together with Alice Hargreaves (the influence for Alice in Alice in Wonderland), Kass (an English-speaking Neanderthal), Peter Frigate (a 20th century American), Lev Ruach (WWII Holocaust survivor), Morat (an alien from Tau Ceti) and a number of others (who come and go), to try and survive the anarchy that has set in amongst the populace. Eventually, he and his group set out on a quest down the River to find the truth about humanity's new "existence". However, their quest is halted when they are captured by Hermann Göring, who is trying to start up his own Nazi-like state. When Burton and the other slaves revolt and take over, they meet one of the protectors of the world, a 70th century human, who explains that the world is not an afterlife but a way for humanity to earn collective salvation. A few years later, Burton realizes that the protectors (called Ethicals) want him captured because of his knowledge of how the dead were transported and he goes on the run with an unwilling, and unwanted, Göring as his companion. SPOILER: During his running, Burton meets a Mysterious Stranger, another Ethical, who tells Burton that the truth is that the Ethicals resurrected everyone in order to conduct a scientific experiment and once they are finished, the resurrected humans will go back to being dead. After 12 years evading capture, Burton is eventually taken captive and brought to twelve Ethicals who proceed to try and discourage him from finding the end of the River but don’t tell him anything about why the resurrected humans are there. Although the twelve say that he won't remember anything on his return, he finds that he does and prepares to set out on another expedition, with his previous shipmates, to find the end of the River.
Geographical Setting: Riverworld
Time Period: In the future
Series: Book 1 of the Riverworld Saga
Although the setting is Earth-like, the author's concise and thoughtful writing style immediately gives the reader a sense that something is different. Indeed, this is not a novel for the light-hearted; the tone is always grim, pressing, needy, uncertain and survivalistic. The storyline alternates between wars and fights and philosophical musings on the inherent evils of humanity with small glimmers of a more heroic something. This duality means that pacing is not fast or slow but meanders between the two depending on the situation that the characters find themselves in. Indeed, the main characters are fairly flushed out but the secondary and background characters tend to be stereotypical. However, the characters are not the basis for the story; it is the author's commentary on humanity that is the true story here and is what frames what happens to the characters, especially Burton and Göring.
Read-alikes: Books that are similar to Farmer’s are: Time’s Eye, the first book in a trilogy by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, and To the Land of the Living by Robert Silverberg. In the former, readers follow what happens when Earth’s timeline is disrupted and scrambled so that people from various eras are thrown together. Silverberg’s takes place in a sort of afterlife and follows Gilgamesh on his adventures through this new world. Both are very similar to Farmer’s in terms of plot, storyline and their use of historical characters as main characters. Another book that uses resurrected humans as central characters is A.A. Attanasio’s The Last Legends of Earth, the last book in the Radix series. In this novel, alien species are in a war with each other with resurrected, and genetically modified, humans being used as each other’s bait. In addition to characterization, this novel also shares Farmer’s pacing and epic storyline. Following Farmer, with a philosophical idea as the center of the story, is Kathleen Ann Goonan’s Light Music, which is a story about nanotechnology gone awry on Earth with the survivors confined to Crescent City, a living life form about to become a space ship. Her novel is also slightly dystopian but, unlike Farmer, is highly jargon specific. Finally, there is Angelmass by Timothy Zahn, a space opera where humans in another part of a galaxy have found that wearing “angels” causes humans to act ethically and honestly and a spy has been sent to make sure that it’s not an alien invasion. In a similar vein to Farmer, Zahn has a similar concise writing style and personable and believable characters.
Red Flags: Violence; disturbing imagery; sexual references; drug references; language