I’ve decided I’m just crazy enough to try to read every book that’s ever won the Hugo Award for Best Novel…and, of course, that I want to share this insane experience with all of you. This week we stop off at Riverworld on our journey through sixty-odd posts of science fiction, speculation and social justice!
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
Philip José Farmer
serialized in Worlds of Tomorrow as
“The Day of the Great Shout” in 1965
and “The Suicide Express” in 1966
published as a novel in 1971
Every person whose ever lived (or, perhaps more importantly, died) on planet Earth has been mysteriously resurrected in the prime of their life (or approximately twenty-five), on the banks of a gigantic river. But by whom? And for what reason? British explorer Richard Burton, along with a motley crew including a neanderthal, and alien, Alice Liddell, and the occasional Nazi, are determined to find out.
Warning! Mild spoilers ahead!
If you’re wondering why THP stalled for three and a half months…this would be the reason why. This book. Right here.
Okay, so the semester from hell might have had something to do with it, too. But frankly, between Ringworld and this garbage, I was just Not In The Mood for more kyriarchal bullshit. Of which this thing is full. So it took me six weeks to get through this relatively short novel, and another six-plus weeks to get up the courage to read the next Hugo (thankfully, much better). We’ll keep this short.
Basically, the idea is awesome. All of human history (and pre-history), resurrected at once! Culture clash to the extreme! Massive sociological experiments performed by a mysterious unknown! Props for the idea.
Negative props times a million for execution. Okay, the ginormous global river is cool, and the grails are an interesting device. Beyond that, though…Farmer, what are you doing? What on Earth compelled you to choice Richard Burton as your protagonist? Admittedly, he traveled a lot and was an accomplished polyglot, but “19th-century-Englishman” (even one who wrote against colonialism) is so not the perspective from which I want to read a book. The sense of smug superiority Burton has towards, you know, everyone is extremely off-putting. And then there’s Herman Göring. Negative props times another million for making the second most well-developed character a freaking Nazi. And we’re not talking “a lowly underling who got caught up in the nationalism and is learning the error of his ways;” we’re talking HERMAN GÖRING.
I’m not a huge fan of this sort of post-apocalyptic story anyway, and this one is made worse by the fact that all it does is set up a situation. Farmer doesn’t really do much with the situation he’s set up – or at any rate, much that I find interesting. Nazis and their problems with addiction are not really my cup of tea. And yes, I know this is the first book in the series, so perhaps future books make better use of the initial idea, which had potential. But I certainly won’t be reading them if I have to experience the Riverworld through the eyes of Richard freaking Burton.
Meh. On to the usual review:
Race: Pretty much everyone is White? Except for the occasional encounter with “barbarians” of the NDN variety. I think there were some African “barbarians” too; I don’t quite remember. To be fair, there are some White barbarians – but where are the non-barbaric POC, Farmer, Hmm? Hmmmm? HMMMMMMMM?
Gender/Sexuality: Women contribute nothing to the plot. They exist for sex. Or hysteria if Burton needs to feel superior – oh, how silly of a 19th-century Englishwoman to feel uncomfortable naked! How silly of anybody to feel uncomfortable walking around naked! Given that she’s walking around naked in a society that quickly develops into one where women are basically forced to become the property of men for their own safety…I think she has legitimate reasons for not feeling comfortable walking around naked. Check your fucking privilege. Oh, and all men are resurrected circumcised, but all women have their hymens intact because FUCK YOU.
Other: The usual ableism/ageism that comes with a situation that pretends there is some perfect “ideal” of physical beauty/health – everyone is regenerated at about 25 years old, with any physical ‘defects’, whether genetic or developed later in life, ‘corrected.’
OVERALL RANKING: 4 out of 10 (rankings subject to change as my sample size increases).