To Your Scattered Bodies Go
By: Philip José Farmer
Setting: An alternate universe; Riverworld
All human beings that have ever inhabited Earth are thrown together on the banks of a great river in an alternate dimension, intermixed by time period and race. Death is transitory, and does not offer a way out for these people. We follow the exploits of Sir Richard Burton (yes, that Sir Richard Burton) as he assumes leadership of a small band of people and tries to discover who is behind this grand experiment.
This is the first of the famous Riverworld books, which have a devoted following among science fiction fans world wide. For some reason, I had always passed over the series, and when I finally decided to read it recently I expected a grand story full of action and historical references.
The story does have all of that, but it did not strike me as the sweeping classic that its reputation promises. Most importantly, I did not feel like I wanted to continue the series after reading Scattered. Part of the problem for me was that I did not like the main character. Yes, he seems to be historically accurate, and I can accept that the book might be representative of his actions if he were placed in that kind of a fantastic setting, but I did not identify with him. Nor did I care greatly what happened to him. I have read other books with main characters that I did not like (see The Gap Cycle, by Stephen R. Donaldson), but at least I was interested in their welfare. In this book, I didn’t care whether Burton lived or died.
As I read, I kept remembering flashes of Silverlock, by John Myers Myers. To me, that book was much more interesting, even though it had a similar setup. One thing that helped is that Silverlockcarried a liberal sprinkling of humor, which Scattered seems to ignore for the most part. In a sense, Farmer takes his book to seriously, while Myers makes it a point not to.
I must have missed something in this book. Too many intelligent people have said that this is one of the greats. Perhaps simply taking it out of context of the series is a mistake. I will continue with the series, but not until after I read a few other things.
Based on this, I recommend giving the book a try, even though I didn’t really like it. Better yet, read it and Silverlock (if you can find it) and then compare the two.