I just finished To Your Scattered Bodies Go. Read it in one day. I really liked it.
Here is a long, spoiler-free review I wrote for it:
To Your Scattered Bodies Go
I've always wanted to read Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld books. I have heard nothing but great things about them, but I just never got around to actually reading any of them. And so yesterday, on a cold and rainy Saturday, I curled up on the couch and read my way through To Your Scattered Bodies Go. It was invigorating, and the perfect book to devour in a single sitting. It tells the story of an intense journey of discovery; it is full of action, tragedy, endearing characters, and a plethora of interesting ideas and situations.
One by one, millions of dead people, humans and aliens from a vast array of different eras, find themselves waking up, completely naked and hairless, scattered along the grassy bank of a vast river. This strange afterlife is unlike any detailed in any of the world's major religions. Christians, Jews, Muslims, atheists, and agnostics all must come to the realization that “heaven” exists, only it's completely different from what anyone ever imagined. This “heaven” quickly becomes a hotbed of debauchery and decadence; orgies, violence, rape, murder, war, slavery and torture become all too commonplace. It seems that, even when given a second chance, the “Lazuri,” are unable to live with one another in a peaceful and productive manner. What's more, some of the Lazuri learn that when they die in this world, they are resurrected again at a different point along the river. Some of the characters use this to their advantage, and embark on what comes to be known as “The Suicide Express” - dive into the river, take in a lung-full of water, and presto, randomly wake up somewhere else.
To Your Scattered Bodies Go can been read as a sort of historical-parallel-alternate-history story. Many of the characters are ripped out of a real life historical context and are thrust into this strange world. Taking center stage is the English explorer-translator-swordsman-fighter-author, Sir Richard Francis Burton. Once, Sir Burton disguised himself as a Muslim and made the journey to Mecca, thus, unofficially, becoming the first Caucasian Hadji. This historical anecdote is paralleled in the book as Sir Burton and his unusual crew of Lazuri make a boat, christened The Hajji, and travel up river to the of source of power, Riverworld's “Mecca.” Joining Sir Burton is Alice Hargreaves (the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland), a strange alien (a harbinger of mankind's doom, circa 2008), a Neanderthal, and a man named Steven Frigate, who, in life, was an admirer of Sir Burton's.
What I enjoyed most about Farmer's Hugo award winning book is how effortlessly the author blends old fashion pulp with the ideas of the new wave sci-fi movement. At times, the narrative conjures the voices of Robert E. Howard and E. E. “Doc” Smith. Lustful and voluptuous ladies abound, brutish barbarians and savages fight in bloody melees, and adventure reigns supreme upon the banks of the mysterious river. On the surface, the book is a rip-roaring action yarn full of daring-do and heroism, scalawags and usurpers, pitfalls and cliffhangers. However, Farmer also injects a ton of social and political context into his grand adventure. He examines ideas of racism, anarchy, diplomacy and democracy, and builds an interesting, if somewhat frustrating, speculative world made even more captivating because of the anachronistic characters.
To Your Scattered Bodies Go is comprised of the best of both worlds. It's got the ideas and social commentary of the new wave, and the pulpy adventure of the golden age. While it does sometimes suffer from some repetition, the heroes are captured and escape a bit too often, for the most part it is masterfully paced. I also appreciate how the journey ends. Narratives like this can often end on a sour note. Their endings are usually greatly anticipated, and many times the final destination does not compare to the sheer immensity of the journey. Such is not the case here. Farmer delivers a satisfactory ending, but he does not dwell on its importance. It does not disappoint because it is just another stop along the epic journey. The mystery is left open, and yet I don't feel as if I need to read any of the other Riverwold books. This is a very good thing in this modern world of massive door-stop sagas, and I thank Farmer for such a concise and compelling read.