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19. Riverworld 2: The Fabulous Riverboat – Philip Jose Farmer – pages (2.5 stars)

This is the second installment of the Riverworld series. While I found the first one interesting enough, the spark of mystery is missing from its sequel, leaving it to disintegrate into an odd mishmash of historical, science fiction fanfiction.

In the first novel, every human from prehistory until the late 20th century have awoken on the banks of a world with an endless river. In the sequel, the protagonist is Samuel Clemens (yes, that Samuel Clemens) and he goes down the river with various other historical figures, such as a Nazi War criminal and King John Lackland of Robin Hood fame. I find it very annoying that only the famous people of history ever interact together. Where are the billions of people who did not shift history? They are a faceless, voiceless background.

In the first book, I was curious to know why they were there and who was responsible for providing them with food and other materials needed for survival. The mystery was solved in the first book and is not explored enough in the second.

The resurrected society is adapting and shifting, however. In the first book, people had few resources at their disposal. For at least a third of the book they were naked because they had nothing to clothe themselves with. Now, they are learning how to mine resources from the Earth and bring back the technology they enjoyed in the later part of Earth’s history.

In this story, Sam lands in Paralando, a predominantly African and African-American land. Of course, race is naturally a predominant theme in the book, and while it is a little heavy-handed, it is pertinent to the time it was written. While Farmer still has misogyny rife within the novel (one character is very shocked and amazed at the notion of a female engineer. Incroyable!), Farmer urges for equality and a lack of racism on both sides (Paralando is trying to get rid of inhabitants that are anything other than black).

Overall, while it’s still an interesting setting, it did not grab me enough to wish to continue with the series and the misogyny and constant focus on womens’ bodies rather than their minds is beginning to grate on me. It’s a shame as it’s meant to be one of the greats, but in my opinion it has not aged well.

Your thoughts? Anyone see the SyFy adaption of Riverworld? I haven't seen it but I heard it was pretty ridiculous.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 6th, 2010 08:33 pm (UTC)
I'm actually a huge fan of this book in particular, out of the series.

My theory as to why the faceless, voiceless background thing happens is, well, that the notable people of history are notable because of specific actions or accomplishments; people with the drive to accomplishment in their first lives carried that over to their second. I think this viewpoint (which I'm not judging as good or bad, just pointing out the presence of) is explicitly stated somewhere in either the third or fourth book.
May. 6th, 2010 08:43 pm (UTC)
I would argue with that though and say because people are on a more equal footing, others would rise up who didn't have the resources to do so before, whereas many leaders in history were leaders because their families ruled or had the money to help them pursue leadership skills versus barely surviving day to day.
May. 7th, 2010 01:47 am (UTC)
This is the original person that posted the previous comment
Oh, that might well be how it could work out in reality, but in the case of Riverworld, that's the stated rationale, and it's consistent within the books.

In addition, most of the notable people in the Riverworld books aren't hereditary nobility or other such "nepotism" cases; they're people who became famous for something they did. I think that's also mentioned... I think Richard Burton or Twain has a speech about how a lot of hereditary rulers were nobodies.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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