Saturday, December 4, 2010

To Your Scattered Bodies Go

The opening episode in a series. An interesting premise. The day after I finished reading the 1972 Hugo Award Winning Novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer I am still not sure what I think about it. I know that it is part of a longer series, Riverworld. I feel very much the way I did when I watched the opening episodes of Lost and The Event on TV. The opening is spectacular, but am I emotionally and intellectually committed to it? Is it compelling enough for me to continue on? Maybe. Maybe not.

The opening few chapters are amazing. After dying, Sir Richard Francis Burton wakes up suspended in a void as he rotates around a pole and surrounded by naked bodies also rotating around poles. The next time he wakes up, he is on the ground. Naked, hairless bodies of men and women are all around him. Slowly, they wake up. Where are they? Is this heaven, hell, purgatory, or some place else? Slowly, they learn that all the people who have ever lived and died on earth are on this planet, which consists of one long river and its banks. There are people from all parts of the earth and from all time periods. To help with their daily needs, they each have a grail that they can use at set times of the day to give them food and some basic supplies.

The main plot seems to be focusing on why they are all there in the first place and who has brought them there. Burton, the main character, makes it his mission to figure this out. But there are also other layers of plot. What is human nature? How do people from different periods of time and different cultures interact with one another to create a society? What role does a person’s past play in their radically different present? Are they the same people as those who died on earth? Do they have souls? Burton keeps on encountering Hermann Goring, the Nazi war criminal. Is this a coincidence or does it have a deeper meaning?

The beginning was spectacular enough that I was glad I read the book. On the other hand I didn’t feel emotionally attached enough to the rest of the story to want to continue reading the series right now. Maybe later. This is more a matter of my tastes and not a reflection on the writing. I am not convinced that the series is going to explore the ideas that am most interested in.

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