Book Review: Riverworld Omnibus by Philip Jose Farmer (To Your Scattered Bodies Go)

Hi there!

A few months ago, I received three omnibus books collecting Philip José Farmer’s award winning Riverworld series from the nice folks at Tor books. Somehow, though Farmer’s name has come up repeatedly during the last three plus decades I’ve been reading science fiction and fantasy, I managed to miss these books. Courtesy of these collections, I no longer have any excuse but to dive into the River with the rest of humanity.

The first omnibus, called simply Riverworld collects the first two of these classics – To Your Scattered Bodies Go and The Fabulous Riverboat. As I’m new to the series, I thought it would only be fitting if I wrote about each of the collected novels individually instead of as a collection.

If you’ve not heard of the Riverworld series, the basic concept is simple until you start considering the scope. Imagine if everybody who ever lived on Earth (emphasis on “ever”) was resurrected on the banks of a seemingly endless river on some alien world. Though healthy and young again, each individual awakens naked with others. Each has a container tied to their wrist (called a “grail”) that, when inserted into a strange mushroom-shaped stone, becomes populated with food, drink, tobacco, alcohol, drugs, and other assorted items. It’s up to each resurrectee to determine what to do with their new lives.

But the scope itself is huge. Billions and billions of people are reborn and must find ways to live on or give up. What’s interesting is that suicide simply gets you resurrected again somewhere else along the river. If you don’t have the will to live, can you somehow find the will to end it all again and again?

This is how we’re introduced to various figures from prehistory, history, and future history. In To Your Scattered Bodies Go, we’re introduced to Sir Richard Francis Burton, an adventurer and veritable Renaissance man with diverse knowledge of cultures, languages, philosophies, literature, and who knows what else. He wasn’t without his fair share of scandals however, considering his interest in the sexual practices of other cultures. Also introduced is the infamous Hermann Göring, one of the leaders of the Nazi Party and Luftwaffe commander.

Like much of the science fiction literature of the era, there is a great deal of philosophy in the story. From the concept of being resurrected to the eventual creation of the “Church of the Second Chance,” much is discussed as far as how much of our old self exists in the new body. Are you the same as before? Will you make the same mistakes or can you change given enough time, effort, and reason?

After seeing the Riverworld miniseries on Syfy last year starring Battlestar Galactica‘s Tamoh Penikett as Matt Ellman, Mark Deklin as Sam Clemens, and Peter Wingfield as Richard Burton, I was curious to see what the book series was actually like. I enjoyed the television series, but it presented a view of the Riverworld as much more sanitized than did Farmer in the original books.

I was a little disappointed not to find Samuel Clemens in To Your Scattered Bodies Go, but suspect that The Fabulous Riverboat holds Twain’s secrets for me next. If you’re even the slightest bit interested in Farmer’s world, I’d encourage you to pick up the first omnibus Riverworld from Tor at your local bookstore.

Next chance I get, I shall continue my journey up the River and report on my findings again!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these omnibus collections below!
Gods of Riverworld

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Book Review: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Mark Twain and Don Borchert

Hi all…

Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) always struck me as an open-minded gentleman with a strong sense of humor and an incredible ability to spin a tale. As a youth, I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and many of his other books. And something tells me if there had been any undead wandering about in the course of his many travels, he probably would have colorfully written about them in his own words.

Of course, he’s been dead since 1910. So unless he finds a way to come back from the dead himself, he’s unlikely to take advantage of the current crop of classics being revisited these days. We’ve seen Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility invaded by zombies and sea monsters and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women suffer from a vampire outbreak. Abraham Lincoln was pressed into service as a vampire hunter (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). And even Leo Tolstoy‘s Anna Karenina was given an android facelift.

So why shouldn’t Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn deal with their own brand of undead along the Mississippi River?

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead, author Don Borchert takes this Twain classic and manages to twist it without breaking it. All of the usual suspects are there – from Tom and Huck to Aunt Polly and Becky Thatcher… And you can’t have Tom Sawyer without his run in with notorious killer Injun Joe!

There are however a few changes that made me giggle in a good way. Adding in the “zum” – the reanimated dead from a zombie plague – does manage to change the tale from Injun Joe vs. Tom to give it an extra supernatural creep factor. And even then there are “zum” and then there’s Injun Joe.

I was laughing as I read how instead of whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence, Tom is sharpening the tops of each fencepost so that if a zombie should fall on one, it would be skewered. For Tom, it’s too much like work, so soon he manages to convince the rest of the kids in the neighborhood to do it for him.

And instead of testing a cure for warts in the graveyard, Tom and Huck are testing the use of a dead cat to keep the “zum” at bay when they run across Injun Joe killing Dr. Robinson and framing Muff Potter for it. Muff as the town drunk may not be the brightest bulb, but he certainly doesn’t deserve to be hung on circumstantial evidence, does he?

Other than the “zum” and discretely changing a few things to put the wandering dead into the story, the majority of the story is kept intact from how Twain wrote it in 1876. In this case, I have to say that works in the book’s favor for the most part – giving an old familiar tale a new twist. The writing style changes only slightly to add a bit of a horror edge.

At about 300 pages, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and the Undead was a fun read from author Don Borchert. If you’re looking for another twisted classic like Seth Grahame-Smith‘s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this book will be right up your alley!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out this and other books from Barnes & Noble!

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What’s coming up (October 3, 2010)?

Hi all…

I thought I’d start a new weekly post about what I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to so you’d have an idea of what’s next on the review front…

Book-wise, I’ve been splitting my time between Eadric the Grasper – Sons of Mercia, Volume 1 by Jayden Woods and Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Mark Twain/Dan Borchert. I’m about halfway through Eadric now and finding it to be extremely well written, but dense. So I’m only able to read a chapter or two at a time before I have to set it down and ponder what I’ve read. Tom Sawyer and the Undead has been an easy read and been quite entertaining so far – I’m nearly done with it.

Music-wise, I have a few albums I’m dividing my time between. The Sound of Sunshine by Michael Franti & Spearhead, Paula Cole‘s Ithaca, and the upcoming releases Bring the Sea by Edie Carey and Dave KozHello Tomorrow. Each of these brings a very different style and passion to the table, but hopefully I can get a few reviews written this week.

DVD-wise, I have He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown to check out this week and just watched Iron Man 2 on Blu-ray last night. I love the Peanuts, so I’m sure that will continue to be a classic. Unfortunately, though Iron Man 2 was fun in spots, it still wasn’t as good as the first one.

So that’s where I’m at. I received a few more new books to review last week, so I’m a bit behind in my reviews and need to get cracking!

Thanks for reading and I hope you’re having a great weekend!

–Fitz

p.s. Check out these titles and let me know what you think or if you have anything you’d like me to review!

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