Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Fabulous Riverboat

The Fabulous Riverboat (Riverworld, #2)The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip José Farmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Newly resurrected with all of humanity on an alien planet, Sam Clemens attempts to build a steamboat to find The River's end.

This is the sequel to To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and it doesn't really live up to the original. Sam Clemens has always dreamed of being the captain of a riverboat, and when a meteor strikes Riverworld he suddenly has access to the rare metals to make his own. But to make his dream a reality, he must strike a deal with a devil in the form of the  Plantagenet king, the treacherous John Lackland. (You know, Prince John the phony king of England.)
Not so cute and cuddly in real life.
Less thumbsucking.
More murder.
Not only that, but the sudden presence of metals in Riverworld creates a trading economy, which naturally leads to nationalism, imperialism, an arms race, and racial tensions (on a positive note, there is also a new Magna Carta aimed once again at keeping Lackland in line). In To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the afterlife aftermath all had to do with the Holocaust; in The Fabulous Riverboat it is instead the consequences of anti-black racism and slavery's legacy in America. One of the tiny kingdoms is led by a black nationalist who believes that segregation is the only way to achieve peace.

All of these conflicts are enough to obscure Sam's real reason for building the riverboat: to find the River's end and thwart the alien Ethical's shadowy plan for humanity. Along the way, the identities of six of the Twelve anointed are revealed (what do you bet that none of the other six will be female, either?) Sam has doubts about his role in all of this, and he's also longing for his beloved wife, Livy.

I had a moment of happy chills when Sam gets introduced to a legendary archer known for his wiles (spoilery link), but the feeling disappeared as soon as he did. This book is more of a slog than the first, mainly because it's all political maneuvering and Sam is a less compelling protagonist than Sir Richard Burton. Once again there are only a few women, and those on the margins. (If this book had been written a mere ten or more years later than it was, I think that Farmer would have corrected this flaw.)

Still, I'm intrigued enough by Farmer's world to continue with the series, just to see what will happen after the Twelve confront the Ethicals. Will humanity get a second chance, freed from its giant prison? Or will the vast project simply get shut down? Will the Twelve ever find each other? Will women ever not be considered property in a science fiction novel? Sigh.

Quotable Scene:
"You were the world's greatest humorist," Lothar said. "Have you changed a great deal since you we're resurrected?"
"What's that got to do with it?" Sam said. "A humorist is a man whose soul is black, black, but who turns his curdles of darkness into explosions of light. But when the light dies out, the black returns."

And just because I adore Peter Ustinov's voice performance so much and since this gif is so perfect:

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