I’ve always enjoyed Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld tales. It’s one of those big concepts that’s also full of clashing, introspective characters, with the added bonus that some of these folks are recognizable from history.
In a nutshell: Everybody who ever lived on Earth is resurrected bodily at the physical age of twenty-five, along the banks of a river which has apparently been terraformed to surround an entire planet. People from all societies and times of Earth life are mixed up; material wants are provided by a matter-transmuting bucket strapped to each person and “magically” refilled several times a day. And, if you die or are killed, you wake up the next day, hale and hearty somewhere else along the river.
The series follows several movers and shakers of history as they try to figure out their circumstances, and then try to ascertain why and how this all happened in the first place. Since the characters are intended as a crosscut slice of humanity, knaves and saints clash, along with the majority who are in between.
I came across the first book, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, in 1979. The next time I read it will make a dozen times.
A few years ago I was able to buy a copy of River of Eternity, which was published in 1983. This is one of the two first printings, from Phantasia Press. One set was boxed, numbered, and autographed. The other version of this “First edition” is a typical hardback. My copy is an ex-library copy of the more widely distributed version.
By the way, none of the websites that mention the book seem to show the entire wraparound jacket art by John Pound, so here it is:
(Generally speaking, this cover art, with its scenes of impending rape and present torture, is not dissimilar to a lot of thud-and-blunder tales.)
In the Author’s Introduction, Farmer tells a little about the genesis of the Riverworld concept, and explains how this version, River of Eternity, is probably the earliest version extant. This 205-page story takes us to the end of the River and explains all (sort-of), in a manner amplified and extended in the book series.
When I read River of Eternity for the third time in September 2015, I noticed a couple of amusing ( or bemusing) things.
But first, a detour! (Did you expect any less from my twisted psyche?)
I was visiting longtime friend Larry Nemecek, in fall of 1987 for a Star Trek: The Next Generation season premiere party, and we had to make an ice run. I rode in the car with Larry and his roommate Cody. On the car tape deck was the soundtrack album to the movie The Atomic Cafe. Hearing this music inspired me to find a copy of the soundtrack myself, which I encountered at a Salvation Army Thrift Store.
Now, the opening cut of the album is "Atom and Evil" by The Golden Gate Quartet. This is simply a dynamite song. So, when I came across a CD compilation from the group, entitled Swing Down, Chariot, I snapped it up. This album contains 20 songs, one of which is as different performance of “Atom and Evil” than included in the Atomic Cafe album.
Perhaps my favorite song of all is Track 2, “No Restricted Signs,” because it joyfully spells out the truth that the Lord doesn’t care what color you are, if you love and serve him (by serving the people around you, here on Earth).
This site has the song’s complete lyrics. But pertinent to our narrative (FINALLY! you say) is the chorus;
“There are no restricted signs up in Heaven,
There’s no selected clientele.”
Now, What do you suppose I came across on page 97 of River of Eternity? Why, I would maintain that here we have proof that Farmer was also a fan of the Golden Gate Quartet! While narrating the life of a background character, the character comes to the conclusion that “if this was Heaven, it had no selected clientele.”
Now, that phrase can’t be a coincidence!
While we’re on this page, look at the top page header. That’s right, the title of the book:
That’s right, on every odd-numbered page of this printing, the name of the book is misspelled River of Eterntiy.
This goes to prove one of my observations, that sometimes big mistakes get ignored more easily than small ones. When you come across a newspaper with a big honking typo in the headline, that’s this principle at work. We gloss over the big stuff, looking for “little” mistakes.
I’m sure there are plenty of those in the work I crank out!
See you next time, on Thursday, for the first instalment of Blog-O-Ween!