This month’s issue will feature Philip Jose Farmer’s, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, a work that I have surprisingly found invokes a bit of criticism despite its wide acclaim. After winning the 1972 Hugo Award, To Your Scattered Bodies Go was forever labeled as “one of the greats”, and even though I have found commentary justifying the award by claiming that 1972 must have been a lean year for good works, I believe the award was properly bestowed. Besides, with the number two through five slots in 1972 award occupied by the names Ursula K. Le Guin, Anne McCaffrey, Roger Zelazny and Robert Silverberg, I think this notion can be quickly debunked. However, I do have a hypothesis regarding the award: the first twenty-five pages are so profoundly creative that all the words that followed were irrelevant, and it was simply the strength of imagination at the opening of To Your Scattered Bodies Go that catapulted it to the revered heights of the greats.
I first read To Your Scattered Bodies Go as a teenager, and for thirty plus years that opening stuck with me. I would not have been able to recall much of what had followed, and I certainly would have echoed the disappointment many others have felt when the discussion turned to the subsequent volumes in the series, but to have an opening like that vividly persist for decades is a testament to Farmer’s concentrated imaginative burst in those first half dozen chapters. I will not debate the proposition that to be truly great the skill and imagination needed to be continued much deeper into the series. The reality is the opening was enough to carry the reader at least to the end of To Your Scattered Bodies Go.
Before turning to our feature article, I would like to comment on the rest of the Riverworld novels. Should you even read them and do they provide more enjoyment than frustration? Without spoiling anything, I will simply state that in my opinion, you will be equally unsatisfied regarding a “conclusion” if you stop after To Your Scattered Bodies Go or continue on with the series, especially if you read past The Fabulous Riverboat. After my recent re-read of the series, I am left wondering if Farmer had any idea where he was taking the series. I am also left wondering if they were even edited as there were certainly enough inconsistencies to raise the question.
However, until I have a Hugo in my back pocket, I will not critique Farmer’s craft and simply blame some of the poor writing and inconsistencies on the editors. So let’s dive into the feature article and the next installment of the Fayersae Histories.