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Bookends: Mark Twain Builds a Boat on the Riverworld January 28, 2016

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Mark Twain Builds a Boat on the Riverworld

By Dan Davidson

August 30, 2015

– 862 words –

 

The Fabulous Riverboat

By Philip Jose Farmer

RiverboatRecorded Books

Narrated by Paul Hecht

9 hrs and 2 mins

$24.49

 

In the second volume of Farmer’s Riverworld saga, we follow the adventures of Samuel Langhorn Clemens, better known to us all as Mark Twain. Along with billions of other humans and pre-humans, Clemens has been resurrected in a cloned body on a planet dominated by a massive river that winds millions of miles around the planet from pole to pole. Just why that should be is a mystery Clemens intends to solve.

Living conditions within a set distance from the river banks is controlled by the existence of massive mountain ranges too high for there to be enough air to allow people to climb over to adjacent valleys, so travel is effectively restricted to the river valleys.

Over decades it has been learned that there is a stone tower at the northernmost end of the river, where it may be possible to learn the reasons why humanity has been brought to this place following the destruction of the earth by alien beings.

On Riverworld, all the basic physical needs of life are provided by the grail stones along the river. These can be accessed three times daily using individual grail containers owned by each person. Through some sort of matter transference technology they are provided with assorted foodstuffs from an every changing menu, as well as tobacco products, wine, spirits, and towels that can be adapted as clothing.

An individual cannot die. If the body is killed, the person will awaken the next day at some other point along the river, in one of the many small nations that have evolved in the time that people have been there.

This provides a difficult conundrum for many of the people who have religious backgrounds, but it’s not terribly long before a new faith, the Church of the Second Chance, begins to take root at various points along the river. One of its chief missionaries is Hermann Göring.

With all of humanity to play with, Farmer has chosen an interesting cast for the second book. Along with Clemens we have Joe, a pre-human titanthrop of tremendous physical strength and size, and no small intelligence, too. Much to Sam’s discomfort, his earthly wife, Livy, turns up in the same region where he is living, accompanied by her Riverworld spouse, Cyrano de Bergerac.

Sam’s plan, as per the title, is to build a riverboat to sail to the far north and uncover the secret of the alien Ethicals who have masterminded this world. In this, he is assisted by a renegade Ethical known as the Mysterious Stranger. He has recruited twelve humans, including Cyrano and Odysseus, to uncover the alien plot and thwart it. Humanity, it seems, is being used for some sort of sociological experiment, and when that has run its course, the plan includes exterminating all the lab rats.

Riverworld is short on metals, at least in the areas that humans can actually get to, and so the Stranger has diverted a meteor to land near where Clements and the band of Norsemen he is with are sailing when the novel begins. This means that the first few chapters of the book have a major disaster to deal with, along with lots of (temporary) death and destruction.

Much of the rest of the book is tied up with the development of the industrial wasteland needed to build the boat and various other devices more modern than most small nations on the planet could manage: a kind of mobile tank, two different types of aircraft, a smaller boat, several types of pistols, steel swords, etc. The projects take years to work through and during those years there are numerous problems to be sorted out with neighbouring nation-states, as well as internal friction within the boat building partners.

The rather predictable villain of the story is the former King John (or John Lackland) of Magna Carta fame, who is as devious in his second life as he was in his first. The aircraft are developed by Lothar von Richthofen, younger brother of the Red Baron. Since there are also engineers and scientists from the very last century or so of life on Earth, they manage come up with quite a few ways to work around the lack of materials on the Riverworld planet.

In fact, they manage to find a way to store the excess energy from the matter transference that powers the grail stones, and so the boat, when finished, is powered by electricity.

While this book is rooted in one spot more than the first, there’s a lot going on here. Political intrigue, several invasions, and a lot of skullduggery keep the story moving along.

Paul Hecht does a decent job of reading the book, but he could stand to be a bit more lively in his rendering of different voices.

This was our travelling companion on a couple of Yukon road trips and for the first part of our vacation in Nova Scotia. It was good company.

 

-30-

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