To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer is the weirdest Hugo Winner yet. Certainly stranger than Dune, Lord of Light, and even The Big Time and that book was about people at a rest point outside of the space time continuum. Despite its strangest, or perhaps because of it, it was a good book and earned its Hugo.
The novel is the first of five books that takes place on Riverworld, which, despite the closeness of its name, has no relation to ring world. Riverworld is a massive planet Earth like planet that has been terraformed to contain one river valley that starts at the North Pole and runs its way around the planet until it arrives back at the North Pole. This valley is millions of miles long. The mounts that border the valley are higher than Mount Everest and impossible to climb. This setting is strange but not any stranger than other sci-fi books. What makes To Your Scattered Bodies Go truly strange is what Farmer does with this location: he populates it with every human that has ever lived who have all woken up at the same time on the River World. Despite the huge population of every human that ever lived, the number of people stays stable because people cannot reproduce and death is not the end. People are simply resurrected somewhere else on the river whenever they die. Yeah, it is a bit strange.
With every human that ever lived populating his world, Farmer employs quite a few famous ones for this story. The main character is Sir Richard Burton, a 19th century English adventurer who lived a rather colorful life. Burton’s life was so crazy it is hard to believe he was a real person. He served in India and the Crimean War and impersonated a Pashtun from Afghanistan to travel to Mecca. His publishing company was the first to translate the Karma Sutra into English. He wrote about falconry, fencing, sexual practices, and human behavior. Richard Burton was sort of 19th century most interesting man in the world. He also had a pretty impressive beard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ST-Burton.jpg). In short, he makes for a great main character.
During the book Burton travels with different companions up the river to try to discover its source and figure out why Riverworld exists and who put everyone here. He meets many interesting people from a science fiction writer that is clearly a stand in for Farmer (his name is Peter Jairus Frigate), Alice Liddel (the girl Alice in Alice in Wonderland is based on), an alien, a Neanderthal, and the infamous Herman Goring. I thought it was a nice touch to use Goring instead of the more obvious Hitler. The interaction between the historic characters is believable especially considering that Richard Burton died before Goring was born and had no knowledge of his crimes.
Farmer’s writing is engaging and, as I mentioned before, Richard Burton is a great main character. Everything moves along briskly and it is interesting what happen to people as they are forced to live near each other and how they react. It involves a lot of bloodshed and intermixing of languages and peoples in ways that ever would have been possible.
The only reason I would not recommend this novel is that it is the first in a series and if you don’t want to read four books to learn the whole story then you should probably pass. The ending is fairly unsatisfying since it is only part one. I haven’t read the other ones yet so I don’t know if To Your Scattered Bodies Go is just the beginning of a great story or the only good part of an increasingly strange series.
It is a good though and anyone who is interested in a series with a truly strange premise and a good adventure should look no further then To Your Scattered Bodies Go.