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Literature / Riverworld

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Riverworld is a novel series by Philip José Farmer detailing the adventures of humanity in a world reshaped into one long river-valley. All humans that have ever been born are mysteriously restored to life with a body in its prime, and left to live in this world. There are no ores to make tools more advanced than Paleolithic, so humans are incapable of getting to the other side of the mountains that block the sides of the river. Humans that are killed awaken the next day somewhere else on the river. The novels are told from the perspective of different characters; the first is centered around Sir Richard Francis Burton and the second on Samuel Langhorn Clemens.

The books, in order, are:

  • "The Day of the Great Shout" (1965) (Novella)
  • "The Suicide Express" (1966) (Novella. The novellas were later combined into the first book.)
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  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
  • The Fabulous Riverboat (1971)
  • The Dark Design (1977)
  • The Magic Labyrinth (1980)
  • Gods of Riverworld (1983)

There was also a short novella, included in a short story collection:

  • Riverworld and Other Stories (1979) (The Novella was titled "Riverworld").

These were followed by a pair of anthologies, featuring short stories by Farmer and a variety of other authors.

  • Tales of Riverworld (1993)
  • Quest To Riverworld (1993)

There was also a GURPS setting adapting the novels (copies of it were given to the writers of the anthology stories as references), a video game and two adaptations on Syfy. Aside from the basic concepts, neither had much to do with the original.


Tropes include:

Syfy Adaptation

The Sci Fi Channel (later Syfy) made two pilots for a possible television series — one in 2003, the other in 2010.

  • Artistic License – History: Nero in the 2003 film is portrayed as happily greeting a Praetorian Guard who he sees there in Riverworld, along with other Romans. The real man would probably have been far more wary, since the Praetorian Guards had defected from him to a governor who rebelled against Nero, and he'd also be unaware of whether the rest would follow him (his usurper had been popular). Here, he's portrayed as undisputed Emperor whom they immediately hail as their ruler. Also, he orders a human sacrifice, which Romans by his time viewed as anathema. They even claim Nero's misrule brought down Rome itself-it actually endured over three more centuries, so this is ridiculously off.
  • Big Bad: Emperor Nero in the first adaptation, and Francisco Pizarro in the second. Given that King John is just a walk-on role in Robin Hood to most Americans this isn't surprising.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Pizarro in the 2010 version has to be reminded that he killed Dan, when Deb tries to kill him.
  • The Chessmaster
    Ellman: Is this another one of their chess games?
    Male Ethereal: (appearing) Chess. One of my favourites.
    Female Ethereal: (appearing) Mine too.
    Male Ethereal: Your move.
    Female Ethereal: No. (indicates Ellman) His.
  • Colony Drop: What causes The End of the World as We Know It in 2003.
  • Cool Boat: Averted in 2010; obviously it would be impractical to construct a huge paddlesteamer/aircraft carrier with Steampunk machine-guns, but would it kill them to mock up some armor and gatling turrets, as opposed to a small black powder cannon and sandbags?
  • Death Equals Redemption: The suicide bomber in the 2010 version, responsible for killing all of the protagonists, later redeems herself by helping Matt escape, at the cost of her own life.
  • Evil Brit: Burton is made the villain of the 2010 movie, even though he's the hero of the novels!
  • Femme Fatale: (2010) Allegra. And proud of it.
  • Giving Up on Logic: This is presumably why in both versions no one's particularly fazed for very long upon discovering they're back from the dead, young again in some cases, or that the world was destroyed by aliens. Also, they have a lot to deal with before too long. giving them little time for much thought about it.
  • Gladiator Games: (2003) Nero is captured and placed in the arena to fight to the death. Unfortunately he's in his element (not quite true as Nero entered the arena to race chariots) and not only quickly defeats his opponent, but also the local Big Bad, taking his throne. In the 2010 movie Burton thinks this is the true purpose of Riverworld.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Burton is made the villain of the 2010 movie, even though he's the hero of the novels!
  • Mechanical Horse: Pizarro rides a horse, an animal which didn't exist in Riverworld in the novels. But when the horse is 'killed' they see it's flesh has been cut open to reveal robot parts.
  • Mind Rape: In addition to the waterboarding, Matt Ellman is tortured by having visions of his beloved Jessie having sex with Burton beamed into his head.
  • Naked on Revival: Averted in 2010 where everyone crawls out of the river in the clothes they died in, but not in the first adaptation.
  • Nietzsche Wannabe: Burton.
    "If you had seen what I'd seen, your eyes would be dead too."
  • Scenery Porn
  • Storming the Castle: The 2010 movie has a scene involving jumping from a burning zeppelin onto the deck of the Not for Hire to battle Burton's men. The sequence is rather underwhelming.
  • Suicide Attack: A female suicide bomber kills the protagonist in the 2010 adaptation. She is not happy when she wakes up in the afterlife and discovers it's full of infidels.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Dan in the 2010 movie, to the point where you can't really disagree with Pizarro's later comment that he finds Americans rather arrogant. Seriously, what kind of moron walks up to a bunch of heavily armed conquistadors, hellbent on flaunting their law degree at them?
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Burton (perhaps unintentionally) comes across as this, since he's basically right about the Riverworld being a giant game for someone else's amusement and no-one ever presents a valid counterargument to the question of why they should save it?

Alternative Title(s): To Your Scattered Bodies Go


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