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I am always a bit nervous about returning to books I enjoyed when I was much younger. Will the magic survive? I had fond memories of Farmer's four-part Riverboat series, despite the very unsatisfactory ending, and the peculiarly anal accuracy of some descriptions ("the mountains were seven miles or 11265 metres high", if I remember correctly from one of the later books). There is a brilliant central sensawunda concept: all of humanity who ever lived (up to the year 2008, and who survived past the age of seven) are resurrected on the shores of a world-twisting river, apparently as some gigantic social anthropology experiment. Richard Burton (the explorer, not the actor) attempts to find out What Is Really Going On, aided in later volumes by Samuel Clemens / Mark Twain.

Coming back to the first book 25 years after I first read it, I am sorry to say that I found it pretty dire. Farmer is too dazzled by the audacious brilliance of his concept to actually write interesting characters or settings - one early warning is when he writes himself into the book, as Peter Joseph Frigate, to tell us just how interesting Burton is. There are numerous blunders of racial or gender sensitivity, of which the most boringly repetitive is a bizarre fixation with Hermann Göring. Extraordinarily, everyone in the world gets bacon and eggs for breakfast, steak for dinner, and marijuana to smoke in between. And yet nothing is actually resolved in plot terms in the book. I'm afraid that this goes right to the bottom of the Hugo winners on my list, keeping company with They'd Rather Be Right, Hominids, The Gods Themselves and Neuromancer.

(One problem I had with the book which I suspect is not Farmer's fault - my memory of the original version of the erotic encounter between Burton and Alice Liddell in Chapter 8 was that they explicitly have drug-fuelled sex, but the relevant paragraphs seem to have been cut from my recently acquired 1998 Ballantine edition; is my memory of the 1971 original incorrect? Or is it a peculiar act of censorship by Ballantine/Del Rey?)

Other Hugo nominees that year were The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula Le Guin, Dragonquest by Anne McCaffrey, Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny, and that year's Nebula winner, A Time of Changes by Robert Silverberg. I don't think I have read the McCaffrey; the other three are all manifestly better novels than To Your Scattered Bodies Go, but I guess lacked the sensawunda that Hugo voters like.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 19th, 2009 08:58 pm (UTC)
I'll agree with you about TYSBG, but Neuromancer at the bottom of your Hugo winners list? WTF???? Maybe it was the times...

I read it when it came out. That book was a bolt from the blue, unlike anything else out there, and a revitalizing shot in the arm for the whole of SF as far as I was concerned. It would have got my vote that year, if I knew about worldcons at the time.
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:34 am (UTC)
I have read and reread Neuromancer several times, and cannot remember a single thing about the characters or the plot. That has to be a bad sign. Admittedly the two other Hugo nominees I have read from that year - Heinlein's Job and Niven's The Integral Trees - are actively bad books, but I cannot remember if Neuromancer is much better.
Oct. 20th, 2009 03:34 am (UTC)
Actively bad
Integral Trees, which I loved as a teen, does have style problems upon re-reading. I still like the non-planet setting.
Oct. 19th, 2009 09:02 pm (UTC)
The memory cheats... I don't see any mention anywhere of censored versions of this book
Oct. 19th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
I see The Gods Themselves is one of your least-loved Hugo winners -- can I ask why? Have you reviewed it anywhere? It's been a long time since I read it but I liked it just fine, though I don't think it struck me as one of Asmiov's best.
Oct. 20th, 2009 02:28 am (UTC)
I have written it up here!
Oct. 20th, 2009 04:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks. Wow, you really didn't think much of it, did you? Unfortunately, it's been so long since I read it I can't even tell you whether I agreed with any of your perceived flaws, but obviously if I did, I didn't find them as egregious as you did.

I do remember that it wasn't one of Asimov's best -- that would probably be between The Caves of Steel and the Foundation trilogy, with The End of Eternity an outside contender -- but I seem to like him better than you anyway!

In any case, I agree with you that it probably wouldn't have won if it hadn't been by Asimov, especially as it was his first SF novel in over a decade.
Oct. 20th, 2009 03:31 am (UTC)
While I've read most of those books, this is my first encounter with the portmanteau word "sensawunda".
Oct. 20th, 2009 03:08 pm (UTC)
You too? I re-read Riverworld recently and only got a few chapters in before making the decision to give away the entire series and use the shelves for better books.
Oct. 23rd, 2009 08:19 am (UTC)
I recently had a similar experience with James Blish's 'Cities in Flight'. Series - all 4 volumes now available under a single cover. For years the memory of these had occupied a shining space in my memory library. Alas, time and age (mine) have seriously dented their luster. Ah...well...

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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