The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

The Riverworld series is set on the distant planet of Riverworld, where all humans ever born are resurrected along a ten-million-mile river near mushroom-shaped grailstones that provide food and drugs. When humans die, they are reborn a day later at another location. Twelve unseen, ancient Ethicals oversee the system, the purpose and character of which are revealed throughout the series. A rebel Ethical called X chooses human agents to spoil the Ethicals’ plans to limit humankind’s chances to “go on” past terrestrial existence.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go focuses on nineteenth century explorer Richard Burton, who awakes in a chamber. He is one of countless human bodies suspended in mysterious columns. He is put back to sleep, then awakes on the shore of a seemingly endless river with scores of other humans from a variety of cultures and times. Burton gathers a group of friends including the alien Monat. Burton’s group travels down the river, encountering many warlike cultures. Other groups have members that are 60 percent from one Earth culture, 30 percent from another, and 10 percent random choices. Hermann Göring, the notorious Nazi, runs a slave state that captures Burton’s band. Burton’s group kills and overthrows Göring.

The members of Burton’s group learn that Ethicals, agents of their unseen overseers, disguise themselves as humans to monitor the humans’ activities. Burton learns that humankind has been given a second chance and decides to follow the river to its source to find answers to the questions of who is orchestrating the resurrections and why. He also learns that the Ethicals seek him because of his memory of the pre-resurrection chamber. He repeatedly escapes his pursuers and comes close to the river’s headwaters.

The Fabulous Riverboat begins ten years after Resurrection Day, with Sam Clemens, alias Mark Twain, building a riverboat to take him to the Ethicals’ Misty Tower. He learns that he is a chosen agent of X. Clemens and King John Lackland of medieval England create a heavily armed industrial state named Parolando. King John steals the boat after it is launched, and he throws Clemens’ crew...

(The entire section is 895 words.)