The Fabulous Riverboat

by Philip José Farmer
Series: Riverworld 2
Reviewed date: 2006 Feb 18
Rating: 2
255 pages
cover art

The Fabulous Riverboat is the second in Farmer's Riverworld series, which recounts the adventures of humanity that has been resurrected along the banks of a million-mile river. Farmer elects not to continue the story from the point of view of Sir Richard Burton, star of the previous book.

Instead, we are treated to Samuel Clemens's quest to build a riverboat and travel to the headwaters of the River, where he hopes to discover the secret of the builders of the Riverworld. To gather materials for his riverboat, Clemens allies himself with King John (formerly of England) and carves out a small kingdom, which trades with neighboring kingdoms for timber and minerals.

The Fabulous Riverboat doesn't work very well. Farmer's decision to pepper the story with famous figures from history sounds interesting in theory but is irritating in practice. Apparently the only people who make it big in the Riverworld are people who used to be famous back on Earth. We get treated to appearances by Mozart, Hermann Göring (now a pacifist gandhiesque prophet), Cyrano de Bergerac, John "Liver-Eating" Johnston, and Lothar von Richthofen, among others. It's jarring and rips one away from the suspension of disbelief that is critical to enjoying a work of fiction.

Finally, Farmer makes a poor choice to include Joe--a major character with a lisp. When Joe speaks, all his S's are replaced with TH's, and W's with V's. That gets old really fast. It's hard to read. It is a mark of an inexperience writer to subject his readers to any significant piece of text that is intentionally misspelled. This one decision nearly wrecks the entire book.

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