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The Fabulous Riverboat

In The Fabulous Riverboat, Farmer continues exploring a fictional world that he first created with a previous novel called To Your Scattered Bodies Go. It can be described as a work of soft science fiction. Meaning, it uses science fiction to explore not actual technological possibilities but rather to establish a social context that will be capable of generating radical insights about the nature of the human species and the human condition. 

Plot Summary of The Fabulous Riverboat

The Fabulous Riverboat is a 1971 sci-fi novel by American author Philip José Farmer (1918-2009). The second novel in his dystopian Riverworld series, the story follows a group of oddly-aligned adventurers seeking metal: the most valuable asset in a world of resurrected souls.

Two decades after the rebirth of all humanity on Riverworld, Sam Clemens has formed an alliance with the villainous Eric Bloodaxe. The two have set about on a Viking ship in search of precious metal. Clemens communicates with X, the spirit behind the resurrection, who sends an iron meteor plunging down on the crew's vicinity. Pursuing the meteor, Clemens is joined by WWI hero Lothar von Richthofen. At the site of the meteor, a kingdom of resurrected people have come together. The crew assume control of this kingdom to get access to the metal, but not before Clemens turns on Bloodaxe. The metal makes the kingdom more powerful, and this puts them in competition with neighboring kingdoms, such as that of King John. Clemens and King John unite their kingdoms as Parolando, which comes into conflict with nearby Soul City. The latter attacks Parolando, which unleashes a dam on its new enemy. Clemens completes a riverboat, which King John steals, leaving the former intent on building a larger boat to get revenge on his ex-ally.

Themes & Motifs

In the early books of this series, the purpose of the Riverworld is a topic of great wonder. Similarly to how George R.R. Martin's  "A Song Fire and Ice"  fantasy novels have a basis on real world events and families of historical importance, Farmer places an assortment of real world legends alongside fictional characters of the author's creation. Lothar von Richthofen was a famed German fighter ace of the First World War and the Red Baron's brother—and Cyrano de Bergerac. In Farmer's novel, Bergerac even steals the heart of Clemens' long lost love, Livy, though this doesn't stop the two men from forming an alliance.

Every human who has ever lived is resurrected on Riverworld; eternally young with invincible health. All people are physically restored to how they were at age 25, with any disease, decay, or injury incurred before death erased in this new life. When injured or dismembered, a resurrectee's body instantly regenerates. Men don't grow facial hair, and impregnation never occurs on Riverworld. If a resurrectee is killed, he or she is again resurrected, but in a different region afar. People who've died before age 25 are resurrected at the earlier age and then matured up to 25 at an ordinary pace. Children who die before age five aren't resurrected on Riverworld, but on a different planet named Gardenworld

More on The Fabulous Riverboat Series

The novel was serialized in 1967 and 1971 installments of the sci-fi magazine, If . First as "The Felled Star" and then as "The Fabulous Riverboat," prior to being published in book form under the latter title. The other books in the Riverboat series, in order of appearance, are as follows: To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), The Dark Design (1977), The Magic Labyrinth (1980) and Gods of Riverworld (1983).

As a professional writer for more than two decades when The Fabulous Riverboat hit bookshelves, Farmer had two Hugo Awards (1952 and 1967) to his name by the time he commenced the Riverworld series, the seeds of which were planted in one of his earlier prize-winning novels, Owe for the Flesh. The first Riverworld book won him a third Hugo and spawned his most prolific period, which saw him publish 25 books over the ensuing decade.

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