Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club


To Your Scattered Bodies Go trade pb

To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
Book One of the Riverworld Series

1972 Hugo Award winner!

Ballantine Books - 216 pages (current edition)
cover art by John Stevens (left)

Berkley Books - 222 pages (1980s edition)
cover artist not credited on book (right)

To Your Scattered Bodies Go 1980s paperback

More book cover art
Our book ratings
Aaron's Commentary
Philip Jose Farmer bibliography

From the back cover of the trade paperback
       All those who ever lived on Earth have found themselves resurrected -- healthy, young, and naked as newborns -- on the grassy banks of a mighty river, in a world unknown. Miraculously provided with food, but with no clues to the meaning of their strange new afterlife, billions of people from every period of Earth's history -- and prehistory -- must start again.
       Sir Richard Francis Burton would be the first to glimpse the incredible way-station, a link between worlds. This forbidden sight would spur the renowned nineteenth century explorer to uncover the truth. Along with a remarkable group of compatriots, including Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the Victorian girl who was the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland), an English-speaking Neanderthal, a WWII Holocaust survivor, and a wise extraterrestrial, Burton sets sail on the magnificent river. His mission: to confront humankind's mysterious benefactors, and learn the true purpose -- innocent or evil -- of the Riverworld...

From the back cover of 1970s paperback
       It is not like our world -- or any world that can be imagined by anyone but Philip Jose Farmer. It is huge and mysterious. It has a central river, rimmed by mountains, with a hidden source and an unknown end. Reborn there is every last soul who ever lived on Earth -- from prehistoric apemen to moondwelling future civilizations.
       Reborn there is Sir Richard Francis Burton, translator of "The Arabian Nights," explorer, brawler, scholar, womanizer -- adventurer. His quest to discover the end of the river, the meaning of this world's existence...

Read for group discussion on October 11, 2000

To Your Scattered Bodies Go 1st Ed.

More book covers:
To Your Scattered Bodies Go 

1st edition paperback (left)

Berkley Books - 222 pages (1970s edition)
cover art by Vincent Di Fate (right)

To Your Scattered Bodies Go 1970s paperback

How we each rated this book
Dan 9 Amy 8 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
Cheri 9 Barb 9
Aaron 9 Cynthia 0 flames
Kerry - Jackie 6

Aaron's Commentary  Philip José Farmer - To Your Scattered Bodies Go

       This novel has one of the greatest premises in all of literature: every person who has ever lived wakes up simultaneously on the shores of an immense river circling a clearly artificially designed world. It's an idea perfectly suited to Farmer, who loves to use characters from history or from other authors' fiction. It even gives him an excuse to include himself, in the guise of a character with the initials PJF, as he is wont to do. Farmer's delight at constructing a story around figures like Sir Richard Francis Burton and Hermann Göring is infectious.
       It's interesting to see the mores that develop in Riverworld's strange and diverse society, and how someone like Alice Hargreaves of the Victorian era responds. The petty feuds and cruelties that come to dominate Riverworld nicely illustrate Farmer's view of how pointless the violence and territorialism of our own world are.
       Finally, the intrigue of who built Riverworld and why is handled effectively (even if those who have gone on to read the rest of the series know that Farmer fails to complete this aspect of the story successfully in the sequels).

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Philip José Farmer (1918-2009) was a US writer.

1953 Hugo Award for New SF Author or Artist
1968 Hugo Award for best novella "Riders of the Purple Wage"
1972 Hugo Award for best novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go

The Riverworld series
-- To Your Scattered Bodies Go (fixup 1971)
-- The Fabulous Riverboat (fixup 1971)
-- The Dark Design (1977)
-- The Magic Labyrinth (1980)
-- The Gods of Riverworld (1983)

While Philip Jose Farmer's popularity reached its high point in the 1970's with the introduction of the Riverworld series, he first gained attention two decades earlier. In 1952, Farmer's first science fiction story, "The Lovers," garnered him a Hugo award for Most Promising New Author. His first novel, The Green Odyssey (1957), a planetary romance, was also well-received.

Farmer is often credited with introducing mature sexual themes to the field of science fiction. "The Lovers" was noteworthy for its frank treatment of sex at a time when SF was nearly always PG-rated. The story was published in Startling Stories, having been rejected by the leading editors of the time, John W. Campbell, Jr. of Astounding and Horace L. Gold of Galaxy, presumably due to its adult themes. In 1961, Farmer published an expanded version of The Lovers as his fourth novel. The stories in Farmer's collection Strange Relations (1960) and his later novel Dare (1965) similarly feature situations of sexual encounters between humans and aliens.

Many of Farmer's other early works also handled sexual situations quite explicitly. Farmer's second and third novels, Flesh (1960) and A Woman a Day (1960) (retitled The Day of Timestop, and retitled again Timestop!) were originally published as part of the Beacon Galaxy series of risqué SF novels. Flesh follows an astronaut who has spent 800 years in space, mostly in suspended animation, returning to an earth now populated only by women, who have very high expectations of him.

Later on, Farmer penned several novels for Essex House, a publisher targeting the market (?) for science fiction pornography. These novels included Image of the Beast (1968), a fantastic mystery, its sequel Blown (1969), and A Feast Unknown (1969). All three books were later reprinted by Playboy Press. Traitor to the Living (1973), published after Essex House went out of business, was identified as a sequel to Image of the Beast and Blown.

Farmer has also written mainstream novels featuring surprising sexual situations. These include Fire and the Night (1962), about an attraction between a white man and his married black coworker, and Love Song (1970), in which a man has sexual encounters with a beautiful young woman and her mother, which prove hazardous to his health. (There is no truth to the rumor that Al Gore was the inspiration for Love Song.)

After a few stand-alone SF adventures - Cache from Outer Space (1962, revised as The Cache (1981)), Inside Outside (1964), and Tongues of the Moon (1964).

In 1965 Farmer embarked on his first major series, the World of Tiers. These are fast-paced adventures set in a series of linked pocket universes. The World of Tiers books include The Maker of Universes (1965), The Gates of Creation (1966), A Private Cosmos (1968), Behind the Walls of Terra (1970), The Lavalite World (1977), Red Orc's Rage (1991), and More Than Fire (1993). 

The World of Tiers books and, beginning in 1971, the Riverworld novels have been very successful commercially and are often regarded as the cornerstones of Farmer's career, even if most of his fans agree that much of Farmer's best writing is to be found outside of either series.

Another of Farmer's series of related stories are the Father Carmody stories, assembled in Night of Light (1966) and Father to the Stars (1981). Night of Light contains the phrase "purple haze" and is said to have inspired Jimi Hendrix.

Farmer delights in using famous characters by other authors in his fiction. The main characters of A Feast Unknown, mentioned above, are Lord Grandrith of the Jungle and Doc Caliban, clearly stand-ins for Tarzan of the Apes and Doc Savage. Their bizarre adventures may be seen as a satire of the heroic fiction genre. The same characters reappear in Lord of the Trees (1970) and The Mad Goblin (1970, retitled Keepers of the Secrets). Farmer's fascination with Tarzan is also central to Lord Tyger (1970), where a rich madman tries to create his own Tarzan; Tarzan Alive (1972), which purports to be the true biography of Tarzan; The Adventures of the Peerless Peer (1974), in which Sherlock Holmes and Watson encounter Tarzan; and Time's Last Gift (1972), Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974), and Flight to Opar (1976), which show us the past of the Opar civilization Tarzan encountered in one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' books. Similarly, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973) claims to be a true biography of Doc Savage (who it turns out is related to Tarzan). Farmer has also written "straight" Doc Savage and Tarzan adventures, Escape from Loki: Doc Savage's First Adventure (1991) and The Dark Heart of Time: A Tarzan Novel (1999). In a related vein, Farmer edited Mother Was a Lovely Beast: A Feral Man Anthology of Fiction and Fact about Humans Raised by Animals (1974).

Farmer has borrowed many other characters from literature in addition to Tarzan and Doc Savage. The Wind Whales of Ishmael (1971) features the narrator from Herman Melville's Moby Dick. The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (1973) tells the whole story that Jules Verne only gave us a glimpse of in Around the World in Eighty Days. A Barnstormer in Oz (1982) sends Dorothy's son back to the land created by L. Frank Baum. Ironcastle (1976) is supposedly only a translation of L'etonnant Voyage de Hareton Ironcastle by J.H. Rosny (1922), but some familiar with the French edition say Farmer added much to the original.

Perhaps Farmer's most outrageous use of another author's character was Venus on the Half-Shell (1975), which was published as by Kilgore Trout, a science fiction writer mentioned frequently in the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Vonnegut authorized Farmer's use of his fictional writer, but later became annoyed with the situation. He expressed concern that confusion over the book could hurt his literary reputation, prompting Farmer to retort that the book could hardly do more damage to his reputation than several of Vonnegut's own books.

Returning to his entirely original work, Farmer's most recent series was the Dayworld trilogy - Dayworld (1985), Dayworld Rebel (1987), and Dayworld Breakup (1990) - in which overpopulation has resulted in everyone being allowed to live only one day per week while spending the rest in suspended animation. The story follows a group of "daybreakers," who defy the system and live seven different lives.

Of course, Farmer's best-known original works remain the Riverworld series of novels. In addition to the five Riverworld novels, the Riverworld setting is prominent in River of Eternity (1983), an attempt by Farmer to recreate the original Riverworld story, I Owe for the Flesh, which won a contest in the 50's but was lost before it could be published; Riverworld and Other Stories (1979), a collection of Farmer's short fiction that includes the novella "Riverworld," which does not appear in the Riverworld novels; Riverworld War: The Suppressed Fiction of Philip Jose Farmer (1980), which contains a chapter edited out of one of the Riverworld novels along with an abridged version of Farmer's novel Jesus on Mars (neither of which was really "suppressed"); and Tales of Riverworld (1992) and Quest for Riverworld (1993), collections of Riverworld stories by various authors, including two per volume contributed by Farmer.

Other Farmer SF novels include The Gate of Time (1966, revised as Two Hawks from Earth (1979)), The Stone God Awakens (1970), Dark is the Sun (1979), Jesus on Mars (1979), The Unreasoning Mask (1981), and The Caterpillar's Question, with Piers Anthony (1992).

The Purple Book (1982) collects stories all with the word "purple" in the title, including the outstanding (and again sexually explicit) Hugo-winning novella "Riders of the Purple Wage." Greatheart Silver (1982) and Stations of the Nightmare (1982) are collections of linked stories. Farmer's other collections of short fiction include The Alley God (1962), The Celestial Blueprint (1962), Down in the Black Gang (1971), The Book of Philip Jose Farmer (1973), The Classic Philip Jose Farmer (1984), The Grand Adventure (1984), and Riders of the Purple Wage (1992).

Farmer also recently wrote a mystery novel, Nothing Burns in Hell (1998), and was one of the contributors to Naked Came the Farmer (1998), a mystery novel in which each chapter was written by a different Central Illinois author.

Finally, Farmer is credited with creating the premise for and editing The Dungeon, a series of six related novels by other authors published between 1988 and 1990.

Thanks to Aaron for researching and writing this thorough bibliography

The Official Philip Jose Farmer Home Page
Philip José Farmer - Wikipedia
Thoan - Philip Jose Farmer - a short biography
GameOver game review- Riverworld (c) Cyro Interactive
GURPS Riverworld - Roleplayer newsletter article
The SF Site Featured Review: The Riverworld Saga

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This page was last updated November 21, 2009