Phillip Jose Farmer’s “Riverworld”

If you were or still are a Philip Jose Farmer fan and read his Riverworld series years ago, did you know that there are now films? And if you weren’t a fan, maybe you will become one. If you like Sci-Fi, the odds are you will enjoy this story.

In 1971, while I was still in college, I read Philip Jose Farmer’s “To Your Scattered Bodies Go”.

The novel begins with adventurer Sir Richard Francis Burton waking up after his death on the earth but in a strange new world with an endless river. He soon discovers that he is but one of billions of previously dead people—many are well known historical figures— from throughout Earth’s history stretching from the Neolithic age to modern times.

Next I read “The Fabulous Riverboat” (1971) where the main character is Samuel Clemens—Mark Twain—building a riverboat.

I have been an avid reader for most of my life. In fact, when I was in intermediate and high school (grades 6 to 12), I filled my free time reading and often read one or two books a day. Of course to achieve that, I ignored the homework. And sports weren’t an issue, because I was under a doctor’s care for years being treated for a virus that wanted to destroy my heart.

To give you an idea of how serious my condition was, when I graduated from high school, I stood 6’4” and weighed 125 pounds. From the side, I was all but invisible—a shadow, a thread. After high school graduation,—with the virus defeated after what felt like a thousand needle shots—the doctor said I could join the Marines.  In MCRD in San Diego, I added thirty pounds. Today I’m about two inches shorter and weight more than 180—we shrink as we age.

Even as a college student, I still managed to read at least one book a week when the average for an avid reader in America is 9 to 10 books annually.

Six years later, when the 3rd book in the “Riverworld” series was published—“The Dark Design” (1977)—I was teaching full time in the public schools and missed the book’s publication.  I also missed “The Magic Labyrinth” (1980) and “Gods of the Riverworld” (1983).

After I started teaching (1975 – 2005), the 60 to 100 hour work weeks—teaching, planning, correcting papers, dealing with the daily challenges like protecting my students from bullies, doing grades, calling parents—took a toll on my reading time. In addition, I was struggling to find time to write after I was bitten by the writing bug in 1968 during my first year of college. With the demands of teaching getting in the way of writing and reading, I often got up at 3:00 AM to write for an hour or so before going off to the classroom.

In Farmer’s series a number of historical figures—including Sir Richard Burton, Samuel Clemens, King John of England, Cyrano de Bergerac, Tom Mix, Mozart, Jack London, Lothar von Richthofen and Hermann Göring (for example)—interact with fictional characters with a goal to discover why they were brought back to life and the purpose behind the Riverworld’s creation.

Now retired and with real free time, I discovered that the Sci-Fi channel had produced a television series of Riverworld in 2001, loosely based on the Farmer’s books.  The film was released in 2003. Because I still have fond memories of reading the first two books, I searched Amazon and found the 1-hour and 30 minute Sci-Fi pilot episode and bought the DVD. This version starred Kevin Smith and Brad Johnson. It wasn’t the greatest quality production, but that film lit a hunger for more, and I went hunting.

Then I found the 175-Minute Riverworld film staring Tahmoh Penikett that was released to DVD in 2010.  According to Wiki, this 2nd version of “Riverworld” was supposed to be a 4-hour TV movie. I wonder what happened to the other 65 minutes. I feel cheated.

I think the production quality of the second film was better than the first but both took to many liberties with the story that I fondly remember from forty-two years ago. And I want more.

Discover Barber Shop Quartets and Amazing Acappella


Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
is the award winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition].

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was trained to hate and kill Americans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

Comments are welcome — pro or con. However, comments must focus on the topic of the post, be civil and avoid ad hominem attacks.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.