Monday, August 10, 2015

The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip Jose Farmer (1971)

I can hardly remember what I had for breakfast anymore. I certainly can't remember the plots of books I read even a month ago.  Some stick out - A Tale for the Time Being has a certain resonance to it.  Station Eleven.  The Bone Clocks and the movie Cloud Atlas are sort of entertwined in my head.

I can vividly remember series from childhood, tweenhood and teenhood though.  This is probably because I was bereft of reading choices for great chunks of time, the nearest large libraries and bookstores were an hour away.   So I re-read books I liked.  Robert Silverberg's Majipoor series is one of those.  The characters, the plot, the feeling and emotions of the book are still stuck in my head.  Narnia has that element for me; certainly Tolkien does too.

The Riverworld series by Philip Jose Farmer was one of those as well. I read this series again and again as a high school and early adulthood.  I don't remember where I saw the first book, but I know which one I read first and why:

Look at that fantastic cover.  It's fucking awesome.  This is the last book in this series, but I read it first.  Then I went and bought every single book in the series.  I remember loving it.

My memory of the books themselves have dimmed.  The feeling I got when reading and re-reading them though, I remember they were dynamite.

Let's see if I can tell the story in a nutshell.

Richard Francis Burton and Alice Pleasance Liddell, the girl who Lewis Carroll based Alice in Wonderland on, wake up naked on the banks of a river that's a mile wide and millions of miles long.  Everyone whose ever lived is resurrected.  They are fed three times a day through some sort of grail that fits into a mushroom shaped rock - similar, I guess, to how people on Star Trek eat.  The first night, everyone kills one another (because they are scared shitless), and then has naked sex alot, because they are all 25 years old and naked.  Oh yeah, Richard Burton woke up early, and saw everyone asleep in some giant chamber.  EVERYONE.  The people Burton and Alice wake up with are 19th century citizens of Trieste.  I probably had to look this up at the time in some way (pre-Internet, maybe on a map?  I had an atlas).  It's in Italy, so they keep getting served spaghetti and meatballs.  They meet this guy whose a writer with the same initials as the author.  I think his name was Peter.  Richard Frances Burton kills himself a bunch of times.  I don't remember why, but it has to do with a renegade alien (?) who didn't want this whole resurrection thing to happen.  He ends up back with Alice and company, and they decide to make it to the beginning of the river.  I don't remember why.

These books are impossibly stupid.  I didn't know they were when I was 17, but they are.  They are not very well written.  Sort of preachy.  Too much explaining.  And too many famous characters just happening to meet.

Anyway, the one I just tried to read - and failed at because it's so bad, was The Fabulous Riverboat.  Sam Clemens - Mark Twain, and a huge neanderthal, and some Vikings, and King John, and the red baron's brother, build a steamboat... to get to the beginning of the river (remember, where Richard Burton is headed to) because of that same Mysterious Stranger and... I just didn't give two fucks by about mid-way through.  What drew me to this stupid series?  It's so dumb.

The other books all run together.  I think the next is called The Dark Design.  A woman whose name i don't remember builds a dirigible (because they couldn't just build a fucking plane; I don't know why) to go to the beginning of the river.  The dirigible explodes at the very end once they get there.

The next one was called The Magic Labyrinth, so some such nonsense.  They all make it to the end, but the steamship sinks.  Except a few of them make it to the place where all the souls are stored.  One of the people on the steamship was the woman who played the mother in Meet Me In St. Louis.  Mary Astor.  Why Mary Astor?  Who knows.  Anyway, she apparently gets killed.  Who does make to the actual end?  Burton, Cyrano (maybe?), that guy Peter (actually, the real Peter, because the first Peter was a fake Peter - and fucking forget it, that's too fucking difficult to explain.  Plus it's stupid).  Alice in Wonderland.  Some other woman.  A Chinese poet.  A Sufi mystic.  I don't know who else.  Maybe not Cyrano.

In the last book, Alice in Wonderland thinks it would be funny to create robotic versions of all the characters from the books, but they turn on everyone and slaughter them.  Also, a room gets filled with gin and drowns a bunch of people.  And...

It's just so fucking stupid.

You can never go home again.  Never.

Some things you re-read, and you remember why you loved them.  Narnia.  The Hobbit.  Pinky Pye.  From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.  Some things you re-read, and you discover things you missed 30 years ago (in Judy Blume's Blubber THEY CALL THE TEACHER A BITCH.  A bitch!  Not a witch, or a gritch, or a hag - a BITCH).

But some things, you re-read them, and they are disappointingly bad.  For a series that I pretty much can narrate large chunks of, even though I haven't read it in at least 20 years or so, how it could be so godawful bad, I have no idea.  What the fuck was I thinking back then?

I'm going to go home and give these away now. I've kept them for so long, but keeping them around may make me sad.

The Fabulous Riverboat (Riverworld, #2)The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip José Farmer
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The last time I read this book was probably 25 years ago.  But for about 10 years - let's say age 14 - 25, I loved these books.  If you asked me, I could probably reliably narrate most of the plots of each book in the series, enough to maybe even make YOU want to read it.

Some books from long ago, you go back and re-read and it's a pleasure.  You discover new things about the book, you remember why you loved the book in the first place, it becomes even more a part of your heart and soul.  Some books, you re-read after many years, and you rediscover new things, or notice things you may have missed (In Judy Blume's Blubber they call the teacher A BITCH.  Not a witch, not a hag, not a gritch, not a grump - a BITCH.  That was a shocker I did not remember).

Some books, I guess, you re-read, or try to re-read, and realize what a piece of shit taste you had when you were 17 years old.  The Fabulous Riverboat is fucking awful.  It's dreadfully written, with incredibly stupid dialogue and plot twists.  It looks wonderful on paper. The covers are brilliantly rendered and clever.  But oh, my brain!  It hurts after reading this.  So much.  I have saved these books for years, moved them from place to place (paid to have them moved several times).  No more.

You REALLY can never go home.

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