On my trip downRiver, I finished The Magnificent Riverboat, the next book in the Riverworld series. This volume covered the story of Samuel Clemens and his building of an electric riverboat to travel upRiver to the source of the river. I think Samuel Clemens moral compass made it a bit easier for me to be invested in the middle parts of the book (compared to Richard Burton), but this one was still a bit slow reading – details after the jump.
At a high level, I found the middle of both The Magnificent Riverboat and To Your Scattered Bodies Go to be a bit weak. The beginning and end were both exceptional, and provided a lot of good story movement, while the middle seemed almost obligatory though ultimately inconsequential.
Ok – this is pretty major spoiler territory, but I think it’s the best way to illustrate my point. At the beginning of The Magnificent Riverboat, Samuel Clemens teams up with John Lackland to build the riverboat; Sam doesn’t like John, and knows that he will eventually betray him. At the end of the book, John betrays Sam and absconds with the riverboat. The middle of the book, which lasts decades, shows the conflict between Sam and John, shows Sam’s ham-fisted approach to keeping John in line, and shows John’s cunning and betrayal-oriented nature. While the middle certainly reinforces the end, it doesn’t do anything to change the end as none of the events impact the ending that we saw coming from the beginning.
On the other hand, the characters introduced in The Magnificent Riverboat were quite compelling, especially Joe Miller. Joe is a pre-homo-sapiens character, and it would have been very easy to portray him as completely stupid, especially if Farmer had simply denied him the ability to effectively communicate. Instead, Joe actually speaks rather well (though he does have a lisp), and is not constantly demonstrating a complete cluelessness about what’s going on. I actually really liked that Farmer was able to portray Joe as reasonably intelligent, it provided a believably to his character that he would have otherwise lacked.
Overall, I liked The Magnificent Riverboat; while the middle seemed weak from a story perspective, it provided some interesting setting points.