At the tail end of 2017, I finished Gods of Riverworld, by Philip Jose Farmer, the last book in the Riverworld series. This book was quite the departure from the other books of the series both in the setting and the thought experiment that it poses. As such, this book felt far different from the others in the series, even if it shared many of the same characters.
First, I want to call out the difference in thought experiment, because is defines this book so much. In the previous books, Farmer really seems to be looking at the consequences of groups of disparate people tossed together with no natural resources (but a constant source of food and water) to see what kinds of societies form and how. In Gods of Riverworld though, it really seems to be about what happens when you give a small group of people near-limitless power over their environment. There are two key components here that drive the conflict though – that their power is near-limitless and that they have to live with others who have the same power. It’s really interesting to see how the “near” part of near-limitless chafes on the various characters, and what they end up doing about it. But, more interesting to me, was what they all do with that power when they start using it (especially as they chose who to resurrect and how they build their worlds). Nur, of course, is the most cautious of the power and does far more investigating of it than the others, which makes me like his character a lot.
When the characters do start building their worlds, each has a different way of going about designing and populating it, which Farmer takes the opportunity to describe in fair detail. Most interesting to me were the extremes – Burton takes the longest to move in to his world, and doesn’t resurrect anyone at all, while Turpin redesigns his place like his old home on Earth right away and resurrects hundreds of people to fill it. Of course, Farmer does seem to express an opinion on what the “right” thing to do is, there’s definitely a lot of experimentation and space between these two extremes.
Also, I noticed that Farmer got really meta a couple of times, which was wildly entertaining. The character of Alice is an interesting example of this – she’s based on the real Alice that the character Alice from Alice in Wonderland was based on, and she threw a party where she manifested various characters from the book. But, that doesn’t beat that Peter Jarius Frigate, the obvious Phillip Jose Farmer stand in, talked about a book he wrote about a world without men, and a science-fiction writer that wrote a story about a world with men. My head spun, but it was awesome.
Overall, I’m happy to be taking a break from Riverworld (though I may just go off and read The Dungeon), but this was a nice capstone to the series. It jockeys for my top spot with Dark Designs as the best in the series, and It’s definitely recommended for those who have read the other installments.