To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971) by Philip Jose Farmer

toyourscatteredbodiesgo1They had obviously been raised from the dead so they could enjoy themselves. Otherwise, why the liquor, the cigarettes, the marihuana, the dreamgum, and the nudity? (p. 91)

Oh, boy. Don’t let that tantalize you. We’ve got a lot of annoying things going on in this book. Shall we begin?

Richard Francis Burton, esteemed 19th century explorer, geographer, cartographer, culturaler, racister, and sexualar (“master of thirty-nine languages–including pornography” [62]), dies in 1890 Trieste, and wakes up in this moving tube of slime that rotates like a rotisserie chicken, surrounded by other tubes of rotating naked, hairless people, but he’s mostly noticing the Black guy over there, and the Asian guy over there, and this really pale chick whose breasts move with her breathing, and I guess those would be normal things for an undead 19th century European guy to notice. Then he shoots out of the tube and arrives in the bank of this river, and everybody is naked and hungry, and he winds up leading a group of people.

Our cast of characters:

Richard_Francis_Burton_by_Rischgitz,_1864

Richard F. Burton, Famed Explorer, “Ladies of all cultures love my mustachios.”

Philip Jose Farmer

Peter Jairus Frigate (a.k.a. PJF), SciFi Writer, “I need a foil for my unlikeable protagonist. Me!”

Alice_Liddell_in_1872_(photogravure_by_Julia_Margaret_Cameron)

Alice Liddell Hargreaves, Wonderland tourist, “Older men have always liked me.”

640px-Homo_neanderthalensis_adult_male_-_head_model_-_Smithsonian_Museum_of_Natural_History_-_2012-05-17

“Kazz” the cannibal Neanderthal, “Kazz want get laid too.”

TZAlien

Monat Grrautut, Explorer and diplomat from Tau Ceti,”I destroyed you disgusting humans once, now I just roll my eyes behind your backs.”

 

Herman Goring

Hermann Göring, yeah, THAT guy. “Drugs? Where?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our group decides to sail the endless River, encountering various historical cultures and figures along the way. Eventually, they discover the Ethicals, the people behind this manufactured afterlife, and Burton realizes they are after him because he woke up during the transition and so he is officially a danger to their grand master scheme. So, Burton just keeps killing himself to escape the Ethicals, and they don’t notice that’s his M.O. until the end.

 

I know what you’re thinking. “That sounds amazing! How could this possibly go wrong?”

Shut up. I don’t need your sarcasm right now.

 

Let’s get the obvs out of the way. Burton is a 19th century imperialist dildo. He’s a racist, and Farmer characterizes him so. For accuracy’s sake, this would be okay, but Farmer slips and muddles in a lot of places where Burton is not influencing the narrative. Too many stereotypes are reinforced in this tale, and no one is safe: people of color (77), Italians (81, 91), Jewish women (104, 110, 110), and Jewish men (65, 103-104, 110, 127) are just a few examples. Farmer inserts his avatar character, Peter Frigate, to combat Burton’s racist tendencies with modern thought, but Frigate isn’t around enough to succeed, and, really, some of these bigot bombs go completely unnoticed.

But women get it worse, serving merely as eye candy and playthings for the men along the river (55, 57, 60-61, ), always described in lurid detail, which is annoying and irrelevant:

toyourscatteredbodiesgo2“Emerging from the grass, she revealed a wet but beautiful body” (60)

“Anyway, all women, including the ugly ones, were occupied” (61) He means, “occupied.” FML.

“‘I think she wasn’t resisting the idea of intercourse so much as their idea of simultaneous attack… she went with me (61) (This is from Frigate, the supposed idealized Farmer, there to enlighten Burton.)

Loghu had a beautifully rounded posterior; her buttocks were like two eggs.” (75) (Again, this is PJF’s lady friend.)

Too many prostitutes had to rationalize their profession; too many had justifying fantasies about their entrance into the business” (85-86).

“So far, they had neither seen nor heard of a pregnant woman. Whoever had placed them here must have sterilized them…” (98). I love how PJF doesn’t have the imagination to consider the possibility of male sterilization.

Again, most of this narration comes from Burton’s POV, which means thoughts like these are appropriate for this controversial historical figure. But! A more responsible and sensitive 1970’s author would use this premise as a place to argue with Burton, and perhaps inspire growth. This does not happen and most of Burton’s offensive and alienating observations lie festering in the sun, completely unchecked.

And the tale crawls into even creepier creeper territory with the many, many, many nude depictions of Alice, who happens to be a real person and this would be grounds for a lawsuit if she were still alive.

“She must be teasing him” (57). (Burton’s thinking when Alice turns him down. Oh, don’t worry. Of course she will realize the error of her prudish Victorian ways.)

“She had certainly cooperated as enthusiastically as any experienced woman in a Turkish harem” (58).

“‘Any action that resulted from taking the drug came from you, from what you wanted to do'” (59). Just Burton dismissing Alice’s regret after drug-induced copulation.

Which begs the question, why this obsession with Alice? It’s creepy.

But what most bothered me was the negative way humanity is depicted, not as some commentary on society, but rather just another contrived way to induce conflict. When 36 billion humans wake up in youthful bodies in an idyllic setting, they just start raping and fighting. “Some children had been badly beaten, raped, or murdered, or all three” (66). And Farmer is inconsistent with this notion, because “it didn’t take long for everyone to get used to [the nudity]” (69), except for maybe the women and children who were being raped every night.

Even one of the more likeable characters, seventeenth century writer John Collop, preaches:

With few exceptions, men are a mean, miserable, petty, vicious, narrow-minded, exceedingly egotistic, generally disputing, and disgusting lot. Watching them, the gods—or God—should vomit. But in this divine spew is a clot of compassion (174). And I’m thinking PJF sees himself as this “clot of compassion.”

And maybe, maybe, I could forgive all of this bullshit, if it was a well-written, solid story, but I can’t even tell if PJF ever edited this sucker. Heavy on passive voice, it sometimes feels as though Farmer just wrote the story straight through, and never went back to revise, or move things around. If something strikes him, he just wedges it into his current paragraph. “They had discovered yesterday that only the owner of a grail could open it” (62). Well, why didn’t you tell us that yesterday when you were talking about it, Philip?

And the plot holes are a-many reading hazard. PJF never explains why the resurrected start off hairless. Or why there are predators in the river sometimes, but not at other times. His reasoning for why the all-powerful Ethicals fail to realize Burton’s method of escape by suicide, but suddenly catch him on his “777th jump” doesn’t make sense. (And “Jump?” Is this the inspiration for Quantum Leap?)

Oh, and only women cough in fires. Men can carry on full conversations and instructions (117).

toyourscatteredbodiesgo3The sad, but bottom line: This could have been something really cool. Everyone wants to go back in time and converse with fascinating, controversial, and even frightening historical figures. This novel serves as Farmer’s fantasy to do so, but he fails. Richard Burton intrigues and confuses Farmer, and Farmer’s intention was to use Frigate as an avatar of himself, in order to make sense of the provocative Burton from a 1970’s perspective. But where Frigate should be a device to help enlighten Burton, he is either absent, or complicit in Burton’s escapades. And, Farmer just isn’t enlightened enough to be the right 1970’s white guy to pull it off.

And it’s not even over! There’s a sequel!

“I’m going to build a boat and sail up The River. All the way! Want to come along?” (p. 210).

Hell no!

 

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59 thoughts on “To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971) by Philip Jose Farmer

  1. This is the high-water mark of the series. Just think of how awful the other books must be, and rejoice in the fact you have not suffered through them.

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      And I have you to thank for that, otherwise I might have continued with the omnibus edition I have. I can’t believe this book won a Hugo and beat out Silverberg.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I have no idea why it snatched the Hugo away from far more deserving works… it’s a rape-y, passive mess. Then again, it’s still a well-regarded work by a good many readers out there, maybe they showed up en masse at the Hugo vote.

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        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          Oh geez, yeah. Perhaps a year of too many good works competing against one another? Le Guin, Zelazny, Silverberg… what a disaster.

          Like

  2. Rabindranauth says:

    Lmao. This sounds so fucked up that morbid curiousity actually has me considering reading it.

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Dude, it’s so bad. One of the worst Hugo winners I’ve ever read. So yeah! Definitely read it when you’re in the mood to read some bad, racist, sexist scifi.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rabindranauth says:

        I’ll take your advice and skip it, lol. I’ll probably find it’s like reading paranormal romance; such a cheesy idea it kind of excites you, and then you actually do. No fun, lol. Much better to leave your excitement untainted; you’ll be a happier soul 😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          That’s basically what people warned me about. @hankbukowski said it starts full of sensawunda and then peters out, which is the perfect description.

          Still, the experience of reading it was wacky enough to be worth it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Rabindranauth says:

            Hmmm. Guess I’ll have to check it out then! I’m doing Vintage SF Month with a blogger in another two weeks, old SF all January, I’ll check it out then 😀 May need something bad among all the good to keep me anchored, heh.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Joachim Boaz says:

        It is the worst Hugo award winning novel…. BUT, I do enjoy Farmer’s earlier work — especially in the short form. Such as his stories in Strange Relations (1960)

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  3. stephswint says:

    I think I’m going to pass…you didn’t sound to impressed. I’m getting worried about these Hugo winners…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. stephswint says:

    Thanks. Most people who didn’t like it read Quicksilver: book one. On it’s own I would say it’s a three, but I enjoyed it. I do like long books with tons of detail though:)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. thebookgator says:

    “I know what you’re thinking. “That sounds amazing! How could this
    possibly go wrong?”

    Actually, what I was thinking was, “How much did Farmer have to pay someone to transcribe his thoughts during his acid trips?”

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Haha! Actually, the time Hermann Goring enters the tale, it turns into a bit of an afterschool anti-drug special, and the whole “humans are evil animals” bit takes on a preachy quality.

      Ugh.

      Like

  6. Tammy says:

    I had a really long exhausting day and this review totally cheered me up! I love when other bloggers read really bad books and I don’t have to:-D

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      SO glad I could cheer you up! Let me know the next time you have a bad day, and I’ll crack open another crappy vintage… I’ve got plenty of ’em!

      And I hope you have a better day today 🙂

      Like

  7. Thanks a lot, I just threw up all over my computer.

    Though seriously thanks a lot because now I will never make the mistake of reading this horrible bit of paper and glue. Gross.

    Like

  8. romeorites says:

    Wow! Um … yeah … This sounds so morbidly bonkers and just a right bloody mess? I have one PJF book on my shelf and have not yet read it and I may just charity shop it cos of its anything like this then I would rather keep my brains inside my head and not have them leaking all over my nice clean floor.

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  9. hestia says:

    This won a Hugo? I read it in high school and remembered literally nothing about it (before reading your review) beyond hating Burton and thinking it was an utter waste of a cool idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Dude, it not only won a Hugo, but it beat out Zelazny, Le Guin’s Lathe of Heaven, and even the Silverberg I reviewed last week.

      “remembered literally nothing about it beyond hating Burton and thinking it was an utter waste of a cool idea.” Yep, that’s pretty much all I’ve taken away from this novel, too.

      Like

  10. reading SFF says:

    Oh, I read this book as a teenager in German translation. At the time, I thought the idea was really cool, but I couldn’t finish the book. Strangely, the basic idea of the novel was still in my head after all this time. I have been meaning to get back to the novel and read it fully one day, but now, maybe not.

    There’s actually a television movie that’s based on this novel which I caught by chance as I was switching through the channels a couple of years ago.

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  11. Peter S says:

    A few years ago, the SYFY channel based one of their awful movies on the next book in the series; ‘The Fabulous River Boat’. I decided not to read any Farmer after seeing that silly movie.

    Ray Bradbury wrote a fairly good short story using a similar idea. A version of the afterlife is populated by authors. The authors disappear if the last copy of one of their books is destroyed. It probably helps that it’s a short story and not a novel, and there’s no creepy sex in it either.

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I read about that movie and it seems that it was quite bad, even for Syfy standards. And that Bradbury story you mention sounds great, and it sounds exactly like the type of thing Bradbury would write. I love Bradbury 🙂

      Like

      • Peter S says:

        That movie was good for a few laughs actually, either that or I have a high tolerance for bad movies. At least it was on basic cable.

        I haven’t read any Bradbury since high school, 30 or so years ago. Yet I still remember a lot of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Widdershins says:

    I’m afraid he lost me at the ‘eggy buttocks’!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Joseph Nebus says:

    I’m startled. I hadn’t ever read the book, but I’d certainly heard people talking about the series, and Farmer’s certainly one of those famous names you don’t actually read, and I’d gone through a couple of his stories or books a couple years ago and found them generally interesting or amusingly weird.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      It surprised me, too, but this one is strange. I agree with the above commenters who are saying the original short version of this novel was probably tantalizing enough to impress people. Then, I suspect, those supporters fannishly continued to support Farmer after the release of the novel version.

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  14. Jesse says:

    What I can’t figure out is, why is everyone confused this book won a Hugo? Looking at the list of other novel winners we find J.K. Rowling, Robert J. Sawyer, Vernor Vinge, Lois McMaster Bujold, Larry Niven, Joan Vinge, John Scalzi, Connie Willis, David Brin, Isaac Asimov, and others. These writers produce middle of the road, mediocre sf – just like Farmer’s novel. But when majority rules is applied to a cross-section of sf readers, we should not be surprised such works win “the genre’s most prestigious award.”

    Yes, I am a Hugo naysayer. It’s a joke. It’s time to give up on it and look elsewhere. There are much better barometers representing the best works in the field available in other places. I will stop my rant now. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      You are absolutely correct, and I have to say that was a very hard lesson for me to learn when I first started paying attention to all of this stuff. I really thought if I concentrated my reading on the Hugo award list, I would be guaranteed good books. Imagine my surprise when I found myself reading one crappy book after another. And there is so much praise for those authors you mention (although I do like a few of them), I wondered if something was wrong with me.

      Still, the majority of the plain, old reading public, of which I used to be a part, doesn’t concentrate on these things, and that little “Winner of the Hugo Award!” or “Hugo Nominee!” sticker draws a lot of sales and makes lifetime careers, which is unjust when you think about the kinds of authors benefiting from this, and the drivel they tend to release year after year. If critical readers turn away from the Hugos, then that will just keep happening. And that makes me sad. I can see myself giving up on it some day, but not yet.

      Knowing that, it still surprises me about TYSBG because, even if the Hugos traditionally award mediocre genre-bait, this novel is beyond that. It’s such a jumble of disconnected wtf-ery and blind insensitivity, while competing against solid authors, it seems like Hugo Award year 1972 was an especially broken year.

      Like

      • Jesse says:

        I don’t want to defend TYSBG as I have many of the same misgivings as you: great premise, but shitty execution and troubling presentation. I do, however, think it is a product of its times, particularly the counter-culture, free love movement of the late 60s and early 70s when the novel was written and published. Marihuana, dreamgum, orgies, make love not war, etc.,etc., are some of the major ideas of the novel and era, and given science fiction is the mode, I think Farmer was trying to extrapolate on much of that – albeit unsuccessfully so. That being said, I think the gender insensitivity should have been obvious even at the time…

        If you are not aware already, Farmer (and Silverberg) moonlighted as writers of soft-core porn to tide their financial situations over. It would appear Farmer let a little too much of this perspective slip into TYSBG…

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        • Joachim Boaz says:

          Malzberg wrote porn for example — but, metafictional porn. haha

          Liked by 1 person

        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          I think you’re right about TYSBG being a product of its time… from a less mature author. Silverberg did the free love and drugs thing, too, but TYSBG is perhaps less sophisticated than its peers.

          I was aware of the porn fiction. It seems like this was a common side job for many male 60s & 70s scifi authors. Hmm, reviewing the soft core porn fiction written by vintage SF authors would make an interesting niche blog…

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  15. I’m surprised you kept reading this thing, it does sound like a real bomb. I was in the house of a life-long book collector on Friday and was looking over his signed first editions and he had some Farmer books with lovely colors. It got me thinking about how I’ve yet to read any of Farmer’s work. I most certainly will not start here. 🙂

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  16. James DC says:

    In relation to your comments on TYSBG (which I recently was thinking of reading, but won’t, now – thanks for that!), I just finished Silverberg’s ‘Up the Line’ and I was pretty shocked and appalled by the amount of casual sexism in it. Every single female character was shallow, childish, naive and dumb, but whose sexuality and physical attributes were described in lascivious detail – it felt like a dirty, slimy, pervy old man was narrating the story! I’m not obsessively uber-PC, like some people are, but I was offended by this book, in some ways, on behalf of all women. The females were just there to be used as sex toys by the arrogant, smug and dislikeable male protagonists. It really pissed me off in the end, because the central idea of the time-travel story was great.

    However, apart from the misogyny, I got very bored by all the irrelevant historical descriptions of ancient Byzantium, which padded out about half of the novel, plus there was one or two very obvious ‘Internal Logic’ flaws, relating to the time travelling paradoxes. So, all in all, a very disappointing novel, and one that seemed to be of its time, (as pointed out above). That whole late 60’s/early 70’s ‘sex, drugs and rock n roll’ vibe wasn’t as enlightened as we like to think – certainly misogyny was still very prevalent in the culture of the time and I think a lot of supposedly ‘turned-on’ but actually still quite sexist men exploited the new sexual liberation for heir own ends (in both senses of the word!) and SF was no different, it seems…

    Like

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      The only Silverberg I’ve read wasn’t like that, rather, the sexism that existed in that story was really part of the flawed world and the very flawed character he was writing about. But it is sometimes hard to tell where the story ends and the author begins, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Silverberg fails in this light.

      I think you are correct about the 60s/70s vibe not being as enlightened as we think– I’ve got male relatives from that era who have some pretty backwards notions, and they embraced the counter-culture movement. And I think that sort of pseudo-enlightened thinking is still around today, and it’s taken even more insidious turns, from the anti-feminist movements (which basically means they don’t even know what feminism is) to the superwoman complex (closing in on achievement gaps at work, but the duty gaps at home remain lopsided).

      But the nice thing about 60s/70s SF is that a lot of female writers used the platform to comment on gender roles, even though a lot of it tends to be ignored, even today.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Joachim Boaz says:

      Yeah, Up The Line is one of the big Silverberg novels I’ve not read yet. I want to… but yes, Silverberg’s sexism really really bothers me at points.

      Liked by 2 people

  17. […] After a set of socially critical, sometimes psychedelic reads with Pohl, Silverberg, Dick, and Farmer, even a sophisticated 1953 satire like The Space Merchants feels stodgy and quaint. I often turn to […]

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  18. […] year. Tl;dr: it’s generally known as the worst Hugo winner ever, although I would argue it’s this one. They’d Rather Be Right isn’t THAT bad, but there is no nominee shortlist to make […]

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  19. That second book cover image does raise an important philosophical question: If you had a giant orange star covering your groin, what text would be written on it?

    Liked by 1 person

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