The Fabulous Riverboat

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Hardcover, US, first edition.

The Fabulous Riverboat is a science fiction novel by Philip José Farmer published in June 1971 as the first novel in the Riverworld series. The is the sequel of To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and was followed up by The Dark Design. An earlier and shorter version of the novel was first serialized in If magazine in two parts: as "The Felled Star" (July 1967) and "The Fabulous Riverboat" (June 1971).

The book takes place in Riverworld, a massive planet with a single river valley which winds its way around the entire surface. Everyone who has ever lived on Earth has been resurrected here in their mid-20s and no longer ages. If someone dies, they are resurrected again somewhere else along the river. Food and primitive raw materials are provided, so there is no reason to ever fight over resources again, but humans slip into their old habits and quickly begin conquering and enslaving each other. This story follow Sam Clemens (AKA Mark Twain), who is so disenfranchised with the world he forms several unlikely alliances in order to build a riverboat to go upriver in hopes of finding the beings who created Riverworld and demanding answers.


My friend Kelley let me borrow her copy of this book. I finished it in the 2010s. After finding the first book in the series and reading it, I wanted to re-read this before moving onto the third. My second reading was an audio book, and I finished it on 2021-08-11.


I don't own this book. I have read a hard copy and the audio book read by Paul Hecht.


— This section contains spoilers! —


  • The book reveals more about the Ethicals and their plans (or, at least we are meant to think it does). It also hints toward the purpose of the the only thing that that appears in the grails that doesn't fit with Earth, the dream gum.
  • The new assortment of characters are pretty enjoyable all around, and the expanding technology adds a lot of new excitement.


  • It felt like most of this book was just exposition. The plan is laid out near the beginning, and, slowly, over the course of the book, it comes to fruition. There are a few setbacks here and there, but that's about it. It's not nearly as mysterious or interesting as the first book in the series. Too much time is spent describing machines, and I have little interest about the length of a camshaft or the temperature of a boiler.
  • Sam Clemens annoys me for much of the book. He's bad at everything he does, has no ambition to improve himself, and his fixation on the riverboat only compounds his folly. His interpretation of determinism is also awful. Surely the Ethicals could have chosen better.
  • I don't like how all the characters and events of the first book were dropped with little more than a passing mention. I would have preferred at least some excuse for why we have all-new characters.
  • The book is even more of a bro-fest than the first book. Every main character is male, there is only one female side-character with dialogue, the few other females in the book are only briefly mentioned and exist primarily to be raped or saved from rape.
  • Joe Miller uses a similar dynamic as Kazz, but it's even more far-fetched as Farmer doubles-down on his titan-sized cavemen despite there being no historical evidence for such a genus.
  • Farmer, through his characters, tried to defend the racism in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but I don't think he does an honest job of it.
  • Although you can still enjoy the book without having read the first in the series, Farmer makes only a little attempt to explain the events that happened in the first book, and even less to describe the terminology.
  • It doesn't make sense that King John would want the riverboat when he could have ruled over Parolando, especially after all their neighbors were defeated and his rule would be unchallenged.


  • Farmer continues his misunderstanding of the female hymen.




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