Having read and enjoyed "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" and the "Riverworld" novella that predated it, I decided to work my way through Philip José Farmer's "Riverworld" series on a recent trip.
The first novel in the series brings us the first seven years of life on the Riverworld. This book resumes the story not long after from the viewpoint of different characters. The central character of "The Fabulous Riverboat" is none other than Mark Twain, and the eponymous riverboat is his dream made real through sacrifice, gut-wrenching political compromise, and the introduction of industrialized society to the pastoral Riverworld.
Not a lot is revealed of the makers of the Riverworld or their purposes in this installment. From the previous book, we known that riverworld is peopled with the entirety of human history, distributed in a mixture that favors a dominant society in each area, but mixes in people, languages, and ideas from other times and place. We have been told that the goal is to stimulate personal growth, and to give every human the chance to reach a kind of enlightenment. In this installment, there are no big surprises or revelations. Instead, we see how strong characters from history soften or amplify their character over the years.
This book is a smallish stepping stone in the epic series, but it's an enjoyable one. Stay tuned for the upcoming review of "The Dark Design", in which the series really hits its stride.