Who Inhabits Riverworld?
In the book A PHILOSOPHERS LOOK AT SCIENCE FICTION, Monte Cook has an essay by the same title as this one. His essay is a serious study of the method of resurrecting people on Riverworld, and discusses whether these people are really the same people who lived on Earth or just copies.
This essay takes on the lighter subject of who are the people that are chosen to be written about on Riverworld. The two shared world anthologies, TALES OF RIVERWORLD (1992) and QUEST TO RIVERWORLD (1993), opened up the Riverworld concept to a new group of writers. Considering the authors have all of history to choose from; Alan Shepard could meet Christopher Columbus, Napolean could meet Julius Ceaser, Muhamid Ali could meet Mike Tyson (both in peak 25 year old form), Albert Einstien could blow Issac Newton's mind, Thomas Jefferson could debate Karl Marx, the possibilities are absolutely endless. But, when given a their chance to have famous people interact, or just to watch one historical figure in this strange new setting, who have many authors chosen to write about? Other Authors!
These are not all of the central characters from the original Riverworld series, and these characters do have other interesting backgrounds; explorer, swordsman, sailer to name a few, but there is no doubt that Farmer chose authors to populate his tales.
- The original novels (and one short story) were populated with none other than;
Sir Richard Francis Burton: explorer and translater of the definitive edition of The Thousand Nights and A Night (the Arabian Nights), the Kama Surtra and writer of many nonfiction reports of his travels.
Samuel Clemens: better known as Mark Twain, America's greatest novelist and humorist.
Cyrano de Bergerac: was a satirist and one of the first science fiction authors, having died in 1655.
Li Po: considered by many to be China's greatest poet.
Jack London: writer of the adventure novels The Call of the Wild and White Fang among many others.
Peter Jarius Frigate: Alter ego of Philip Josť Farmer himself.
The really amazing thing is that when Riverworld was thrown open to other writers as a backdrop for some new stories, many of them also chose writers to write about. Here is the list.
TALES OF RIVERWORLD
- Central character authors:
Crossing the Dark River by Philip Jose Farmer: Every character in this story (and its sequel in QUEST) are people that Farmer has traced in his family tree. The main character, Andrew Paxton Davies was Phil's grandfather. He was a doctor, a founder of schools and a writer of medical text books. Another character in the story is Alfred Jarry who is using the name of one of his characters, Doctor Faustroll.
A Hole in Hell by Dane Helstrom (Philip Josť Farmer): The main charcter is Dante Alighieri who is further tortured by Pope Boniface VIII.
Blandings on Riverworld by Phillip C. Jennings: The central figure is none other than P.G. Wodehouse, the great British humorist.
Fools Paradise by Ed Gorman: Dashiell Hammett and Edgar Allan Poe are the main characters in this story.
The Merry Men of Riverworld by John Gregory Betancourt: A fictional actor who was to play Robin Hood just before he was killed on Earth is the main character here, but he comes to the rescue of none other than Jules Verne.
- Central characters who also write:
Graceland by Allen Steele: This story does not quite fit in as it is only filled with song writers, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Sid Vicious and Jim Morrison among others.
Every Man a God by Mike Resnick and Barry N. Malzberg: The first character seen in this story is Frederick Courteney Selous a contemporary of Richard Francis Burton's, and a fellow explorer and writer.
Unfinished Business by Robert Weinberg: Davy Crockett isn't know as an author but he did write an autobiography and Socrates would surely have taken pen to parchment if the oral tradition wasn't so strong in his day.
- Central character non-authors:
Two Theives by Harry Turtledove: As far as I can tell this is one of the few stories with no authors as a central character.
QUEST TO RIVERWORLD
- Central character authors:
Up the Bright River by Philip Jose Farmer: See Crossing the Dark River in TALES.
If the King Not Like the Comedy by Jody Lynn Nye: The main character is none other than William Shakespeare, accompanied by Washington Irving and Aristophanes among others.
Because It's There by Jerry Oltion: Roald Amundsen and Robert Peary were both polar exploreres, but both also wrote about their explorations.
Nevermore by David Bischoff & Dean Wesley Smith: This story is the ultimate proof of my point. Edgar Alan Poe finds a writers colony where Johan Gutenberg has set up a printing press. The first book they have produced is TARZAN RESURRECTED by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Already living in the writers colony are Robert Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Frederick Faust (aka Max Brand) and Lester Dent (aka Kenneth Robeson). Mentioned in passing as not wanting to join the colony were Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck.
Coda by Philip Josť Farmer: In this story Alfred Jarry (Faustroll) leaves the other characters from Crossing the Dark River and Up the Bright River to follow a Sufi named Rabi'a.
Stephen Comes Into Courage by Rick Wilber: Author Stephen Crane leads a band of traveling baseball players. This is possible because every couple of days he gets a new baseball in his grail.
- Central character who also write:
A Place of Miracles by Owl Goingback: No authors here really, Sitting Bull runs in George Custer once again, but to my surprise it turns out that Custer did write his memoirs.
Secret Crimes by Robert Sampson: Allan Pinkerton, the legendary detective gets involved in intrigue between Cleopatra and Tiberius. To my surprise Pinkerton wrote quite a few books.
Hero's Coin by Brad Strickland: Father Lupian and Brother Aelfstan are two monks who spent their lives on Earth as chroniclers, writing history as it happened. They begin doing the same on Riverworld.
Old Soldiers by Lawrence Watt-Evans: Germanicus Caesar controls a stretch of Riverworld and General George S. Patton is the head of his army. While best known for leading the American forces in Europe in WWII, Patton did write a book of memoirs, WAR AS I KNEW IT.
Riverworld Roulette by Robert Weinberg: See Unfinished Business in TALES.
So what does all this mean? Writers look up to other writers. They find their lives and personalities as interesting as their fiction. While I don't pretend that I am a writer, I love reading biographies of authors. Have you ever read IN MEMORY YET GREEN by Isaac Asimov? it's my favorite book of his. How about The Essential Ellison? Over 1000 pages covering 35 years and my favorite stories were the biographical non-fiction stories The Tombs and Valerie (ok A Boy and His Dog was a close 3rd).
- Central character non-authors:
Diaghilev Plays Riverworld by Robert Sheckley: No writers here as Diaghilev dances for his supper on Riverworld.
Human Spirit, Beetle Spirit by John Gregory Betancourt: A pretty good story about how some primative people might have reacted to the resurrection. No authors among the "civilized" people they encounter, as far as I can tell.
Legends by Esther M. Friesner: Some legendary characters (who apparently were real) populate this story; Jason (think and the Argonauts), Medea and her sons.
I've repeatedly asked Phil if he would consider writing an autobiography but he keeps saying, "No, I'd have to leave all the really good parts out". Oh well, any biographers out there want to tackle the project?