Ozdyssey, or How the Yellow Brick Road Lead Me to the Riverworld

Copyright ©2000 by Dennis Power

***Warning if you have not read A Barnstormer in Oz, Traitor to the Living, The Riverworld Series and the World of Tiers series this essay may contain spoilers.***

I was recently struck by some odd coincidences in some seemingly disparate novels of Philip Jose Farmer, these novels included A Barnstormer in Oz, Traitor to the Living, The Riverworld series and the World of Tiers series. The first odd coincidence was that in the Riverworld and in Traitor to the living, the "souls" of the deceased were represented as balls of energy swirling around a central core.

A Barnstormer in Oz also had living balls of energy but they were sentient beings in their own right rather than the souls of the deceased.

I wondered if these novels were perhaps linked a manner that was not readily apparent and looked for further coincidences.

The sentient energy beings in A Barnstormer in Oz attached themselves to non-sentient living creatures animals and sometimes objects such as a Scarecrow or a Bi-Plane, lending their hosts intelligence, speech and animation if need be. The firefoxes as they are called were the product of a vanished race of beings known as the Long-Gones. The firefoxes were the result of a quest for immortality, a method for the transferring the mind of an individual to a energy state which could then be affixed to a new body. Yet the firefoxes were sentient and unsuitable for this enterprise. The firefoxes were able to propagate although it was never detailed in A Barnstormer in Oz, although it is apparently tied into electrical discharges such as static electricity.

The Oz plateau is surrounded by the Deadly Desert , a region devastated by yet another experiment of the Long-Gones which went awry. According to the translation of the Long-Gone's obelisk they had inadvertently opened the doorway to a universe filled with energy creatures. The energy creatures while apparently not sentient were quite destructive since they propagated their kind by using the earth and atmospheric energy. They sucked the electrical energy from all creatures, vegetable or animal. The balls of energy are called fizhanam(enemy-ghosts) by the inhabitants of Oz,

The Long Gone's built devices to keep the fizhanam in check but the beings had already devastated much of the planet. The fizhanam evidently generate electricity as well as absorb it, causing vast electrical storms that also generate substantial amounts of static electricity. The firefoxes apparently propagate by releasing small amounts of their energy. After which by accruing static electricity the smaller bits can accumulate substance until they reach the necessary size to bond with something.

The Long Gone's evidently abandoned Oz for a better Universe, at least this is what Hank Stover supposes in A Barnstormer in Oz.

What does any of this have to do with the Riverworld novels or any of the other books I have mentioned?

Consider the background story of the Riverworld, at least one of them that the inhabitants were told by the "Ethical" Loga. There was an ancient race of beings called the First who accidentally created wathan, an energy being that attached itself to sentient beings and gave them self awareness. Prior to this no beings had been self aware.

Once bonded with a sentient's embryo the wathan recorded all the memories and personality of the sentient from conception to death. The wathan also survived after a person's death and after some experimentation could be reattached to exact duplicate of its host.

When a sentient being became spiritually advanced enough the wathan disappeared, went having Gone On to a spiritual reward.

The First made it their mission to bring self awareness to the universe, so they seeded every planet that might support sentient life could find with wathan generators and wathan catchers and trained younger races with their knowledge of how to reattach wathans to cloned bodies. The earth was given a wathan generator and catcher around 1000,000 bc. but this was not done by the First but rather by one of their protege races.

The protege race after earth's sentient populations had run their course terraformed a distant world and resurrected all of Earth's sentient population from 1000,000 to 1983 A.D. They were restored to youth and would be regenerated if killed. They were given a hundred year time span to reach spiritual enlightenment. At that time those who had not yet Gone On would be forever wiped out.

In the Gods of the Riverworld, Loga reveals that what he had told them before was false. Wathans did not really Go On, the real purpose of the Riverworld was to see if humanity was suitable for physical immortality.

My theory is this Farmer's Oz universe and the Riverworld Universe are intimately connected and that Loga lied to the very end, which is not surprising considering his origin.

I believe in what we could call the Famerian Universe or one of them, there was a group of beings variously known as the Ancient Ones, The Old Ones, the Long Gones or the Firsts. Their experiments with time travel fractured the timeline creating alternate universes. In an effort to fuse the fracturing time lines they stumbled on a method of creating pocket universes. The Old Ones eventually evolved into beings of pure thought/energy.

After the Ancient Ones had evolved to their energy state,  a Powerful race or group of races known as the Preservers, using technology abandoned by the Ancient Ones strove to achieve what the Ancient Ones did, to this end they sought to understand Life and Sentience by studying all sentient races in minute detail.. In various timelines when they located a species emerging into sentience they planted massive collection devices in the planetary core of the species world. These collection devices recorded the memories, personalities and genetic code of every individual from their birth to their deaths. The files of these giant computers were energy forms that attached themselves to sentient beings at sometime during the gestation period.

If you are thinking that this sounds much like the devices used in the Riverworld, you are correct. Yet they also sound much like a successful version of the Long Gones' experiment that had resulted in the creation of the firefoxes of Oz.

My supposition is this, the Long Gone's might have been the first inhabitants of Oz but they were not aboriginal. Oz was in fact their creation. The  Ancient Ones, or Firsts had the ability to create pocket Universes. This ability is demonstrated in the Gods of the Riverworld when each of the inhabitants of the Dark Tower could pass through a doorway into a world of their own creation. It is my contention that the Ancient Ones created Oz as a pocket universe and they also created the Pocket Universe that was home to the humans known as the Thoan as portrayed in Farmer's world of Tiers series.

Having attained the physical immortality and the ability to create not only life, but entire universes, the Ancient Ones craved for what they believed was the next step in evolution, to become pure thought/energy. The Oz universe which Hank Stover visited was created by the Ancient Ones as a laboratory in which they could carry out their experiments without endangering to their home universe. In Oz they built cities for their scientific communities and created sentient races to act as their servants among them were the Rare Beasts, the Winged Monkeys, the Wogglebugs, Golliwogs, Hottentots and many other exotic beings including sentient species which we will describe later.

Their first venture into the creation of energy beings was a complete and utter disaster. Inside a small pocket universe, they developed an energy life form into which they hoped to transfer their consciousness. The energy beings replicated itself by a process similar to one celled life forms.

The Ancient Ones then brought a sample of the energy life into the Oz universe. The team of scientists that created it was destroyed, their bodies drained of life force. Conventional forcefields were ineffectual as were energy weapons. The energy beings spread throughout the Oz universe, destroying animal and plant life. At the first sign of trouble the Oz Universe was sealed off to prevent anything from escaping through the transuniversal gates. All the scientists and their servants were trapped there until the crisis was resolved. The enemy-ghosts were eventually contained and the experiment continued.

The second stage of the experiment resulted in the creation of another artificial energy life form. However these were soon discovered to have a sentience of their own. The firefoxes could not attach themselves to a life form in which sentience was already present, nor could the minds of sentience beings be easily transferred into a firefox. The energy that the enemy-ghosts generated allowed the firefoxes to replicate in the Oz Universe without having to rely on artificial means.

The third stage of the experiment was to create a blank energy being that would allow the personality and mind of sentient being to be recorded. This was eventually accomplished, creating what would later be called the wathan.

However, it was not enough to push the Ancient Ones into the next evolutionary step but it did assure them of immortality beyond the physical. The Ancient Ones abandoned the Oz Universe and returned to primary universe, considering the work in this laboratory universe, although useful, to be a dead end so far as the Magnum Opus was considered.

Upon returning to the Primary Universe, they left behind their most of their sentient servants, taking with them the ones they called their Proteges. To ensure the continued survival of the firefoxes they set up a system to contain yet preserve the enemy-ghosts. To make certain that their experiments could not be recreated they destroyed their cities and most of their artifacts.

A later essay will hopefully try to resolve the differences between Farmer's Oz and Baum's Oz.

The Ancient Ones later achieved their goal of becoming pure thought/energy but it is not known how they did it. Perhaps it was a natural process that could only happen over the course of time. The artificially created race that the Ancients called their Protege's, became known as the Preservers as they Preserved the Ancients legacies and attempted to carry on their works. The Preservers did not understand how the Ancients had evolved into pure thought and so used the Ancients or Firsts technology to record sentience in an effort to understand it.

To this end in some of the timelines, they used machines to record the lives of sentient beings, using the artificially created energy beings known as wathan as data. This has brought us closer to the Riverworld but not quite there. For the Riverworld was unique and it only happened in one universe out of many alternate Earths that were recorded by the wathan devices. But Oz does provide a clue as to whom the Preservers or Proteges were as it does to the true origin of the Operator of the Riverworld.

In A Barnstormer in Oz, Hank Stover, Sharts the Shirtless Blogo the Rare Beast discover a ruined city of the Long Gones. There is an obelisk detailing the early history of Oz of which they can only read a section. The obelisk is written in cartoons. I believe what Hank Stover found was indeed a ruin from the Ancient Ones but not one in which they lived. Rather this was a city lived in by their servants known as Proteges or Preservers. The cartoon history is one indication that they were already attempting to preserve a record of the activities of the Ancient Ones.

Also nearby is a still functioning machine that makes dolls. The dolls at first glance appear human but upon further examination. The doll has no nose or what appears to be cluster of hair, the ears are oddly convoluted and the limbs are jointed differently. This is not an exact description but is a fairly close one of Monat Grrautut. The alien from Tau Ceti who awoke near Richard Francis Burton on the Riverworld in To Your Scattered Bodies Go. Monat has a nose that is described as ending in cleft cartilage, his ears have strange convolutions and his joints are set differently from a human beings. (His fingers and organs of generation are also different but perhaps the doll was not that detailed)

Monat as it will turn out is one of the people in charge of the Riverworld project. He is one of the Proteges/Preservers. We have finally gotten to the Riverworld and yet many questions still remain.

What was the true purpose of the Riverworld?

Who were the Ethicals?

Considering most of our information comes from Loga how much of it can really be believed? Consider this, Loga consistently lied to those he was supposedly helping. He changed his story to suit the occasion. He used Burton and company to gain control of the biological computer that ran the Riverworld. He killed all of the other Ethicals, purportedly so that they would not end the project and send the Riverworld inhabitants to oblivion. Even after the Tower was in his control he faked his own death and played a rather sadistic game with the inhabitants of the Dark Tower.

If we disregard any altruistic motives to Loga you can see that he almost acts like a Thoan from the World of Tiers series. I believe that is exactly what Loga and the other Ethicals are.

Now that we have gotten to the Riverworld we are going to leave it for a bit and take a trip to another Universe.

As has been stated before the Firsts or Ancients created pocket universes for their experiments. One of these experimental universes was I believe designed to observe the evolution of human beings. To this end they created an exact duplicate of the Earth's solar system and then set the universe to run its course. Yet this universe was chronologically ahead of Earth's history, as if they wanted to learn the possible courses that Earth's history could take before they happened. Why would they want to single out the Earth out of all of the planets in the galaxy? I believe that the Firsts or Old Ones originated on earth.

Although the populations were distributed exactly as they were on earth at the dawn of man, left to its own devices, this pocket universe's human population evolved socially and culturally similar in many ways to Earth's human population but in many ways quite different. They called themselves the Thoan.

The Thoan discovered much to their horror thaty they were living in an artificial universe. They attempted to duplicate the process, accidentally stumbling on a method of traveling to alternate universes. They began conquering Alternate Universes, enslaving alien species. Approximately 25,000 -30,000 years before the present era, they arrived at a reality controlled by The Thokina, another alternate universes spanning race.

The prolonged multiversal war nearly wiped out both species. The Thokina were reduced to one individual who was kept imprisoned for millennia and the Thoan were reduced to some 30,000 individuals. That is the official Thoan history, in reality the Thokina forced the Thoan to retreat to their home universe and destroyed the Thoan's technology for traveling to alternate universes. The Thokina left guards behind to insure the Thoan did not regain multiversal travel.

A few years after the war the Thoan rose up and killed the Thokina Guards, except for one who was placed in protective custody. They then tried to regain the ability to travel the multiverse and discovered how to create pocket universes. Approximately 18,000 years before the current era, the Thoan, using all of the remaining technology and science at their command the Thoan create two pocket universes that are exact copies of theirs. The animals and human populations were bio-engineered from living and extinct DNA

Red Orc, the scientist in charge of the project is awarded Guardianship of the two worlds, he becomes known as the Lord of Two Worlds.

Three thousand years later the Thoan embarked on a massive universe building spree, each Thoan desiring to be Lord of their own universe.

Although the life expansion techniques work very well, the Thoan still age, albeit exceeding slowly. In their quest for absolute immortality, the Thoan created an artificial intelligence, called the Black Bellers because of the container that holds the consciousness. The Thoan are undecided about what to do with the new Life Form. A group of religious fanatics called themselves The Ethicals declare that all sentient life is sacred and should be allowed to develop. Several Black Bellers are produced and allowed to mature. When matured they are allowed to transfer their minds to the bodies artificially grown humans whose consciousness was never allowed to develop. The Black Bellers eventually rebel, taking over several pocket universes until they are defeated and are shut into a triple walled universe.

Shortly after the Black Beller War, blaming the Ethicals, the Thoan declared them and their philosophy dangerous to the welfare of the Thoan people. The Ethicals are rounded up and placed in a special universe which not only traps them but tortures them as well.

Taking a cue from this many of the Thoan begin a complex game that involves conquering other pocket universes and trapping fellow Thoans in worlds designed to endlessly torture captive Thoans.

The Ethicals are eventually freed by the Thoan Lord known as Luvah, brother to Jadawin. He is pressed for time, being pursued by Urthona. Luvah hands them a stolen Thokina device which will open a temporary hole into an alternate universe, it was used by the Thokina as an escape hatch in a desperate situation. It can open a gate one time only and then self destructs. The Ethicals spin the location dial and take their chance, it could be worse than their imprisonment, it could be better.

The Ethicals end up on an Earth where the Preservers had planted wathan generators to record the lives of the sentients. Only on this earth in 1983, a devastating nuclear war was fought that wiped out most of humanity and most of the animal population. The war had been waged with neutron bombs so most of the radiation had dissipated by the time the Ethicals arrived. They arrived in 1990 when the last few people were sterile and slowly dying of various radiation caused diseases. Six months after the last native person on earth died, the Ethicals who had begun rebuilding some form of civilization using the crude technologies of this planet, were stunned to be greeted by an alien flying in a small scooter.

The alien was Monat Grrautut, he and his family had been left in stasis so that they could signal the Preservers so that the collective history of earth's population could be added to the Preservers database. He was shocked to find some humans still alive. He was only to be awakened when the collection was complete. Furthermore, no one answered his summons.

Monat and the Ethicals warily exchanged information. The Ethicals were immediately taken with Monat for all the technology he had at his disposal and for this process which promised true immortality. Most also saw the chance to give these sentient creatures another chance at life.

After millennia of imprisonment many Ethicals lost their idealism and begin to believe that their fellow Thoans were correct and that they were superior, that all other races deserved to be treated no better than playthings. They saw this opportunity to regain the life style they had been exiled from.

Using Preserver technology Monat and the Ethicals created a computer into which they filled the sum of human knowledge, using the existing records of on earth as well as the combined memories of the recorded human lives. Monat and each Ethical  had a concise history of human history downloaded into their minds. The knowledge was contained on a brain implant which had several other functions as well. Upon viewing human history it was decided that for humanity to achieve its potential it needed a fresh start. Therefore they would not recreate earth but rather put humanity into the unknown.

Using all of the technologies available at their disposal Monat and the Ethicals terraformed the Earth and Moon. The Earth became the Riverworld.

The giant tower at the North pole was built as the Ethicals headquarters as the control room for the vast machines that would be needed for the Riverworld project. It was also the Ethicals home where they used some of the advanced Preserver technology to indulge in their favorite pastime of creating pocket universe, albeit small ones which were their living quarters in the Dark Tower.

A giant force field was put around the Earth and moon to maintain temperature and climate. It also had a false stellar display to give humanity the impression they were on another planet in another galaxy. This was only one of several shocks designed to "wake" humanity up, as was being resurrected naked and hairless. The use of the grail symbolism was deliberate, believing that humanity would eventually get the idea that this was an opportunity for them to become Ethically advanced and create a peaceful and prosperous society.

Loga and a few of his cronies had other ideas which they planned to implement as soon as the Great Resurrection took place. Loga and some others were planning on setting themselves up as the Lords of this Universe, at least of this part of it. Their plan to seize the Dark Tower had a serious flaw in it when Monat and the Council of Twelve decided that all of the Ethicals should experience part of the resurrection by randomly being resurrected among humanity. Part of the reason was to remove the Thoan's lingering sense of superiority. Although quite liberal by Thoan standards most still regarded the human resurrectees as leblabbiy one of artificially created beings that the Lords used to populate their worlds. By rubbing shoulders with them Monat hoped rid them of this innate feeling of superiority.

What Loga's companions did not know was that it was Loga that had suggested that they all take part in the resurrection.Loga had however decided that there was only room for one Lord in the Universe and that should be him. He developed a plan whereby he could take control of the Dark Tower and thus the Riverworld using human dupes from among the resurrected. Part of his plan had been to waken Richard Francis Burton while the body templates were being constructed so that he would be immediately suspicious of the resurrection.

For those of you who still believe that Loga had humanity's best interests at heart, consider his actions during the course of the novels.He claimed to be Ethically advanced yet he had no qualms about butchering humans or his fellow Ethicals. He selected 144 people and told them they were among 12 select people he thought had a chance of stopping the Ethicals from carrying out their ultimate plan and saving humanity. They all had to go the the Dark Tower at the headwaters of the River at the North pole. It was part of the game to watch them all try.

Loga's appearance, at least the one he adopts most often, is that of a red haired man with green eyes and sharp features. This also the appearance of the Norse God Loki, whom Loga probably identified. Loki is the trickster god. Many of the Ethicals at least those among Loga's cadre had adopted names derived from Norse mythology. Perhaps because they viewed their coming battle with the other Ethicals as a Ragnarok in which they cosmos would be rewritten. There is also the possibility that the Thoan were in part descended from the Norse of their world.

Loga's machinations with the human populace was discovered although he had hid his trail well enough that the others only became aware that there was a traitor among them. Being Thoan they immediately became suspicious of one another. Monat and the Ethical posing as Lev Rauch returned to the Dark Tower and set up safeguards. As time went by Loga's identity as the traitor was ferreted out. Monat set up several failsafes that would prevent Loga from gaining control of the main computers. The computer would run on automatic until a particular human of his acquaintance recited a certain code phrase to the computer. Monat had planned to be with Burton and Alice Hargreaves at the Dark Tower and resume control of the project. He had not counted on Loga's ruthlessness. Loga booby trapped the Dark Tower, killed off most of the Ethicals, prevented their resurrections and sabotaged the resurrection and grail machinery for the valley.

Loga had convinced the humans he was hiding among that the Ethicals were anything but Ethical. He told them a series of lies designed not only to shake their beliefs but to destroy the very foundations of their beliefs and make them more susceptible to whatever he told them. Having told them that all sentient beings had to have self awareness artificially created, they accepted without too much debate his account of the events at the Tower, including the deaths of the Ethicals and the imminent failure of the biocomputer. He knew Monat had chosen one of Burton's circle to release the controls of the computer, so he programmed the computer to act as though it were dying. He convinced the human resurrectees that they need to directly reprogram the computer or all the wathans would be destroyed. Hermann Goering tried to reach the control console but the biocomputer's defenses killed him.

After a few more days in the Dark Tower, Alice Hargreaves remembered the phrases that she was supposed to use. After getting the computer released to Loga's control, he affected the necessary "repairs" although in reality he was apparently setting in motion the next step in convoluted plan. He had realized that once the human resurrectees had been in the Dark Tower it would be almost impossible to get them to return to the valley. While he could have killed them outright, it would not have been as amusing. So he faked his own death and set in motion a series of events that caused the resurrectees to split apart from each other.

The plan evidently backfired because Loga was discovered and forced to tell the truth about the Ethicals true plans of testing humanity for a hundred years to see if they deserved physical immortality. Those that did would be transported back to the restored earth. Loga wanted to extend the experiment indefinitely until most people had achieved an ethical state. Burton forced Loga into into a cryogenic chamber and then used a an almost exact duplicate of Loga to give him control of the computer. Burton set the computer on automatic and began the process of resurrections once more.

Burton and his friends decided to use the starships in the Dark Tower's hangars and travel to the garden world rather than wait for the rest of the Ethicals to come to the Riverworld.

When I said that Loga's plan evidently backfired, we must really ask ourselves did it really. Did he really outsmart himself like the Norse god he modeled himself on or did he really win?

Consider this, Loga had used a duplicate body when he faked his own death. Later on Burton made a duplicate of an imperfect duplicate of Loga so they could access the computer. Isn't possible that Loga created an almost exact duplicate of his body, filled with false memories, so that when he was drugged or interrogated, he would reveal to the resurrectees what he wanted them know. Loga knew that if Burton were sent back to the Valley, Loga would eventually have to deal with him again. He also knew that Burton was a obsessive traveler, that if Loga planted the notion of traveling to the Gardenworld, that Burton would almost certainly do it. It would be easy to imagine that once Burton and his crew left the Riverworld, Loga stepped out from the shadows to rule the Riverworld as befits a Lord.

Why not just kill Burton? Well, cruel and potentially fatal jokes are an integral part of the Thoan culture, as are elaborate and convoluted schemes. Imagine Burton's surprise when he and his crew thawed out from stasis upon reaching the Gardenplanet, only discover that it did not exist. It was a lie like 90% of what Loga had told everyone.

Now that we are leaving the Riverworld, those of you who are still with us, might ask why I mentioned Traitor to the Living earlier if it is not connected to the other three series. I believe that it is but only tenuously.

Without going into great detail, Traitor to the Living is about a scientist who invents a machine that can communicate with the dead. The dead are represented as energy beings, called sembs, floating around in patterns in some dimensional limbo. The description in the book bears a strong resemblence to the description of the wathan chamber in the Magic Labrynth of the Riverworld series.

One of theories put forth in the Traitor to the Living is that Medium contacted energy beings in another dimension who only pretended to be the dead. It is my belief that Medium actually crossed into a parallel time line and somehow made contact with a wathan collection chamber. However it was not the one in the Universe where the Riverworld was built but one almost identical to the world in which Traitor to the Living takes place.