J.G. Keely's Reviews > The Fabulous Riverboat

The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip José Farmer
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's review
Feb 14, 2009

it was ok
bookshelves: science-fiction, novel, reviewed, america
Recommended to J.G. Keely by: Ama's Father
Read in October, 2008

As in the first book, Farmer bites off more than he can chew. By using real individuals and cultures from history as his fodder, Farmer invites close inspection by readers familiar with (and fond of) those characters and cultures.

His protagonist is an unfunny Mark Twain, whose occasional spoutings lack the vitriol for which Twain is renowned. Farmer seems to take direct quotes (often from Twain's books) and place them awkwardly into the conversation, which only makes conspicuous how dull the rest of the dialogue is.

Likewise, the many conflicting cultures are oversimplified and whitewashed. Peace and war both come too easily, and intrigue tends to be replaced by bare conflict. Farmer includes the grandest political players to ever take the stage, and then reduces them to petty warlords.

The whole plot is moved along by a mysterious and literal deus ex machina, and despite the buildup of the first book, Farmer brings us no closer to uncovering the grand mystery. Though I was curious how he meant to resolve the questions raised by his grandiose world, he revealed too little to titillate.

This, combined with the massive influx of minor characters to an already busy and muddled plot did little to keep me reading. Perhaps I will get to the other books at some point, but with my current to-read pile, it doesn't seem worth the trudge.

There is an entertaining throwaway character in this book, a huge pre-human giant. Farmer strains credibility by having him quickly learn human speech (impossible even for normal humans who were not exposed as children, let alone a pre-human larynx). The titan also quickly grasps abstract thought, humor, planning, rationality, and sarcasm. Perhaps Farmer is a hard-line Chomskyan.

Farmer's idea for this series was audacious, but his plotting and characterization are rather bland, and seem even moreso against the unbelievably grand backdrop of Riverworld. Like Feynman said of religion: "The stage is too big for the drama".
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05/20 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Manny You nailed it. Extra kudos for pointing out the sly pro-Chomsky propaganda - I'd forgotten than bit.

J.G. Keely Well, I'm not sure if he was actually a Chomsky fan, but they do both seem to simplify linguistics in the same way. I'm glad you liked the review.

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