Lauren Donoho's Reviews > The Fabulous Riverboat

The Fabulous Riverboat by Philip José Farmer
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's review
Jan 09, 2012

did not like it
bookshelves: scifi, time-travel

** spoiler alert ** This was a very different book from the straight up action/adventure novel that is To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and honestly, I didn't enjoy it nearly as much, for a few reasons.

The thing which totally gutted my enjoyment of the plot was the blatant, frustrating racism in the characterization of the Soul City citizens in general, and Elwood Hacking in particular. Hacking's every decision is reactionary and irrational; his speech is rambling and unclear; his "reverse racism" is so over-the-top and unrealistic as to be funny - every sentence of his dialogue is punctuated by him calling white people "honkies" and "whitey." Hacking reads, painfully obviously, as the paranoid fantasy of the white man afraid of black nationalism, and this greatly damages the second half of the plot.

Also, the title is rather disingenuous, as the riverboat is finished for barely ten pages of the novel. Instead, the book follows Clemens' attempts to get his riverboat built - first journeying with the treacherous Viking Bloodaxe, and later ruling over a small kingdom with King John of England. Bloodaxe and John are functionally the same character - they're both portrayed as backstabbing, violent, and hedonistic - and the only plot reason for Bloodaxe's exit from the story and John's entrance is that Bloodaxe's murder creates an ethical dilemma for Clemens, and an opportunity for him to angst (which is his favorite activity in the novel, despite seeming like an odd characterization of Sam freaking Clemens).

That's another problem with Riverboat - there are brief periods of action interspersed with long sections where Clemens dialogues, either internally or to others, about how difficult his choices have been, and how he despairs of his dream, and how much he misses his wife, Livy, who has taken up with Cyrano de Bergerac (who is actually pretty cool). The exposition is worked in even more clumsily than it was in To Your Scattered Bodies Go, and the metaplot - the actual resurrection question, the infighting among the Ethicals, etc - doesn't develop at all.

I'm going to continue the series, because I miss Burton (who evidently reappears in The Dark Design) and because I've now invested quite a few hours of my life, and I want to know who the damn Ethicals are.

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