On author Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld, humans from every era and culture have been simultaneously resurrected. Ancient Hebrews, medieval warriors, Spanish Inquisitors, and modern Americans intermingle in this strange new environment, but many still cling to old prejudices.
Tom Mix, a silent-film star originally from early-twentieth-century Earth, is journeying among the vast population along the millions of miles of the River, in search of familiar faces from his own time. He’s been traveling the River for five years and believes people are starting to change. But when he’s entangled in a brutal clash between states, he discovers that some are slow to let go of the ideas that ruled them on Earth.
This volume includes the novelette “Riverworld,” along with two additional Riverworld tales and ten other short stories, all strange, clever, and profound. Farmer’s explorations of the wonderful and bizarre—from a portrayal of Jesus and Satan as cowpokes to a reimagining of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan in the style of William Burroughs—plunge the reader into “one of the most imaginative worlds in science fiction” (Booklist).
This ebook includes“Riverworld,” “J. C. on the Dude Ranch,” “The Volcano,” “The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol,” “The Problem of Sore Bridge—Among Others,” “Brass and Gold (or Horse and Zeppelin in Beverly Hills),” “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod,” “The Voice of the Sonar in My Vermiform Appendix,” “Monolog,” “The Leaser of Two Evils,” “The Phantom of the Sewers,” “Up the Bright River,” “Crossing the Dark River,” and Philip JosFarmer’s article on the making of Riverworld, “The Source of the River.”
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About the Author
His first published novella, “The Lovers” (1952), earned him the Hugo Award for best new author. He won a second Hugo and was nominated for the Nebula Award for the 1967 novella “Riders of the Purple Wage,” a prophetic literary satire about a futuristic, cradle-to-grave welfare state. His best-known works include the Riverworld books, the World of Tiers series, the Dayworld Trilogy, and literary pastiches of such fictional pulp characters as Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. He was one of the first writers to take these characters and their origin stories and mold them into wholly new works. His short fiction is also highly regarded.
In 2001, Farmer won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America.
Read an Excerpt
Tom Mix had fled on Earth from furious wives, maddened bulls, and desperate creditors. He'd fled on foot, on horse, and in cars. But this was the first time, on his native planet or on the Riverworld, that he had fled in a boat.
It sailed down-River and downwind swiftly, rounding a bend with the pursuer about fifty yards behind. Both craft, the large chaser and the small chased, were bamboo catamarans. They were well-built vessels, though there wasn't a metal nail in them: double-hulled, fore-and-aft rigged and flourishing spinnakers. The sails were made of bamboo fiber.
The sun had two hours to go before setting. People were grouped by the great mushroom-shaped stones lining the banks. It would be some time before the grailstones would roar and spout blue electricity, energy which would be converted in the cylinders on top of the stones into matter. That is, into the evening meal and also, liquor, tobacco, marijuana, and dreamgum. But they had nothing else to do at this time except to lounge around, talk, and hope something exciting might happen.
They would, soon be gratified.
The bend which Mix's boat had rounded revealed that the mile-wide River behind him had suddenly become a three-mile wide lake ahead. There were hundreds of boats there, all filled with fishers who'd set their cylinders on the stones and then put out to augment their regular diet with fish. So many were the craft that Mix suddenly found that there was even less room to maneuver than in the narrower stretch of water behind him.
Tom Mix was at the tiller. Ahead of him on the deck were two other refugees, Bithniah and Yeshua. Both were Hebrew, tied together by blood and religion though separated by twelve hundred years and sixty generations. That made much difference. In some ways Bithniah was less a stranger to Mix than she was to Yeshua; in some ways, Yeshua was closer to Mix than to the woman.
All three, at the moment, shared bruises and contusions given by the same man, Kramer. He wasn't in the boat following their wake, but his men were. If they captured the three, they'd return them to "The Hammer," as Kramer had been called on Earth and was here. If they couldn't take the refugees alive, they'd kill them.
Mix glanced behind him. Every bit of sail on the two-masted catamaran was up. It was slowly gaining on the smaller craft. Mix's boat should have been able to keep its lead, its crew was far lighter, but, during the escape, three spears had gone through the sail. The holes were small, but their effect had accumulated during the chase. In about fifteen minutes the prow of the chaser could be touching the stern of his craft. However, Kramer's men wouldn't try to board from the bow of their boat. They'd come up alongside, throw bone grappling hooks, draw the vessels together, and then swarm over the side.
Ten warriors against three, one a woman, one a man who would run away but who refused on principle to fight, and one a man who'd been in many duels and mass combats but wouldn't last long against such numbers.
People in a fishing boat shouted angrily at him as he took the catamaran too near them. Mix grinned and swept from his head his ten-gallon white hat, made of woven straw fibers painted with a rare pigment. He saluted them with the hat and then donned it. He wore a long white cloak made of towels fastened together with magnetic tabs, a white towel fastened around his waist, and high-heeled cowboy boots of white River-serpent leather. The latter were, in this situation, both an affectation and a handicap. But now that fighting was close, he needed bare feet to get a better grip on the slippery deck.
He called to Yeshua to take over the tiller. His face rigid, unresponsive to Mix's grin, Yeshua hastened to him. He was five feet ten inches tall, exactly Mix's height, but considered tall among the people of his time and place on Earth. His hair was black but with an undercoating which shone reddish in the sun. It was cut just below the nape of the neck. His body was thin but wiry, covered only by a black loincloth; his chest was matted with curly black hair. The face was long and thin, ascetic, that of a beardless scholarly-looking Jewish youth. His eyes were large and dark brown with flecks of green, inherited, he'd said, from Gentile ancestors. The people of his native land, Galilee, were much mixed since it had been both a trade route and a road for invaders for several thousand years.
Yeshua could have been Mix's twin, a double who'd not been eating or sleeping as well as his counterpart. There were slight differences between them. Yeshua's nose was a trifle longer, his lips a little thinner, and Mix had no greenish flecks in his eyes nor red underpigment in his hair. The resemblance was still so great that it took people some time to distinguish between them — as long as they didn't speak.
It was this that had caused Mix to nickname Yeshua as "Handsome."
Now Mix grinned again. He said, "Okay, Handsome. You handle her while I get rid of these."
He sat down and took off his boots, then rose and crossed the deck to drop them and his cloak into a bag hanging from a shroud. When he took over the tiller, he grinned a third time.
"Don't look so grim. We're going to have some fun."
Yeshua spoke in a deep baritone in a heavily accented English.
"Why don't we go ashore? We're far past Kramer's territory now. We can claim sanctuary."
"Claiming's one thing," Mix drawled in a baritone almost as deep. "Getting's another."
"You mean that these people'll be too scared of Kramer to let us take refuge with them?"
"Maybe. Maybe not. I'd just as soon not have to find out. Anyway, if we beach, so will they, and they'll skewer as before the locals can interfere."
"We could run for the hills."
"No. We'll give them a hard time before we take a chance on that. Get back there, help Bithniah with the ropes."
Yeshua and the woman handled the sail while Mix began zigzagging the boat. Glances over his shoulder showed that the pursuer was following his wake. It could have continued on a straight line in the middle of the River, and so gotten ahead of Mix's craft. But its captain was afraid that one of the zigs or zags would turn out to be a straight line the end of which would terminate at the bank.
Mix gave an order to slacken the sail a little. Bithniah protested.
"They'll catch us sooner!"
Mix said, "They think they will. Do as I say. The crew never argues with the master, and I'm the captain."
He smiled and told her what he hoped to do. She shrugged, indicating that if they were going to be boarded, it might as well be sooner as later. It also hinted that she'd known all along that he was a little mad and this was now doubly confirmed.
Yeshua, however, said, "I won't spill blood."
"I know I can't count on you in a fight," Mix said. "But if you help handle the boat, you're indirectly contributing to bloodshed. Put that in your philosophical pipe and smoke it."
Surprisingly, Yeshua grinned. Or perhaps his reaction wasn't so unexpected. He delighted in Mix's Americanisms, and he also liked to discuss subtleties in ethics. But he was going to be too busy to engage in an argument just now.
Mix looked back again. The fox — the chaser was the fox and he was the rabbit — was now almost on his tail. There was a gap of twenty feet between them, and two men at the bows of the double hull were poised, ready to hurl their spears. However, the rapid rise and fall of the decks beneath them would make an accurate cast very difficult.
Mix shouted to his crew — some crew! — and swung the tiller hard over. The prow had been pointed at an angle to the righthand bank of the River. Now it turned away suddenly, the boat leaning, the boom of the sail swinging swiftly. Mix ducked as it sang past his head. Bithniah and Yeshua clung to ropes to keep from being shot off the deck. The righthand hull lifted up, clearing the water for a few seconds.
For a moment, Mix thought the boat was going to capsize. Then it righted, and Bithniah and Yeshua were paying out the ropes. Behind him he heard shouting, but he didn't look back. Ahead was more shouting as the crews of two small one-masted fishing boats voiced their anger and fear.
Mix's vessel ran between the two boats in a lane only thirty feet wide. That closed quickly as the two converged. Their steersmen were trying to turn them away, but they had been headed inward on a collision path. Normally, they would have straightened this out, but now the stranger was between them, and its prow was angling toward the boat on the port.
Mix could see the twisted faces of the men and women on this vessel. They were anguished lest his prow crash into their starboard side near their bow. Slowly, it seemed too slowly, the prow of that boat turned. Then its boom began swinging as it was caught in the dead zone.
A woman's voice rose above the others, shrilling an almost unintelligible English at him. A man threw a spear at him, a useless and foolish action but one which would vent some of his anger. The weapon soared within a foot of Mix's head and splashed into the water on the starboard.
Mix glanced back. The pursuer had fallen into the trap. Now, if only he could keep from being caught in his own.
His vessel slid by the boat to port, and the end of its boom almost struck the shrouds of the mast tied to the starboard edge of the deck. And then his boat was by.
Behind him, the shouting and screaming increased. The crash of wood striking wood made him smile. He looked swiftly back. The big catamaran had smashed bows first into the side of the fishing boat on his right. It had turned the much smaller single-hulled bamboo vessel around at right angles to its former course. The crew of both boats had been knocked to the deck, including the steersmen. Three of Kramer's men had gone over the side and were struggling in the water. Count them out. That left seven to deal with.
The rabbit became a fox; the attacked, the attacker. His craft turned as swiftly as Mix dared take it and began beating against the wind toward the two that had collided. This took some time, but Kramer's vessel was in no shape to countermaneuver. Both it and the fishing boat had stove-in hulls and were settling down slowly. Water was pouring in through the hulls. The captain of the catamaran was gesturing, his mouth open, his voice drowned by all those on his boat and the others, plus the yelling from the many other crafts. His men must have heard him, though, or interpreted his furious signs. They picked themselves up, got their weapons, and started toward the vessel they'd run into. Mix didn't understand why they were going to board it. That would be deserting a sinking ship for another, jumping from the boiling kettle into the fire. Perhaps it was just a reflex, a mindless reaction. They were angry, and they meant to take it out on the nearest available persons.
If so, they were frustrated. The two men and two women on the fisher leaped overboard and began swimming. Another boat sailed toward them to pick them up. Its sail slid down as it neared the swimmers, and men leaned over its side to extend helping hands. Two of Kramer's men, having gotten on the smaller vessel, ran to the other side and heaved spears at the people in the water.
"They must be out of their mind," Mix muttered. "They'll have this whole area at their throats."
That was agreeable to him. He could leave the pursuers to the mercy of the locals. But he didn't intend to. He had a debt to pay. Unlike most debts, this would be a pleasure to discharge.
He told Yeshua to take over the tiller, and he got a war boomerang from the weapons box on the deck. It was two feet long, fashioned by sharp flint from a piece of heavy white oak. One of its ends turned at an angle of 30 degrees. A formidable weapon in the hand of a skilled thrower, it could break a man's arm even if hurled from five hundred feet away.
The weapons box contained three chert-headed axes, four more boomerangs, several oak spear shafts with flint tips, and two leather slings and two bags of sling-stones. Mix braced himself by the box, waited until his boat had drawn up alongside the enemy's on the portside, and he threw the boomerang. The up-and-down movement of the deck made calculation difficult. But the boomerang flew toward its target, the sun flashing off its whirling pale surface, and it struck a man in the neck. Despite the noise of voices, Mix faintly heard the crack as the neck broke. The man fell sidewise on the deck; the boomerang slid against the railing.
The dead man's comrades yelled and turned toward Mix. The captain recalled the four men aboard the sinking fisher. They threw clubs and spears, and Mix and his crew dropped flat onto the deck. Some of the missiles bounced off the wood or stuck quivering in it. The nearest, a spear with a fire-hardened wooden point, landed a few inches from Yeshua's ear and slid off into the water.
Mix jumped up, braced himself, and when the starboard side of the craft rolled downward, hurled a spear. It fell short of its mark, the chest of a man, but it pierced his foot. He screamed and yanked the point loose from the deck, but he didn't have courage enough to withdraw it from his foot. He hobbled around the deck, shrilling his pain, until two men got him down and yanked the shaft out. The head was dislodged from the shaft and remained half-sticking out from the top of his foot.
Meanwhile, the second fisher, the one which Mix's boat had almost struck, had come alongside the sinking fisher. Three men leaped onto it and began securing ropes to lash the two boats together. Several rowboats and three canoes came up to the fisher, and their occupants climbed aboard it. Evidently, the locals were angry about the attack and intended to take immediate measures. Mix thought they would have been smarter to have waited until the big catamaran sank and then speared the crew members as they swam. On the other hand, by attacking Kramer's men, they were getting deeply involved. This could be the start of a war. In which case, the refugees would be welcomed here.
However, a catamaran, because of its two hulls, didn't sink easily. It might even be able to get away, if not back to its homeport, at least out of this area. The locals didn't want this to happen.
The enemy captain, seeing what was coming, had ordered his men to attack. Leading them, he boarded the sinking fisher, crossed it, and hurled himself at the nearest man on the fisher. A woman whirled a sling above her head, loosed one end, and the stone smashed into the captain's solar plexus. He fell on his back, unconscious or dead.
Another of Kramer's warriors fell with a spear sticking through his arm. His comrade stumbled over him and received the point of a spear with the full weight of its wielder behind it.
The woman who'd slung the stone staggered backward with a spear sticking out of her chest and toppled into the water.
Then both sides closed, and there was a melee.
Yeshua brought the catamaran up alongside the portside of Kramer's while Bithniah and Mix let the sail down and then threw grappling hooks onto the railing. While Bithniah and Yeshua sweated to tie the two boats together, Tom Mix used his sling. He had practiced on land and water for hundreds of hours with this weapon, and so he worked smoothly with great speed and finesse. He had to wait until an enemy was separated from the crowd to prevent accidentally hitting a local. Three times he struck his target. One stone caught a man in the side of his neck. Another hit the base of a spine. The third smashed a kneecap, and the writhing man was caught and held down by some locals while a flint knife slashed his jugular.
Mix threw a spear which plunged deep into a man's thigh. Then, gripping a heavy axe, he leaped onto the catamaran and his axe rose and fell twice on the backs of heads.
The two enemy survivors tried to dive overboard. Only one made it. Mix picked up the boomerang from the deck, lifted it to throw at the bobbing head, then lowered it. Boomerangs were too hard to come by to waste on someone who was no longer dangerous.
Suddenly, except for the groaning of the wounded and the weeping of a woman, there was silence. Even the onlookers, now coming swiftly toward the scene of the battle, were voiceless. The battlers looked pale and spent. The fire was gone from them.
Mix liked to be dressed for the occasion, and this was one of victory. He returned to his boat, winked at Yeshua and Bithniah, and put on his boots and cloak. His ten-gallon hat had remained on his head throughout. He returned to the fisher, removed his hat with a flourish, grinned, and spoke.
Excerpted from "Riverworld"
Copyright © 1979 Philip José Farmer.
Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
- J. C. on the Dude Ranch
- The Volcano
- Editorial Preface
- The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol
- The Problem of the Sore Bridge—Among Others
- Editorial Preface
- Brass and Gold (or Horse and Zeppelin in Beverly Hills)
- The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod
- The Voice of the Sonar in My Vermiform Appendix
- The Leaser of Two Evils
- The Phantom of the Sewers
- Up The Bright River
- Crossing the Dark River
- The Source of the River
- About the Author