Meaning of Life Exposed in Riverworld
In the Riverworld series, Philip Jose Farmer grapples with many aspects of human nature. The series is not about the evolution of humanity, nor mankind's instinctive desire to become dominant over nature. It is actually about spiritual reformation, and the quest to make oneself a better person. Through the failure of Samuel Clemens' quest, the triumph of Richard Burton's journey, and the revelation of the purpose behind the creation of Riverworld, Farmer is suggesting that the key to redemption and the purpose of life is to become more ethical.
The Riverworld is a unique place. The series begins with To Your Scattered Bodies Go, in which all of humanity is resurrected along the banks of a seemingly endless river. The pattern of resurrection is random, therefore characters are taken out of their familiar settings and placed in a completely alien environment. Naturally, there is a great deal of confusion and panic as every sentient human being who has ever existed on earth awakens to find themselves on a different planet, and not in heaven or hell. Eventually, this initial commotion is replaced by a phase of settlement, during which the people of Riverworld begin to become more familiar with the many fascinating aspects of the planet. They soon learn that all of their needs are provided for them, including food, clothing, and in some cases shelter.
An important feature of Riverworld that Farmer establishes in To Your Scattered Bodies Go is the elimination of death. By this, Farmer is laying the framework for his suggestion that without anticipation of death, or fear of non-existence, mankind has no incentive to reform. An example of Farmer's notion is the Nazi third Reich movement which Farmer institutes shortly after Resurrection Day. Led by Herman Goerring, Hitler's second in command and a ruthless war criminal responsible for the deaths of thousands of civilians during World War Two, this newly founded Nazi regime goes about perpetrating the same atrocities they had committed on earth, such as racial discrimination and slavery. They continue their struggle to maintain the corrupt values they held in their past lives, and completely ignore the possibility of spiritual reform. The author is implying that when given a second chance at life, many people would choose not to reform; instead they would choose to revert to their old ways, and abandon the possibility of atonement. Farmer's argument that fear of death is what drives mankind towards seeking salvation is further re-enforced through his depiction of Attila the Hun. Attila, a brilliant strategist on earth whose small army wreaked havoc through the ancient Roman Empire, awakens to find himself on a planet where everyone has been re-created in an identical fashion. Almost immediately, Attila bands together with a small group of Carthaginians and begins his territorial conquest. Realising he...