book reviews by Althea

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To Your Scattered Bodies Go (Riverworld, #1) – Philip José Farmer *

Usually, the Hugo Awards are a good recommendation for entertaining literature.
Not in this case. I really don’t understand how this book could have been given an award of any kind. Were there NO other sf novels published in 1971?
Farmer uses historical figures as his characters as an excuse to not bother writing any characterization of any kind. Every character in the novel is completely two-dimensional. It’s pretty hard to make such an interesting and multi-dimensional character as the historical Richard Burton dull and flat – but Farmer manages it.
Moreover, the book is offensively, insidiously sexist. By which I don’t mean that, in the grand tradition of adventure stories, that lusty buxom babes abound! (if only!) Rather, I mean that not one female character in the book displays any initiative, independence, or intelligence. Men regard them as property, and women’s only instinct seems to be to find a male “protector.” The stereotypes of women as “prude,” “nag,” or “whore” are found in abundance. Women are only an accessory to a man, to be admired physically, used sexually, and then tired of.
Here’s one direct quote: “She was the product of her society – like all women, she was what men had made her.”
One cannot excuse this attitude in writing as being a product of its time – check out what Ursula LeGuin was publishing in the late 60’s and early 70’s!
Sexist stereotypes are not the only ones found… they’re practically incidental to the ethnic and cultural stereotypes! In a world supposedly populated with people of all cultures, time periods, and places, everything seems to run in a remarkably Eurocentric manner. To regard cigars as a universal luxury item is particularly bemusing.
Still, all this would be excusable, if only the story was fun, exciting and interesting. Not so. For such a short (222p.) novel, the plot was inexcusably meandering and dull. I fell asleep on it last night, and finished it this afternoon out of some sort of sense of obligation.

I think I’ll be sending the copy of World of Tiers on my to-read shelf straight to the recycle bin.