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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 9 Aug 1995 21:59:28 -0400
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Note:  The following review is by Wesley Britton.  Since he does
not have direct access to the Forum, I am relaying it at his
request. KB

Sam Clemens on Riverworld: An Informal Review of Philip Jose
Farmer's _The Fabulous Riverboat_, _The Dark Design_, and _The
Magic Labyrinth_ (with a passing nod to L. Sprague De Camp's _The
Hostage of Zir_)

by Wesley Britton

     In 1971, beginning with _To Their Scattered Bodies Go_, Philip
Jose Farmer introduced his Riverworld series, a science-fiction
epic set on a distant planet in a distant future. On Riverworld, a
ten-million mile river is surrounded by all of humanity, from
prehistoric "subhumans" to those of us from the present,
resurrected in young, healthy bodies.  Riverworld, an elaborate
experiment created by the mysterious "Ethicals," is a source of
many plotlines and characters including the resurrected Sam
Clemens, one of the human agents chosen by the rebel Ethical
"mysterious stranger" to travel the river and find the Misty Tower
which contains the answers to all men's questions about their souls
and their new lives.
     _To Their Scattered Bodies Go_ introduces Riverworld from the
perspective of 19th century explorer Richard Burton who learns
there is no death on the planet; humans reappear 24 hours after any
fatal misadventure.  The second novel in the  series, _The Fabulous
Riverboat_ (1977) focuses on Sam Clemens who is seeking minerals to
build his ultimate riverboat.  The mysterious stranger called X
assists Clemens by allowing an iron-rich meteorite to land near
Clemens, who then allies himself with King John Lackland of Earth's
medieval England, the first of Farmer's many allusions to _A
Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court_.
   The character of Clemens, for example, echoes Hank Morgan more
than the literary Mark Twain, an irascible, wise cracking military
leader single-mindedly focused on his boat building project.
Clemens, called "the Boss" throughout the novel, and his
treacherous ally, King John, establish a bellicose kingdom,
Parolando, a heavily industrial state where they build an equally
heavily-fortified boat Clemens dubs the "Not For Hire" to survive
the hostile territories they must inevitably encounter going up the
river through a humanity Farmer portrays as essentially
quarrelsome, quick tempered, and martial.
    The plot of _Riverboat_ portrays Clemens and John in constant
conflict with neighboring states and between themselves. The book's
climax depicts an apocalyptic destruction of Parolando, echoing the
Battle of the Sandbelt in _Yankee_.  Like _Yankee_, the kingdom of
Parolando is an anachronistic state built in a primitive world that
is only partially familiar with technology, Clemens the Yankee in
a future Camelot.
    Farmer, who clearly knows much about Clemens' life and works,
mixes in autobiographical reminiscences, frequent discussions of
Clemens' determinism, and allusions to Mark Twain's canon without
explaining how his Sam Clemens, clearly unsuited for military life,
could become a commander of an army, warship, and small air force.
Perhaps most surprising in Farmer's novel is Clemens search for his
wife Livy over many years. He is bitterly reunited with her only
after she has become the lover of Cyrano de Bergerac, another agent
of the mysterious stranger who has sought out Clemens to assist in
his adventure. Surprisingly, Farmer does not exploit Clemens's
dislike of the French in this potentially volatile situation.
Throughout _Riverboat_, Clemens is hurt by Livy's choice to remain
with de Bergerac, setting up the unusual scene of Livy telling
Clemens to "get off your ass, Sam" in the final battle where John
betrays Clemens, kills Livy, and steals his boat, renaming it the
"Rex Grandissimus."
   In the series subsequent novels, _The Dark Design_ (1977) and
_The Magic Labyrinth_ (1980), Clemens is a vengeful leader building
a new, highly advanced riverboat with the new purpose of seeking
out and destroying John.  His new boat, "The Mark Twain," sets sail
equipped with a modern air force, a laser gun, and a wide range of
artillery while his subordinates build two dirigibles, one to fly
to the Misty Tower, the other to sink the "Rex Grandissimus."
Here, Farmer refers to _Tom Sawyer Abroad_ when Clemens is told
about the practicality of balloons on Riverworld.  "I can't believe
I didn't think of that," he says.   Then he remembers--he DID think
of that, in a previous life at least.  All his mechanical devices
are juxtaposed against Clemens closest friend, dubbed "Joe Miller"
by Clemens, a behemoth Stone Age giant who is Clemens' bodyguard
and moral compass.  Without Joe's primitive strength, Clemens's
enemies would have killed him long before his project got underway.
      The plot of _Dark Design_, told alternately between other
series story lines built around Richard Burton and other
characters, ultimately concludes in _The Magic Labyrinth_ when
Clemens meets John in a battle of mutual destruction that results
in both their deaths and the end of the industrial age on
Riverworld, another parallel to _Yankee_.  Clemens' death is
particularly ironic because he runs from a Norseman he had killed
early in _Riverboat_ in order to link up with John, not realizing
the man he murdered (and who has been haunting his dreams) has
become a disciple of the pacifist Second Chance church, renouncing
the curse he had earlier placed on Clemens.  If not for Sam's
guilt, he would have realized Eric Bloodaxe was trying to save him,
not revenge himself. It will be Richard Burton, Joe Miller, and his
group who find the Tower, find the answers, save humanity . . .
    The entire Riverworld series, including its subsequent books of
"sidestream stories," to use Farmers term for adventures unrelated
to the main epic, is now considered to be an important sci-fi
collection on a par with Isaac Asimov's Foundation series and Frank
Herbert's Dune books.  Those interested in Mark Twain will likely
have mixed responses to the characterization of Sam Clemens, reborn
with the body of a twenty-five year old but with all the memories,
cantankerous philosophy, and guilt-ridden dreams of his seventy
year life on earth.  Farmer's Clemens has no interest in literature
but has a clear devotion to technology, and is portrayed as a
remorseless, vindictive leader unqualified for the role he takes
on.  Still, it is fun to spot the Twainian allusions, and it is
difficult not to smile when Clemens learns his _Letters to the
Earth_ and "1601" were published with no public outcry, not to
mention his startled reaction learning his daughter Clara became a
Christian Scientist.
      The Riverworld series is recommended for its entire scope and
complex and entertaining quest, not for gaining any new insights
into the world of Mark Twain.  The series is, however, the most
fully explored interplay between Twain and the modern sci-fi
universe.  There is a wealth of fantastical literature owing much
to Twain, especially reworkings of _A Connecticut Yankee_. One
example of this time-travel theme was L. Sprague De Camps's _Lest
Darkness Fall_ (1941). Later, De Camp borrowed much from _Innocents
Abroad_ in his 1958 _The Hostage of Zir_ in which the first guided
sea-faring tour of the planet Krishna unravels due to boorish
Earthan Vandals (mostly American, of course) who mock local
customs, imperiously violate local laws, and attempt to steal
Krishnan relics.  Krishnan locals give as good as they get, one
local politician amiably pushing the shopping visitors to selected
local merchants, pocketing a healthy commission.  He should have
been named Ferguson. Well, the tour guide's name is Fergus.  Little
of De Sprague's trademark humor is evident in _Zir_; those
interested in classic science fiction humor might check out the
first four stories in his _The Continent Makers and Other Tales of
the Viagens_ noted for their odd situations and twist endings.
   And, now that Twain and Star Trek have become subjects for
scholarly discourse (note the article on same earlier in the
_Forum_ and Louis Budd's comments on Twain and sci-fi in  _The
Cambridge Companion to Mark Twain_), no doubt Twain's role in sci-
fi literature will soon be explored by some enterprising scholar of
popular culture, explicating in depth Sam Clemens' rebirth in a
future far different from what Captain Stormfield encountered in
the imagination of the literary Sam Clemens.

(Note: Clemens is also a minor figure in Farmer's _River of
Eternity_, an early version of the Riverworld story written in 1953
but not published until 1983 in and edition primarily for scholars
and literary historians.  Remote allusions to Clemens also appear
in _The Riverworld War_, a collection of riverboat battle scenes
deleted from _The Magic Labyrinth_.)