Back to Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld. In The Fabulous Riverboat Farmer continues his use of historical figures for his own fictional world Riverworld. The second Riverworld novel describes Samuel Clemens’, that is Mark Twain, striving for a riverboat.
Since the Riverworld is without own resources and therefore industry Clemens dream of driving up River on a Mississippi-style riverboat is not easily and certainly not fast put into action. Yet, after a long series of hardships he seems to realize his task. Yes, it is not just a personal dream but a task. A task bestowed upon him by a mysterious stranger, one of the Riverworld’s secret rulers who follows his own agenda. While building his ship and an industry to do so, Clemens collects a few other “enlightened” fellows…
Farmer does not reveal more about the mysterious rulers of the Riverworld. Instead his world, or rather its societal conditions are explored in more detail. The Babylonian confusion of languages is, for example, resolved by the adoption of Esperanto. A nice idea. Though, the number of people speaking English as first or second language in the real world today would rather hint to English as the universal language. Esperanto is just not known by that many people today (or in the past).
Farmer’s use of a few familiar names is a brilliant move to raise the initial interest in his work. Though the figures are based on their historical counterparts they are soon developed much further and in diverging ways. The Riverworld shapes its river dwellers.
The Fabulous Riverboat is full of espionage, war, and well primed double crossings. There are not many surprises. Yet, the novel is quite compelling.
Concerning the industry and (rather advanced, given the Riverworld’s possibilities) inventions Farmer does not go into much detail, regrettably. This is perfect steam punk material for a role playing game. I almost would like to play one.