Philip José Farmer – To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Philip José Farmer - To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)

To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971) by Philip José Farmer is perhaps more a thought experiment than a novel.  Science fiction always has to walk that balance, because it’s the literature of ideas.  I mean, the really big ideas, the ones that are too big for a realistic novel.  Science fiction without ideas feels empty, like there’s a hole in it where something was supposed to be.  But then sometimes you get only a thought experiment, and not much of a story attached.

Scattered isn’t quite there, but it’s close.  Every human who has ever lived has been resurrected by aliens on one big planet, where they’re given the basic necessities of life, and no instructions.  Whenever anyone dies, they get resurrected again.  It’s one big angry world of warcraft.

We follow Richard Burton, the Richard Burton, who sets out on a mission to find those asshole aliens who are responsible for this mess.  He didn’t ask to be resurrected.  And for some reason, wherever he goes he keeps bumping into Hermann Goering.

You can choose to see Scattered either as a dressed up thought experiment, or as a minimalist and more subtle approach to story-telling.  I’m going for the second alternative, because it puts me in a good mood to be reminded of SF’s leaner, younger years, when you didn’t take one small idea and turn it into 600 pages of action-packed bloat.  You took plenty of big ideas, and crammed them into 200.

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