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To Your Scattered Bodies Go

To Your Scattered Bodies Go  - Philip José Farmer This book has enjoyed a spate of recent reviews, so I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon. It features my hero, Sir Richard Francis Burton, so I was favorably inclined to the story from early on. The plot is typical sci-fi fare: an unseen race of superadvanced, practically god-like aliens conducts a social experiment on a truly massive scale: it collects the long-dead souls of all the humans who have ever lived, and resurrects them on an Eden-like planet where each man is immortal, indestructable, and all material needs are easily satisfied. This nifty plot device allows Farmer to incorporate well-known historical figures like Herman Goering and Napoleon into the story. Is this a super-cool idea, or a lazy trick which frees Farmer from having to actually develop his own characters? I think it's done well enough here, and it services an interesting storyline which explores the nature of man. So what happens when you throw a bunch of historical characters together into paradise? Naturally, power-hungry narcissists try to impose their will on the rest. They devise political and economic systems which once again (and quite needlessly, in this case) stratify society. The most aggressive and ambitious use their positions for self-glorification, taking an undue share of the planet's bounty for themselves, and placing an undue share of burden on their underlings. This is fairly naked social commentary, which doesn't bother me because I happen to share Farmer's mostly-pessimistic views.Unfortunately science fiction like this never gets around to exploring the questions that most interest me. Why would aliens so obviously advanced bother doing something like this? It's difficult to imagine that a massive soul-resurrecting project like this, complete with its own planet dedicated to the experiment, would not be a huge investment of time, effort, and resources for them. What are they getting out of it? And why are they using humans as their research subjects? Naturally, we find the exploration of human nature fascinating, but why should they? Why don't they conduct this experiment on their own kind, to give them insight to their own nature? None of these questions are even raised, let alone addressed. One thing we know about the alien nature though: it can't be too pretty, because for one thing, their experiment is causing a lot of human suffering, which they don't intervene to alleviate. They also don't seem to hold people in high regard, given that nobody in this book mentions having given consent to being involved in the project. So much for alien research ethics. I would love to read some Philip José Farmer fan-fic which examined the alien side of this story. If any ambitious writers out there are considering this, I hope you also feature an Appendix to include the alien research grant application for this grand undertaking, and the write-up with their conclusions.