Sci-Fi's 'Riverworld' Series: Will It Suck

The Sci-Fi Channel is going to be adapting Philip Jose Farmer’s Riverworld novels, first as a two-hour pilot movie, then as a weekly one-hour series. The novels are long-time favorites of mine, and I’d love to see them done well. TV is often a good medium for sci-fi and fantasy adaptations, because despite the lower budgets, you can schedule them as two-parters or miniseries and flesh them out a little more.

I haven’t heard a lot about the production of this series yet, but from what I have heard, I’m not going to get my hopes up.

The Good:

–Executive produced by, and the pilot and some episodes directed by, Alex Proyas, the director of Dark City and The Crow. This material has a slightly different sensibility than his past work, but one never knows.

–Sci-Fi seems to want to put their money where their mouth is; they did the Dune series and they have the rights to several other properties.

–The novels and the concept lend themselves to a lot of possibilities if done by good writers.

The Bad:

–No Sir Richard Francis Burton. His character is gone, replaced by (egads) an American shuttle astronaut named Jim Hale, played by the amazingly bland Brad Johnson. Why? Are American audiences unable to identify with an English explorer as the lead character? Is he just not interesting enough for a lead? (Puh-leeze.)

–And, since there’s no Burton, there’s no Herman Goerring, either. The cast lists that I’ve seen list Alice Liddell and Sam Clemens (good!!!), as well as the alien, Monat; but not Joe Miller, King John or Pete Frigate.

–Indications are that they want to, after establishing this world, have the series center around “the adventures that the team encounters while on ‘an epic voyage up the river.’” OK, but is the mission as established in the books going to be the same? Is Burton . . . whoops, Hale :rolleyes: going to work his way up the River by committing suicide, or is that a not-ready-for-prime-time deal? Are we going to see the crew of the Not For Hire and its epic battles?

I’m going to hope for the best, and expect the worst, and that way I might get a happy medium.

Wow, that’s cool. I always thought this world had thousands of stories to tell so I guess I’m ok without Burton. I’m sure many people will get the idea to go upriver.

Seems like it might be tough on the co-stars though. I haven’t read the series in … 9 years or so. But didn’t it work that when you die you were awakened at random places along the river?

I can’t wait!

I don’t have much hopes for this. It would be better if it were produced on HBO or one of the other cable channels where they don’t freak out about nudity and language (when the human race first awakens beside the River, everybody is naked, which is appropriate for a rebirth). And no Burton? WTF?

The idea behind Riverworld was infinite stories. After the series had its run, there were two collections of short stories that were published. So even if you remove Burton (silly idea), everything else is plausible.

I imagine it to have a Gulliver’s Travels sense to it. Basically a boat meeting interesting people along the way. Among them, Grail Slavers :slight_smile:

I’m excited about it. PJF almost never gets attention like this (though I think there was once a warcraft-style Riverworld computer game, wasn’t there?)

And I pray they don’t turn to Gods Of Riverworld for any story ideas. I’m still trying to deny that last book exists.

I’m guessing they’re leaving out Sir Burton to avoid confusion with the actor of the same name.

I don’t have cable, but I’d like to see this regardless of whether it’s any good. Who’s going to tape it?

Leave out Burton? That’s just plain stupid.

Just saw an ad for it. It was a brief ad, but it looked OK. I’m disappointed that they got rid of Burton as well. The actor confusion could even have been a running gag, people constantly asking him what it was like to be married to Liz Tayler and him getting pissed.

I’m disappointed about the lack of Burton. I knew Burton from his travel books, his translation of the Arabian Nights, and the Kama Shastra Society (He translated Indian and other erotica openly at the height of the Victorian Age!), and I’m sure Farmer used him as his protagonist simply because he was such an interesting character. Go rent The Mountains of the Moon to see what I mean. How can you pull that juicy a character out of the story? Did they think a modern American audience wouldn’t be able to "identify"with the lead unless he was a modern American, too? Sheesh!

Still, good to see that SF adapters have moved beyond the biggest names in the business and their recent obsession with Philip K. Dick. Maybe we can get works by a few other deserving artists on the screen, big or small.
I suspect the series will end up like the two recent anthologies – Quest for Riverworld and Tales of Riverworld – rather than like Farmer’s trilogy-grown-to-tetraology. It’ll be vignettes and brief tales of weird combinations of people from different historical epochs getting together and interacting. Kinda like Meeting of the Minds, but with chases and fisticuffs. And don’t look for Tom Mix meeting Jesus Christ, like in one of Farmer’s short stories (in the anthology Riverworld and other Stories. Too controversial.

Proyas’ involvement is a good sign, I think. The grim aspects of Riverworld aren’t likely to scare him off, anyway. I think he has the potential to do it justice. I don’t like the idea of dropping Burton any more than anyone else here has, but there’s still plenty of good story potential. The little bits of visuals I’ve seen in the ads looked good. I’m willing to give it a chance.

Can y’all please suggest a reading list for a Riverworld newbie?


It was really weird to come into this thinking it was a new thread, then seeing a post from myself.

Farmer changed his backstory for the Riverworld several times. Some of the changes were clearly intended all along, while others were clearly Farmer retconning because he’d written himself into a corner.

So, let’s discuss what we think we’ll see in the series. Outside spoilerspace, this question will be referred to as Time Period:

[spoiler]Originally, the Riverworld held every sentient who died on Earth between 100,000 BC and 2008 AD, including some extraterrestrials (like Monat) who’d made First Contact with humanity and died as ambassadors on Earth.

Later we found out the later date was a lie, and the actual end-date was 1983. Extraterrestrials never came to Earth, and Monat was an associate of the Ethicals who created Riverworld.[/spoiler]
So, will that whole concept be included? Or will there be a new premise?

Now, let’s call this next one Mission Statement:

[spoiler]At first, we’re told that the resurrectees are on the Riverworld to “ethically purify” themselves, and that once this happens, their wathans or souls will “move on” to some other place, and become no longer detectable in our universe.

But later, Loga tells Burton and Company “Nahh.” The souls never “move on.” This really irritated me, because it invalidated what I thought was a really neat plot detail that’d been mentioned: Jesus came to Riverworld, was resurrected a few times, then moved on. Buddha, however, alone among humanity, never came to the Riverworld![/spoiler]

Something tells me that whichever Mission Statement they’re operating under, we’ll never be told. Too controversial.

Exoskeleton: The five Riverworld novels by Phillip Jose Farmer are To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Fabulous Riverboat, The Dark Design, The Magic Labryinth, and the Gods of Riverworld. There are a couple of books of short stories based on Farmer, but I don’t know the names of those

pl: If they were just doing a series similar to the above collections, I just mentioned it might be quite good.
However, if they’re going to try to follow the plotline of the original novels and they leave out Burton, Pete Frigate, Joe Miller, King John, and Goering, I think it will be worthless. Hell, my favorite line in the novels is when Mark Twain asks King John: “Do you ever met yourself coming around corners?”

My guess would be “suck,” although I guess a case could be made for “blow.”

Man…No Sir Richard Francis Burton. So, one of the greatest explorers in history evidently isn’t cool enough for Riverworld. The fact that the character isn’t in the film perhaps isn’t so important; as has been pointed out, with the entire historical population of Earth to use as source material, there ain’t no shortage of stories. The important thing is the reason behind the change. I can’t see why it would possibly be necessary to drop the character (unless, hell, I don’t know, maybe the Burton heirs threatened to sue or something), so I’m guessing that the reason is that Burton is considered too historically obscure for Sci-Fi Channel viewers. If this is true, then the series is sure to have been significantly dumbed down (“gutted” might be a more appropriate term). Much of the charm of the novels was in the little details of how the various historical personalities interacted with each other, but I think it’s a safe bet that the TV series will emphasize astronaut ass-kicking at the expense of characterization.

Anyone know what PJF himself thinks of all this?

OK - Modern American tv viewers won’t know who Richard Burton is. But they don’t know anything about “Jim Hale, astronaut” either. So in both cases a character has to be created. You’ve already got Mark Twain as a pov character and an American character; why they chose not to use Burton is beyond me. They could have fudged the character’s name into “Brandon” or something sounding like Burton while making it clear in promotional material that it’s really “Burton.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Riverworld was the first introduction of this Richard Burton to a large number of readers.

I’m afraid that most Americans don’t know who Sir Richard Burton was.
The theme was getting Up River. Burton’s exploration of the Nile, (although he failed to find the headwaters), was a nice fit. The use of an American astronaut, seems to be in keeping with the exploration theme.
Who knows how Sci-Fi will do. Screenwriting is everything.

“To Your Scattered Bodies Go” deserved The Hugo [tm World Science Fiction Society] it won.

Boy did the series go downhil after that.

The Harry Turtledove short was quite good.

I hope it doesn’t, but I fear it will. The commercial excited me, but when I looked it up online and realized it lacked Burton my heart sank. Riverworld introduced me to the man and I checked out a biography on him. He was a fascinating person and would be a great lead.

I could accept a totally new character cast, but they’ve got nearly everyone from his original group. I mean for heaven’s sake, they’re going to have Gwenafra. The description of the grail stones took up more space in the series than she did.

I wondered if perhaps Burton was perceived as not PC enough for the series. By dropping him and Goerring they avoid alot of the discussions about anti-semitism that occured in the book, although they’re going to include Lev Ruach…but as a victim he’d be ok. I guess I wondered if anyone else had thought of this as a possible reason.

I named them in my post above – Tales of Riverworls and Quest for Riverworld. They’re pretty good, and Farmer wrote one story for each.

And don’t forget Riverworld and Other Tales by Farmer, an anthology that came out while he was writing the Riverworld trilogy-tetraology. It contains two Riverworld stories, including the one I noted above in which Tom Mix meets Jesus Christ.

"So we’re gonna do this story about the Riverworld, with every human who ever lived, but instead of using a real historical guy who was the main character in the series, we’re gonna make up a main character. "

I like the Riverworld idea, and I like the 4 novels, and I like Burton. But I think this will just be an ‘adventure of the week’ series that in the end won’t bear a lot of similarity to the written creation.

I bet that someone pulls out a colt 45 from the 1800s by the end of the pilot.

It will probably turn out to be a lot like the first-run syndicated series Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.