All of humanity from the history of Earth wake up alive again on a world that is a continuous river to be studied by a superior alien race. Explorer Richard Burton dies on Earth and awakens on the bank of a river surrounded by others from different eras of history. The Planet is a river valley with walls too high to climb beyond each bank. Burton teams up with other 20th century humans, a caveman, and an alien that witnessed and was possibly responsible for the destruction of Earth many centuries after Burton's lifetime. After living in the river valley a few days being fed by grails that produce meals for all the revived humans, one of the aliens visits Burton in the night and warns him that the aliens called Ethicals have a darker plan for humanity.
Burton takes his group on a raft down the river which winds around the entire planet. They discover that people that are killed on River World reappear somewhere else on the bank all over again. They meet other people trying to travel and trade information, but don't fine out much. They are warned of a wide lake farther along the river with a hostile kingdom. Burton goes anyway wanting to reach the end of the river.
The group is captured by a primitive army led by Goering, a Nazi leader from World War II. Burton leads a revolt. One of his people kills Goering and Burton becomes a new leader.
He decides to kill himself to travel faster along the River. Burton awakes in the midst of a battle of primeval giants near one end of the river. He is stepped on and killed.
Burton continues to drown himself to keep jumping to new places. He discovers that his first appearance near the passage to the Ethicals was on purpose because of the secret alien friend that visited him at the beginning. He also learns they are looking for him.
Finally, he wakes up after his last death in the lab of the Ethicals who found Burton because he died the most times and the counter on his revival pod gave him away. They refuse to answer his questions and try to find out who the traitor is that's helping Burton. They decide to send him back to the valley and to wipe his memory. He wakes back up with his memory and finds out the stranger helped him again. The novel ends with the revelation that the Ethicals are abandoning the project and death has become permanent again in River World. Burton sets out to find the Ethicals again.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the fictional interactions of famous people from different eras of history.
Best scene in story:
The rebellion where Burton and the other slaves escape their bonds. It is an old style pulp adventure.
Opinion about the main character:
Burton could have been more well-rounded. The lessons seem to be learned by the characters around him and ignored by him.
The 19th century British explorer Sir Richard Francis Burton wakes up, along with every other human being of normal intelligence or above who ever made it to adulthood, on the shore of a river that is estimated to be 20 million miles long.
The concept is that for millions of years, planet Earth was being watched by a benign group of aliens who were able to record the life-force of every sentient being on the planet and decide to bring all "normal" adults back to life simultaneously after Earth is destroyed in the early 21st century.
Burton is convinced that the answer to the puzzle of who the aliens are and how they've done this can be found in the gigantic tower which stands at one end of the river. Along with others, including Samuel Clemens, King John of England and Alice Liddell Hargreaves (inspiration for Alice in Wonderland etc.) he sets out to sail down the river.
Along the way, he encounters the aliens and dozens of well-known figures from history.
This report prepared by Mike McGowan