People are reincarnated into a world ... naked and hairless at different points / hubs where they have containers appearing which supply food at mealtimes, clothes etc. When they are killed or die by accident they are reborn at another hub. One man (with a buccaneer name I cannot recall) figures out what is happening and wants to get to the control centre and purposely dies many times until he succeeds in finding out the mystery ... Would love to find it again. Thanks

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    What was the mystery ? When did you read it? Nov 21, 2021 at 17:41
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    THANK YOU so much Everyone! Now I need to find the series .. only read the first one LONG time ago! Appreciate your help! xxx Nov 22, 2021 at 9:09

3 Answers 3


This is the Riverworld series by Philip Jose Farmer; the first book is To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971). The containers are called "grails" and in addition to their value in producing food are initially the only manufactured goods available to the resurrectees.

The hero of the first book is the adventurer Richard Francis Burton, perhaps the name you are remembering. The Wikipedia plot summary includes:

[Burton] next awakes upon the shores of a mysterious river, naked and hairless. All around him are other people in a similar situation. Shortly after they awaken, a nearby structure, nicknamed a "grailstone," causes food and other supplies to appear in the "grails" bound to each individual. [...] One night, Burton is visited by a mysterious cloaked figure, whom Burton dubs "The Mysterious Stranger", who explains that he is one of the beings who has constructed this world and resurrected humanity on its shores, and tells Burton to approach the headwaters of the river.

[...] Burton is visited by the Mysterious Stranger and is warned that the beings who created this world, whom the Stranger refers to as "Ethicals", are close to capturing Burton. Desperate to escape, Burton kills himself to be resurrected elsewhere in the river valley, and continues thus to explore it. [...] After many resurrections, Burton finds himself resurrected not in the river but in the Dark Tower at the headwaters, and is interrogated by a council of Ethicals to discover the identity of Burton's "Mysterious Stranger". [...]

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    It just hit me..."The Mysterious Stranger" among all the other Twain references.
    – Spencer
    Nov 21, 2021 at 22:12
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    Yes, and two things about Riverworld: On the one hand, the writing; the construction and the description of the Riverworld, is brilliant. On the other hand nothing about the Riverworld, except the writing, is reasonable. Does anyone doubt that? Nov 23, 2021 at 22:33

This is Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series.

Humanity (i.e. everyone who ever lived) suddenly finds themselves reincarnated into a strange setting, the valley of a vast planet-spanning river. Each has a metal pail (containing food) called a 'grail'; these are replenished at the end of the day by inserting them into mushroom-shaped structures dotted around the landscape. Sir Richard Francis Burton is the viewpoint character of the first novel.

There were about eight sequels to the original novel, with a large part of the story from the viewpoint of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) who goes full Connecticut Yankee, and initiates a program of industrialization in his section of the river to build a steamboat to explore up and down the river, and ultimately to find out why everyone was brought back.

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    Were there really 8 sequels or did it just seem that way?
    – davidbak
    Nov 22, 2021 at 2:19
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    According to the Wikipedia entry for Riverworld, there are 5 novels in the series, several short stories by Farmer (published in 2 anthologies) – and then in 1990s, the series was turned into "a shared universe anthology series" of which only 2 volumes were released, written by various authors (including Farmer).
    – V2Blast
    Nov 22, 2021 at 16:49

Classic SciFi from Philip Jose Farmer. The Riverworld series. I see someone mentioned there being 8 sequels but I only knew of 4 books, beginning with "To Your Scattered Bodies Go" and ending with "The Fabulous Riverboat". I read these when I was about 19, which is 45 years ago (hard to accept that so much time has passed). Maybe soon I will die and be resurrected on the banks of that same mighty river. There are quite a few people I'd like to meet there.

  • Wikipedia lists 5, with the last one being "The Gods of Riverworld" Nov 22, 2021 at 7:43
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    ISFDb (link in my answer) lists 5 main books, plus 1 retrospective prequel and 2 follow-on "in the universe of" anthologies published in the '90s, which may be where the number 8 comes from.
    – DavidW
    Nov 22, 2021 at 14:13

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