Best-selling author Philip José Farmer crafted an science-fiction landmark with his wildly imaginative Riverworld series. In this third installment, much has transpired since Earth’s denizens found themselves resurrected along the shores of a river 22 million miles long. With the truth of this strange river’s creators, the Ethicals, still shrouded in mystery, Sir Richard Francis Burton, Samuel Clemens, King John, and Cyrano de Bergerac face a fantastical voyage of discovery.
Listen to more of the Riverworld Saga.
©1977 Philip José Farmer (P)2010 Recorded Books, LLC
“Charts a territory somewhere between Gulliver’s Travels and The Lord of the Rings.” (Time)
The concept for the Riverworld series was good: An alien world were the people who died on earth are brought back to life in youthful bodies; where there is a single monumental river and "grail stones" that provide for people's needs.
Unfortunately the series tends to drag on. The author concentrates too much on introducing far too many characters and trying ot define their psychological make up. The book even has a plot device: "dream gum" which is a hallucinogenic that actually makes them confront their fears and neuroses. Because of this, the plot drags on as we pause far too long, for the characters to "psychoanalyse" themselves or one another.
There are also many plot holes: Technology that appears from nowhere and extremely unlikely coincidences, are just two. For example the author goes into fine detail explaining how in such a large planet with billions of people, it is very unlikely that one person will come across specific people from their past life, and yet that's exactly what happens when the author needs it.
Finally, each book ends in a very unsatisfying way. At the beginning of each book you feel like you should have gotten much farther than you actually do. Also, for what actually happens in terms of plot, the author could have covered most of the events up to book 3 in just one book.
Dark Desgin is the 3rd book of 5 in Farmer's Riverworld series. Bearing in mind, that the reviewer read the first 2 books over 30 years ago, book 3 was eagerly anticipated. Compared to the first 2, this is definitely the weakest of the three. In brief, Riverworld is a terraformed planet with a single river, along whose banks all of humanity has been resurrected. Exactly why is still unclear and forms the basis for much of the plot. The author has considerable license to draw from any historical figure for the storytelling and does so liberally. While the 1st book set the stage and the basic crew, the 2nd had Mark Twain buildng a riverboat to get to the headwaters. In the 3rd installment, a dirigible is the latest mode of transportation. Also building, appears to be disagreements among the aliens that are supposedly responsible for all of this. In all, this could be a compact story advancing towards some resolution and more detail regardnig the dark tower at the river's headwaters, but Farmer injects too much introspective meanderings with extensive details that either are unrelated to the plot or simply border on flower child / hippie musings.
Another consideration is that the book was originally written in the 70's. As such, in this world alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, and even an LSD-like substance play a major role. In addition, feminist views are prominent, but seem out of place as if harrassment today were met with bra burnings. In short, Farmer was a captive of his era in which the writing took place and the story doesn't translate as well today.
Finally, there is a bit of a disconnect in that the environment is lacking in many resources, but an errant meteorite seems to not only provide a source of iron, but also the means to develop lasers and X-ray machines. Most of the characters also appear clueless with many of the inconsistencies that point to a more sinister state of affairs, such as cut-off dates.
I first read "Riverworld" in the 70s, & I remember enjoying it. I didn't enjoy it enough to get all 3 books, though...& after listening to this dog, I wish I'd kept it that way.
We do get (sort of) the main characters from the first 2 books together, which was nice; I missed Burton & his bunch in #2. But for some reason, Farmer decided to intro a brand new main character & couldn't have come up with a more annoying person if he'd studied for years. Jill is one of the more obnoxious characters to appear in fiction in a long time. She's constantly, aggressively on the defensive, knows everybody is out to get her & deny her genius & incredible capabilities, & --best of all-- she has the amazing ability to take ONE LOOK at anyone, determine their gender, race, & time of origin, & immediately she knows EXACTLY what that person thinks about her, about women, & precisely how badly they're going to treat her. And then she condemns them for their egregious bigotry. Um, hypocrite much? She even periodically tells herself that she should quit this, but does she ever actually improve? Take a guess.
Other than the loathsome Jill, & bouncing back & forth between Sam & Burton's groups, with quite a few LOONNNNNG & incredibly boring side lectures on religion, the plot can be summed up fairly briefly:
1. someone wants to build a great big something to get to the source.
2. They toil mightily, get into intrigues & war with the neighbors for the raw materials,
3. They spend all their time in wild angst over who gets to run the thing when it's done.
4. Then they usually lose it.
Repeat, with different or the same people, different or the same great big something.
Unless I dozed off at the end (possible; I had to keep backing up b/c I'd gotten so tired of building, bickering, & bi*ching) we never really get a satisfactory idea of who or what is behind the Riverworld, or why. And by then, I didn't care.
The reader does an okay job; he's not too good with voices, so it wasn't always easy to figure out who was talking if there weren't adequate cues in the text, and I'm not wild about his voice, but he was...acceptable. At least as good as the book itself, which is sorta damning with faint praise. I gave him 1 more star than the book itself because his performance didn't inspire me to want to commit actual violence, unlike the book.
Things to note:
This book doesn't reach the same kind of ending that the first two do. It tells a bunch of parallel stories but only really resolves one of them (and that one is sudden and abrupt) but leaves the rest hanging. Don't read unless you plan on the sequel as well.
An awful lot of the book is spent on internal psychic traumas or the state of feminism. These can be interesting subjects, but they fit poorly here.
Units of measure are listed in both metric and English systems, with an exact conversion. It is amazingly distracting to hear "The airship ascended another 3048 meters, or 10000 feet" over and over again.
In short, I can recommend it only to the series-committed.
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