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.
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