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The Dark Design (Riverworld Saga, Book 3) Paperback – July 28, 1998

3.3 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The Dark Design is the third book in the epic Riverworld saga, in which almost all of humanity has been resurrected on a strange planet along the shores of a river 22 million miles long. But why have humans been given another chance at life, and who is behind it all? That's what Sir Richard Francis Burton and Sam Clemens set out to discover in two earlier novels, one by riding the "suicide express" (if you die on Riverworld, you're resurrected again at a random point along the river) and the other steaming on the greatest riverboat ever seen. Now Milton Firebrass, Clemens's former enemy and now his No. 1 lieutenant, is planning to use the dwindling iron supply on the Riverworld to create a great airship, which can fly to the North Polar Sea far more quickly than any boat can travel. There he hopes to learn the secret of the mysterious tower thought to house the beings who created this planet.

Jill Gulbirra does not care as much about the mission as she wants the chance to captain the great airship, which in all likelihood will be the last airship ever constructed by humankind. But in landing the coveted role, she faces stiff competition--especially from the greatest swordsman of all time, Cyrano de Bergerac, who turns out to be a natural pilot. But even if Jill can win the command of the airship and even if the ship can reach the river's headwaters, there is no guarantee it can get through the mountain wall that surrounds the tower. And it's likely that one or more agents of the Ethicals--the creators of Riverworld--are on board the airship, plotting its downfall. Worse still, somewhere along the way the airship is sure to encounter the Rex Grandissimus, the steamboat stolen by Sam's archnemesis, King John Lackland. --Craig E. Engler


“Farmer's blend of intellectual daring and pulp fiction prose found a worldwide audience. Sprawling, episodic works gave him room to explore the nuances of a provocative premise while indulging his taste for lurid, violent action.” ―The New York Times

“The greatest science fiction writer ever.” ―Leslie A. Fiedler, author of Love and Death in the American Novel

“An excellent science fiction writer, far more skillful than I am.” ―Isaac Asimov

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Riverworld Saga
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey; 1st Ballantine Books ed edition (July 28, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345419693
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345419699
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,665,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the middle volume of Farmer's ambitious five-book saga of Riverworld, a fantastic planet reworked by a mysterious super race to be one long river valley along a ten million-mile long river, which snakes around the planet. Into this artificially formed world, all humanity who ever lived is resurrected, given perpetual youth, and provided with all their needs through a mind boggling technology. What they are not given is a clue as to who did this, how, or most importantly, why. This book is the weakest of the series so far.
The action of the story follows several groups who are now racing toward the headwaters of the river hoping to discover the mysteries of their after-life and strange, new world, which are rumored to be found there. In addition to Sir Richard Burton and Sam Clemens, who we have met in previous books, we are introduced to Akhenaten, heretic pharaoh of Egypt, who hopes to discover his one true Sun god at river's end, and writer Jack London traveling together with film cowboy Tom Mix, all headed toward the same shadowy goal. The bulk of the book, however, focuses on the building of a huge dirigible that can gain in a few days of flight what would take many years of travel on the river. An exciting account of this airship's mission to river's end provides the cliff hanging ending of this volume.
Part of the charm of the first two books was their protagonists; Sir Richard Burton in the first, Sam Clemens in the second. In 'The Dark Design', the majority of the action is viewed through characters of the author's creation rather than through historical protagonists, and this does not come off as well. Both Burton and Clemens make brief appearances here, but we don't see either of them enough.
The book suffers from two other major flaws.
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Format: Paperback
This book differs in a couple of ways from the earlier books in the RIVERWORLD series. Instead of focusing on a single character, this book shifts between several points of view. And as previous reviewers have noted, there are lengthy digressions inside the head of Peter J. Frigate, a thinly-disguised version of the series author. As far as plot goes, some of the characters have come up with a much better way to reach the tower at the end of the River--Instead of retracing the twisty path of the River over every inch of the globe, they will just build a dirigible and fly directly there. To make this possible, Farmer had to retroactively lower the mountains of Riverworld--This is rather lamely explained as an error of perspective. We also discover that there is something seriously wrong amongst the secret masters of Riverworld. It's apparent their agents among the resurrectees have lost communication with their bosses, and are desperately trying to re-establish it. Also, the spectre of permanent death has returned once more to humanity. Some of the characters seem a bit retro-70s now. Of course, it can be argued that their personalities ARE from the 1970s! :-) Reading it for the first time in two decades, I enjoyed the book, but it certainly didn't advance the storyline very much.
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Format: Paperback
"The Dark Design" is a lot like "The Godfather, Part II" -- when you first read it, you don't care much for it. But then as time passes and you think about it and/or re-read it, you realize that not only does it not stink, but it's probably the best in the series.
There's not much plot advancement in terms of the overall series, but what we DO have is an overall look at the Riverworld, Farmer's greatest creation. Think about it: you've been resurrected on a world where all your physical needs are taken care of, but there are almost no metal resources and the nearest answers are millions of miles of sailing away. What would everyday life be like in such a place? What would become of humanity? And what kind of person would seek those answers? This is why the various characterizations in the book fascinate me -- with dozens of characters in the book (and billions on the Riverworld), it's easy to forget what's so fascinating about the premise of Riverworld: every single inhabitant has at least one full lifetime behind them. (And to those who disagree, you at least have to admit that the Welsh poetry thesis defense story is priceless. :o) To those who complain that nothing interesting happens, I say that PLENTY of interesting things happen -- they simply happen to be subtle.
I'll admit to being biased -- I like subtlety and characterization in my novels. If you are a purely casual/surface level reader, or are simply impatient to see how things turn out, then you can safely skip this book and pick up "The Magic Labyrinth." You can pick up most of what plot development you missed, and you can always come back to this one later. But if you're patient, thoughtful, and want to find the real Riverworld, then this book is a must-read. ~DH
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Format: Paperback
Farmer's third offering in the Riverworld series, while better than "The Fabulous Riverboat" does not hold a candle to "To Your Scattered Bodies Go". The lenghty sections on Frigate's dreams and thoughts certainly hurt the book. They provide no useful information on a character (Frigate) who is not even a main element in the story. Consequently, this detracts from the book. Also, it seems that every time the story gets some momentum, the author breaks away into some discussion of some topic using his characters to voice his own opinions and thoughts. Many writers do this but not so blatantly and to the extent that is done here. For me, I am completely uninterested in the writer's personal philosphies, thoughts and opinions on matters unrelated to the Riverworld series - I just want to read a good story.
"To Your Scattered Bodies Go" (the first book in the series) set up one of the best science fiction premises that I have read. The potential for a gripping series is lessened by the lack of momentum and sidetracking found in "The Dark Design".
The story is still good but is only slightly advanced in this 450 page book. Few new revelations are made. This book could have been easily decreased by about 150 pages with nothing important being lost.
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