The Dark Design

The Dark Design

infobox Book |
name = The Dark Design
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Philip José Farmer
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series = Riverworld
genre = Science Fiction novel
publisher = Putnam Publishing Group
release_date = 1977
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = ISBN 0-399-12031-9
preceded_by = The Fabulous Riverboat, 1971
followed_by = The Magic Labyrinth, 1980

"The Dark Design" (1977) is a science fiction novel, the third in the series of Riverworld books by Philip José Farmer. The title is derived from lines in Sir Richard Francis Burton's poem The Kasîdah of Hâjî Abdû El-Yezdî:: "And still the Weaver plies his loom, whose warp and woof is wretched Man
Weaving th' unpattern'd dark design, so dark we doubt it owns a plan."


The book was originally conceived as the final volume of the Riverworld saga, but the manuscript came in at almost 1,000 pages so Farmer split it into two books, this one and "The Magic Labyrinth". Differing from the previous books in the series, which focused on one set of protagonists, "The Dark Design" features three interwoven tales.


Perhaps the least consequential of these plotlines is that of Richard Francis Burton and his friends. Reunited, Burton and crew once again begin traveling up river. At this point, many decades after resurrection, the stone supplies in the valley have begun to run out and technology has begun to break down. As the sail up river the crew encounters a group of ancient Egyptians who tell them a detailed story of the last attempt to reach the mouth of the river. This mission, which was launched by the Pharaoh Imhotep and included the giant who Sam Clemens calls Joe Miller (believed by the Egyptians to be an incarnation of the god Thoth). This mission reached the end of the river, and found massive waterfall. Scaling its sides, they eventually found a passage through to the polar sea. Descending a ledge which had been carved into the rock they found a cave filled with food and powered boats. While most of the Egyptians sailed to the tower, never to return, one died and took their story to the valley. Besides learning this story the group's main significant act is uncovering a pair of impostors within their midst. Under hypnosis, Kaz remembers when they last encountered an agent of the people who created the Riverworld. He noted at the time that every resurrectee had marking on their forehead which Kaz and other Neanderthals could see, but which were invisible to others. The exception was this agent. At the time Kaz noticed that Monat and Frigate also lacked these markings. However, before he could tell Burton, he was confronted by the pair, who hypnotized him into forgetting his discovery. Burton quickly concludes that Monat and Frigate are agents sent to spy on him. However, when he goes to confront the two, he finds that they have escaped.

The second storyline deals with the real Peter Jairus Frigate. Unaware that an alien agent has been posing as him, this Frigate, whose life story is identical in all respects to the one which the phony Frigate told, has been living an ordinary life along the river. One day a ship docks near his home and he recognizes the two men who captain it as his childhood heroes Jack London and Tom Mix. Accompanied by the sufi Nur ed Din and the African warrior Umslopogas, the two men are traveling incognito up the river. Desperate to join his heroes, Frigate signs on the ship where he becomes a valued crew member, not revealing for years that he knows the mens identities. Eventually he admits that he knows who they are and the two men tell their story. They were each contacted by The Mysterious Stranger, who enlisted them to find the headwaters of the River. When the boat arrives at a metal-rich kingdom named New Bohemia, Frigate suggests that they speed their travel there by building a balloon. After a betrayal by the ruler of New Bohemia, the men eventually get their balloon and travel a good distance upriver, only to crash when they have a near-miss with another flying vehicle.

The story of that flying vehicle is told in the third stream of the novel. This details the efforts of Parolando to build an airship. The ship, the brainchild of Parolando's president, the engineer Milton Firebrass, will be able to reach the pole much quicker than the two riverboats. Firebrass is assisted in these efforts by Cyrano de Bergerac, who has remained behind to work on the project. They are joined by newcomer Jill Gulbirra, an Australian dirigible pilot and strident feminist. Gulbirra, the most experienced lighter than air pilot in the region quickly becomes important to the project, as does Cyrano, who, surprisingly, turns out to be the nations best pilot. When the ship is built it sets off, under the command of Firebrass and Gulbirra, for the pole. Making its way through a massive hole in the mountains which surround the polar sea, the airship confronts the dark tower. Suddenly anxious, Firebrass, along with a few hand picked others, board a helicopter to descend to the tower. However, their helicopter is blown up shortly before landing, killing all aboard. The culprit is Barry Thorne, an engineer who had been working on the ship. While he is confined to a prison, the rest of the crew begins to explore the tower. They find an open door on the roof which leads into the structure. However, when they attempt to gain entry they become blocked by an invisible force. The only one who manages to enter the building is one of the pilots, a Japanese Sufi named Piscator, who never returns. After waiting some time for him to return, the ship reluctantly departs. After they return to the valley, they are cajoled by Clemens into conducting a revenge mission against King John. John had managed to persuade the pilot of a second Parolando dirigible to attack Clemens ship, the "Not For Hire". Seeking revenge, Clemens orders the larger airship, the "Parsifal", to conduct a mission to kidnap King John and return him for punishment. The mission, led by Cyrano meets with some success, until John manages to escape as their helicopter attempts to return to the airship. Frustrated, the attackers return to discover that Thorne has escaped. He parachutes from the airship, which soon explodes from the bombs which he had planted aboard it.

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