To Your Scattered Bodies Go -- The Dark Design

The second novel of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld cycle picks up eight years after the end of the first, twenty years after humanity was reborn on the banks of the River. Samuel Clemens is traveling downriver with his bodyguard and friend Joe Miller, a Titanthrop. They are on the flagship of a small fleet of ships manned by tenth-century Vikings, led by Eric Bloodaxe, who has one of the few metal weapons on the River.

Clemens sees a large meteor (big enough to be clearly visible in the daylight) just before the ships are attacked from the shore. The state attacking them has a few suprises -- gunpowder and gliders. One of the gliders crashes on Bloodaxe's ship, after delivering its bomb. Then the wave hits. The meteor Sam saw has hit the Riverworld just downstream. The battle is over, and the crew of the ship are the only survivors of the wave, along with their prisoner, the pilot Lothar von Richthofen, the Red Baron's little brother.

Sam is visited by the Mysterious Stranger, who tells Sam he dropped the meteorite so that Sam could have iron to realize his dream -- to pilot the biggest, best paddlewheeler in history, on the longest, most important journey in history. Sam is going to the headwaters, to the Big Grail, the tower in the center of the north polar sea that people belive contains the control apparatus for the world. The giant Joe Miller has seen the tower with his own eyes, but died before he could get inside. The Stranger tells Sam he has selected twelve champions from among humanity to go to the tower and wrest control of the world from the Ethicals.

Sam goes downstream and begins mining iron. Before he can get a good start, his new state is attacked. In order to save his dream, Sam murders Eric Bloodaxe and throws in with the first attacker to reach them, the loathesome King John. Bloodaxe prophecies before he dies, that Sam will build his boat and reach the headwaters, where he will find only Bloodaxe and death.

The dream is saved, but tainted by the base treachery of Sam. John is as vile as history records, a king so selfish and twofaced that the English made a point of never naming a potential heir to the throne "John". Sam's only consolation is that he intends to betray King John at the end, kick him off the boat, and sail away laughing. The state they establish is called Parolando, esperanto for "Pair Land", since Sam and John are equal monarchs. Sam's secret triumph is that Parolando also translates as "Twain Land". Sam's greatest pain is that he has finally found his Earthly wife Olivia. Livy no longer loves him, and is mated to a man Sam desperately needs as an ally, the great swordsman Savinien de Cyrano II de Bergerac.

Within a couple of years, the construction of the boat is well under way. Parolando is a polluted industrial hell, trading steel weapons to its neighboring states for wood and ores, since Sam needs aluminum, platinum, and other rare materials to build his boat. A 20th century engineer designs a batacitor, half battery half capacitor, to tap the energy from the grailstones and feed it to the electric motors powering the great paddlewheels that will take the Not For Hire up the river. One of the states is Soul City, run by Elwood Hacking. Soul City is a segregated, black-only state, and is both afraid of and disgusted by the powerful and fully integrated Parolando. (Soul City is one of the few racially segregated societies on the River. Most places, people rapidly learned to get along regardless of skin color, religion, and language. Esperanto rapidly becomes the lingua franca of the River.)

Parolando is the most technologically advanced society the Riverworld will ever see, with alcohol-powered airplanes, guns (plastic bullets!), steel arrowheads and rapiers and armor. It is also a free and unified society, everyone working for one goal, the chance to have their name put in a drum and be selected as a member of the crew of the Not For Hire. Herman Goering, missionary of the Church of the Second Chance, takes up residence in Parolando, serving as a moral foil for Sam, preaching against the great boat. His pacifistic, anti-materialist statements are a minor irritation compared to the intrigues and eventual war fought for control of Parolando, a battle won by Sam and John only at the price of the half-completed boat.

Sam is unstoppable, however, and three years later has his boat.

Which King John immediately takes away from him, betraying Sam the way Sam planned to betray him. He steams away, leaving Sam, Joe Miller, von Richthofen, Cyrano, and everyone else loyal to Sam on the bank. Sam vows to build another, bigger, better boat, chase John to the headwaters, and blow him out of the water.

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