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Phillip José Farmer Dies at 91

Cover art for Farmer’s Tarzan/Doc Savage pastiche,   Lord of the Trees  .
Cover art for Farmer’s Tarzan/Doc Savage pastiche, Lord of the Trees .

Science fiction author Phillip José Farmer died in his sleep last Wednesday. He was one of my favorites. I was him in a web quiz not long ago. I’ve read so many of his books I can’t even remember them all, but I’ll try anyway.

Farmer might be best know for his Riverworld series, beginning with the Hugo Award-winning novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go. The premise is this: everyone who ever lived is reincarnated all at once along the banks of a million-mile-long river. Sir Richard Francis Burton starred in the first book, but the second book (The Fabulous Riverboat) featuring Mark Twain and his giant Neanderthal bodyguard, was my favorite of the bunch. Sci Fi Channel made an awful two-hour Riverworld film that didn’t do the series any justice.

His World of Tiers series is popular as well, though only a couple books actually featured the Burroughsian World of Tiers. It’s really a complex story about a small race of very mean people who can create and travel between pocket universes, and who are also all trying to kill each other. Roger Zelazny drew very heavily on those books for his Amber series. Apparently, there’s one book in this series I haven’t read, but it wasn’t released in paperback. I suspect that will change shortly.

Farmer wrote Venus on the Half Shell, posing as Kurt Vonnegut's fictional Science Fiction author Kilgore Trout.

The Dayworld Trilogy involved a future where, due to over-population, people could only live one day a week, spending the other six days in suspended animation. Over time, the days developed vastly different cultures, occupying the same space.

He wrote The Wind Whales of Ishmael, where Melville's narrator was transported to a world of flying whales and flying ships.

He wrote a particularly unsatisfying parody of Burroughs called The Green Odyssey, where an Earthman stranded on a planet of rolling hills and wind ships found himself trapped, mostly, in a bitter marriage and endless drudgery.

Aside from writing biographies of both Tarzan and Doc Savage, he created pastiches of those characters in A Feast Unknown, Lord of the Trees and The Mad Gobliln. I think I enjoyed those sexually charged adventures most of all. They were a part of his Wold Newton universe that I’ve still not fully mapped.

He wrote a lot of stand-alone novels that I didn’t care for, too, like Flesh and Night of Light, but his unflinchingly pornographic science fiction adventures sucked up months of my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s sad that there will be nothing new, since I’ve seen most of what was.

Rest in peace, Paul Janus Finnegan.

 
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