Thursday, February 26, 2009

In Celebration of Philip Jose Farmer

One of the most imaginative American writers of science fiction, Philip Jose Farmer, passed away yesterday at the age of 91 and I gladly write today to celebrate his life and his work.

Sly and witty, dangerous and ambitious, fearless and playful, he was a most notable influence on the genre and was certainly a major influence for me as well. He might be best known to many readers as the author of the Riverworld series, but he was quite prolific, penning novels, short stories, essays, fictional biographies and much more. He won several Hugo awards and earned Lifetime Achievement awards too.

He could concoct astonishing worlds and galaxies, such as in the World of Tiers series of novels, or quirky futures, as in his award-winning short story "Riders of the Purple Wage", which surely forecast many of the elements and issues our society experiences today -- as WikiPedia notes of that story, it is:

... an extrapolation of today's tendency towards state supervision and consumer-oriented economic planning. In the story, all citizens receive a salary (the purple wage) from the government, to which everyone is entitled just by being born. The population is self-segregated into relatively small communities, with a controlled environment, and keeps in contact with the rest of the world through the Fido, a combination television and videophone."

Sounds like our economically lost and internet-addicted world today.

His characters were often participants in unbridled sexual behavior, and he also wrote numerous books about famous fictional heroes which proclaimed they were all real - Tarzan, Doc Savage, Phineas Fogg, the Shadow, Sherlock Holmes and many more. He gained some infamy for publishing a book under the name of Kilgore Trout, the

fictional science-fiction scribe featured in several books by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The book, "Venus on the Half-Shell", was rude and raunchy and hilarious, much as Vonnegut described that author, though Vonnegut did indeed tell Farmer to not create any more books by Trout. Too real perhaps?

In his Riverworld series, he brought out famous and infamous figures from throughout human history, from Mark Twain to Jack London and Tom Mix, together for a raucous adventure in the afterlife.

Another element of his storytelling I always enjoyed was how he placed himself in his stories. In the World of Tiers series, for example, he included the character of Paul Janus Finnegan (initials are PJF), aka Kickaha.

(Also see this novel for more.)

While his work was always immensely detailed and creative, he made sure his work also created a tremendously fun time for the reader.

Thanks for all the fine times, Phil. You made the journey fun and stoked the fires of imagination for many of us. Rest In Peace -- or better perhaps to say, "Hope the next adventure never ends."

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