Philip Jose Farmer is Dead
Author Philip Jose Farmer is now dead. He made it to 91 years old, and he wrote something like a hundred thousand novels and ten million short stories. He was one of those autistic, jaw-dropping science-fiction madmen of the post-war generation who brought the discipline of the Great Depression to bear on literature and who treated writing like a bodily function, and not some precious bit of hobby quilting or emotional catharsis.

Farmer is the one reclining on the bed on the right, planning on how he's going to seduce the pretty lady on the floor on the bottom left

I confess: I never read any of Farmer's books while he was alive. The horrible truth about "science-fiction" writers is that even the best ones may only make the news twice in their lives: when they win an award and when they die.

So I confess: I'd never heard of him until I saw his obituary in the New York Times.

But now, with my eyes opened, I am definitely going to read his Riverworld books. I am going to buy one of them tonight. You should, too.

Maybe the money will help keep his publisher alive in these doomed days and will help keep some other Philip Farmer writing and feeding his or her kids.

The Riverworld books sound like exactly what I have always wanted to read. Do you know how hard it is to come up with that kind of thing?

Alright, here's the premise: when the world is annihilated by aliens, everyone who has ever lived on Earth (including a pissed-off Jesus Christ) is reincarnated on a new planet that consists of one giant river with (of course) two banks. Everybody is reborn at age 25, is immortal, and has a grail attached to their wrist that fills up with food and drugs three times a day.

The books follow the adventures of Sir Richard Burton (translator of the "Arabian Nights"), Samuel Clemens, and a repentant, drug-addicted Herman Goerring as they try to get to the source of the river to find out "what the fuck."

This sounds like the apotheosis of all fan-fiction: a universe where all the world's heroes and finest minds get together to ride around on steamships, fly dirigibles, and contemplate the mysteries of existence. They eat, they fuck, they argue, they get high! Yes!

Other neat stories about Dead Mr. Farmer: he once got into a fight with Kurt Vonnegut because he once wrote a book under the pen name of Vonnegut's creation "Kilgore Trout" called "Venus on the Half-Shell."

Vonnegut wasn't mad at Farmer because the book was bad. Vonnegut was mad at him because the book was too GOOD, prompting critics and reviewers to consider it a worthy addition to venerable, populist Kurt Vonnegut's hip, literary oeuvre.

Farmer also wrote full-length fictional biographies of Tarzan and Doc Savage. He wrote a series of novels about a pantheon of mad gods who create torture-worlds in stacked concentric circles in some distant alien cosmos. Their tortured creations rebel, and the pillars of the universe are shaken.

He also wrote a book called "Jesus on Mars." The title is not a cute metaphor.

Space Chimp: the 13th apostle

Additionally, Farmer was the first science-fiction writer to ever write about sex in his short story called "The Lovers." Evidently, Farmer was a demon with a mission: to make the science-fiction world dirty and harsh, and to fill it with his own obsessions, dreams, and perversions.

He was an artist. He was in it for the chance to be in it.

You don't see writers like Philip Farmer around very much anymore. He was one of the last of his kind, and he will be remembered as a brave soul: a golden hack that used the sharp ax of his mind to carve out whole new universes and fill them with his own horny Pinocchios and cruel Frankensteins.

Seeya round, Mr. Farmer. You lived a long, inspiring, productive life, and now you can rest for awhile until the aliens get here and it's time to start all over again.

Posted by miracle on Fri, 27 Feb 2009 18:09:00 -0500 -- permanent link

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