Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Philip Jose Farmer R.I.P.

Philip José Farmer, best known as the author of the Riverworld and World of Tiers series, passed this morning in his home in his home in Peoria, Illinois. He was 91.

Farmer was born on July 26, 1918 in Terra Haute, Indiana. His family moved frequently when he was a very young child. In 1920 they moved to Indianpolis and then Greenwood, Indiana. In 1922 the Farmer family moved to Mexico, Missouri where they lived for a year before settling in Peoria, Illinois. It was in Peoria that Farmer would grow up and there that he would spend most of his life.

Farmer was an avid reader even as a child. He was nine years old when he discovered both L. Frank Baum's Oz books and Greek mythology. Farmer was 15 years old when he started reading Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Jules Verne. It was also when he was fifteen that he first encountered the hero of a brand new magazine entitled Doc Savage. By his senior year in high school Mr. Farmer had already developed some of the ideas that would become the basis for Maker of Universes, the first book in the World of Tiers series.

Following Farmer's graduation from Peoria High School, he attended the University of Missouri to study Journalism. Farmer had to leave college during his first year when his father went bankrupt. He later attended Bradley Polytechnical Institute in Peoria, majoring in English Literature. He would eventually transfer back to the University of Missouri, as Bradley Polytechnical Institute did not have classes on classical Greek. It was in 1941 that Mr. Farmer enlisted in the Army Air Force. He did not make it through flight training and by 1942 asked to be discharged from the military.

Philip José Farmer took a job at Keystone Steel & Wire Company that same year, where he would be for the next 11 years. The year 1946 would see the publication of his first story, "O'Brien and Obrenov," in the March issue of Adventure. In 1949 he returned to college, this time to Bradley University. He would graduate the following year with a degree in English. In 1952 Mr. Farmer's taboo breaking story "The Lovers" was published in the August issue of Startling Stories. Startling Stories December 1952 would see the publication of his story "Sail On! Sail On!" In 1953 he attended the 11th annual Worldcon. There he gave a speech entitled "Science fiction and the Kinsey Report." He also won the Hugo Award for Most Promising New Talent.

It was that same year that Farmer won the Shasta Publishers' contest for his novel I Owe for the Flesh, what would become the first novel in the Riverworld series. Unfortunately Shasta's editor Melvin Korshak continually told Farmer that Pocket Books wanted rewrites, while never paying him the $4000 prize money. In the end Shasta never published I Owe for the Flesh, editor Melvin Korshak, and Mr. Farmer lost his house. Farmer continued to write, however, with several novelettes and novellas published in 1953.

In 1956 Farmer and his family moved to Syracuse, New York where he was a technical writer for General Electric. In 1957 Farmer published his first novel, The Green Odyssey. When Farmer got a job as a technical writer for Motorola's military electronics division, the family moved to Scottsdale, Arizona. It was in 1959 that Horace Gold of Galaxy magazine approached Farmer about writing a science fiction novel containing sex for a new line of books planned by Galaxy-Beacon. The novel which resulted, Flesh, was published in 1960 and would be the only novel published in the prospective new line.

The Sixties would see the publication of some of Farmer's most famous works. In 1965 Maker of Universes, the first book in the World of Tiers series was published. In 1966 the novelette Riverworld, the first work in the Riverworld series was published. The first Riverworld novel, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, would be published in 1971.

It was also 1971 that saw the beginnings of the Wold Newton family with such articles as "The Arms of Tarzan (published in Burroughs Bulletin #22, 1971)," "The Two Lord Ruftons" in The Baker Street Journal, December 1971, and "The Obscure Life and Hard Times of Kilgore Trout" in Mobeius Strip 11. The Wold Newton Family is a concept which incorporates many different literary characters created by many different authors. In the fictional biographies Tarzan Alive (published in 1972) and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (published in 1973) Farmer developed the idea that a radioactive meteorite fell in Wold Newton, Yorkshire on December 13, 1795 and caused mutations in the passengers of a passing coach. Their descendants would be gifted with above normal intelligence and often abormal strength, as well as a desire to do good and fight evil. Among their descendents would be Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow, Bulldog Drummond, and so on.

Beyond his fictional biographies Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, Farmer would utilise classic characters many times. The Wind Whales of Ishmael, published in 1971, was a sequel to the novel Moby Dick. The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, pubished in 1973, filled in the gaps in time in Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. The Adventure of the Peerless Peer would team up Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan (when it was republished in 1984, the Burroughs estate complained and Farmer replaced Tarzan with Mowgli from The Jungle Book). Farmer would write no less than three novels featuring Doc Caliban and Lord Grandrith, thinly veiled versions of Doc Savage and Tarzan. He also wrote Escape from Loki, the authorised novel telling of the meeting of Doc and the Fabulous Five. With Kurt Vonnegut's permission Farmer wrote the novel Venus On the Half-Shell as Kilgore Trout, the fictional writer appearing in many of Mr. Vonnegut's works.

Over the years Farmer would win several awards. In addition to being nominated several times, he won three Hugo Awards (for Most Promising New Talent in 1953, for Best Novella for Riders of the Purple Wage in 1968, and in 1972 for Best Novel for To Your Scattered Bodies Go). In 2000 he received the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award at the Nebula Awards ceremony. He also received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2001 and the Forry Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2003.

Philip José Farmer was a groundbreaking writer in the field of science fiction. Prior to the Fifties sex was nearly unknown in science fiction prior to the Fifties. With "The Lovers" Farmer wrote what may well have been the first science fiction story which actually featured sex as a theme. His novel Flesh was even more open in exploring sexual themes. While Farmer took science fiction out of the pulp era into the modern era, he was also piviotal in seeing to it that the heroes of late Victoriana and the 20th century pulp magazines were remembered. Not only was his idea of the Wold Newton Family a significant piece of crossover fiction, but it enabled many characters to be remembered (Bulldog Drummond, Allan Quartermain, Lew Archer, et. al.) who may not have been remembered quite so well. Not only did Philip José Farmer help innovate science fiction, but he also helped preserved the literary heritage from late Victoriana and the pulp era.


Jim Marquis said...

He was a truly remarkable writer. So many great concepts and characters. I especially admired the Riverworld series.

RC said...

interesting...i have never heard of him before...some of those sound great...

i'd love to see a film adaptation of tarzan and sherlock holmes teamed up.