Saturday, July 25, 2009


And now back to science fiction, and Philip José Farmer:

On the day I found that he had died, there was only one of his books in the store where I worked. Okay, it was the Baen Strange Relations omnibus that includes the title story collection, plus The Lovers, and Flesh, so technically it was three books, but I had that twinge I always get when reminded what happens to writers in their old age.

But I won’t dwell on that awful truth, instead I will sing his praises. And tell you about my favorite Farmer works. Yeah, I know, most of the so-called civilized world thinks his Riverworld novels are his best, but as usual, I have other ideas.

In my humble opinion, Riders of the Purple Wage, (in Harlan Ellison’s Dangerous Visions) is one of the great masterpieces of all time. A utopia that belongs next to all the great utopias of literature. Like all utopias, it is flawed, but it is one of the few that revels in a passion for life that is joyous and inspiring. It should be made available to the Harry Potter generation, now that the hormones have kicked in. The world will be a better place for it. Really.

An Exorcism, two novels, Ritual One: The Image of the Beast, and Ritual Two: Blown, were written for the high-class California "porno" publisher called Essex House. Combining the hardboiled detective genre with science fiction, fantasy, and horror, these book are pure glorious delirium. Heironymus Bosch and Henry Miller blazed these trails, but Farmer went deeper into this wilderness. If only all sleazy paperbacks were like this!

I’ve already reviewed Flesh, one of my favorite space operas that makes you really want to go out and probe the mysteries of the universe.

A Feast Unknown took the idea and myth of Tarzan to some frightening and logical extremes. It was also published by Essex House. The jungle adventure and the ape man will never be the same in your mind after you read this.

Another favorite of mine is Lord Tyger, in which a millionaire tries to raise his own Tarzan; the results are not what he was hoping for, but again outrageous and wonderful.

I once heard William L. Crawford say, "Farmer starts out with good material, but then he sexes it up." I respectfully disagree. The creature with the surgically removed genitalia is unnatural. What the censors would take out of Farmer's work, are what the so-called civilized world needs to face.

These are examples of what happens when a great talent is allowed to explore forbidden territory. This is what happens when the imagination is unleashed. These writings all go to extremes.

We need more of this kind of extremism.

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