Philip José Farmer
Philip José Farmer has died at age 91, according to his official homepage. I never met the man, and am no good at doing eloquent obituary cadences, so will just note that of all the writers I’ve covered so far in my “Yesterday’s Tomorrows” column, he was the one who was most full of surprises. All the weird stuff he loved to pack into his stories—Tarzan, Richard Burton, sex, Joyce, loopy epistemology, historical trivia, flat earths—made it a brew like nothing else. A lot of it’s still in print. If you haven’t read him, you have a treat in store.
4 thoughts on “Philip José Farmer”
Phil was about the first major writer in the field that I counted as a close friend, and one of the things I’m regretting now is not having tried to memorize some of those conversations we had over the years.
He’s going to be a nightmare for scholars and fans to untangle his web of allusions and connections, and that’s pretty much how he wanted it: he’d take secondary characters from, say, a Roy Rockwood novel and insert them intact into one of his own stories, knowing that not more than a half dozen readers would ever pick up the allusion. And then he’d giggle at the thought.
He was one of the most wildly intelligent writers I’d met, but I think he took most pride in being sly like that.
Jungle Rot Kid
Leo Queequeg Tincrowder
Dr. John Watson
Thank you for showing me what I want to be when I grow up,
Phil’s writing was a delight, and getting to know him personally just made it (and my life) better. He was no saint (a saint wouldn’t have written the deliciously vengeful Lem Sharkko sections of Scattered Bodies or imagined some of the more uncomfortable scenes in A Feast Unknown), but he was deeply decent and unsentimentally good-hearted; quicker of mind than his deliberate, midwestern speech would have you think; and had an enormous and childlike capacity for fun. We all knew it had to end some day, but that doesn’t help much right now.
I considered Phil Farmer my friend long before I ever met the man. He became my friend the moment I began reading my first Farmer book, “Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life” in 1975, at the age of 12. Maybe it was the recognition of a kindred spirit; like Phil I became a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs as a child (the first so-called “grownup” book I ever read, while still in the third grade, was my dad’s old Canaveral Press edition of “The Land That Time Forgot”) and used my love of ERB as a stepping stone to other literature. Having just discovered Bantam’s Doc Savage reprints a few short months before, I glommed onto that copy of “DS:HAL” when I found it on the department store bookrack and had all but the appendices read by the time I went to bed that night. Man, the memories just thinking about that brings back…
From there I found “Tarzan Alive,” Riverworld, the World of Tiers, “The Adventure of the Peerless Peer,” “After King Kong Fell” and so many others. I remember wondering what all the fuss had been about when I first read “The Lovers,” knowing exactly what the fuss was all about when I read “A Feast Unknown,” and the feeling of embarrassment when I finally figured out the true identity of John Gribardsun.
Farmer’s writings played a part in my wanting to become a writer myself – so much so that when invited to become part of a group of writers, fans and scholars who were building new layers upon the foundation of Farmer’s Wold Newton mythos, it was (as the kids like to say these days) a no-brainer.
Because of my years in the newspaper business I must admit I had grown a little jaded at some about seeing my name appear in print – until “Myths For The Modern Age” came out and I realized that my name was now in print right there alongside one of my personal heroes, a master whose work I had so long admired. My wife likes to tease me about the expression I got on my face when I first received my copy of “Myths”; I guess it really was a little like being a little kid at Christmas. I don’t know that anything I may ever accomplish professionally after that will have as much meaning. (Doesn’t mean I’m gonna quit trying, though…)
As I have written elsewhere since getting the news, this is a sad, sad day – for fans of the science fiction genre and for me personally. Phil Farmer has had such an impact on my life that it is impossible for me to even attempt to put it into words; that I should have gotten the opportunity to become a part of his universe through my own writings, and to have actually had the opportunity to meet him and Bette and spend time in their home in Peoria, is a memory I will treasure until I get the chance to meet up with him again somewhere in Riverworld.
Fare thee well, Kickaha. I suspect the adventure is just beginning.
And if you happen to bump into them, say hello to Old Burroughs and Mr. Dent for me…