Farewell to Philip Jose Farmer

Writer Philip Jose Farmer died today. He was 91.

When I was a teenager, I was heavily into science-fiction, and some books that really grabbed me were the DANGEROUS VISIONS anthologies edited by Harlan Ellison (when I was a kid, Ellison was my freakin god). The books were cool because they gave science-fiction writers a chance to really break the bonds of convention (as well as some taboos) and really write some cutting edge stuff. The thing is, Farmer was always writing on the edge. His story in the first volume, “Riders of the Purple Wage” was probably the most experimental story in the book, and one of the best. I immediately became a fan.

From his first novel THE LOVERS through the RIVERWORLD books (the best-selling series that cemented his reputation – about another planet that has a giant river running through it – which is also the afterlife, where dead people go. Featuring appearaces by explorer Sir Richard Burton (not the actor) and Samuel Clemens). He also wrote some horror (his novel IMAGE OF THE BEAST is a classic) and some interesting riffs on pulp heroes (novels about Tarzan and Doc Savage, or characters that are an awful lot like them). He also wrote the novel VENUS ON THE HALF-SHELL, which was attributed to Kilgore Trout, the science-fiction writer Kurt Vonnegut created. It was mystery as to his true identity until Farmer spilled the beans.

He was an important figure in fantastic literature, and wrote an awful ot in his long life. Subterranean Books were even starting to reissue a lot of his books – and it seemed like there was renewed interest in him again. At least he got to enjoy a resurgence before he died.

Farewell, Phil!


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