Wed
Feb 25 2009 4:16pm

Philip José Farmer, 1918-2009

Philip José Farmer died today, aged ninety-one, a good science-fictional age. According to his homepage, he died peacefully in his sleep.

I never met him and know nothing about him personally. But he was one of the giants of science fiction and it’s almost impossible to overstate his importance in the field. He was the first of the new generation of science fiction writers who came along to revitalise the genre in the fifties and sixties. He was one of the pioneers of SF that was about people and sociology and weird ideas rather than engineering. He came up with ideas and “what ifs” that were impossible and brilliant and wrote about them in a science fictional way. He was an ideas writer, and judging by the introductions to his short stories he threw off ideas like firework sparks. But he was also a terrific stylist. People talk about “luminous prose,” well, Farmer had a meteoritic prose style that blazed across your eyeballs at lightspeed and left you dazzled and blinking. He could delineate a character in just a few words. He was irreverent and funny and clever, and he had ideas like “what if William Burroughs had writen Tarzan instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs”  or “what if Jesus was born again and burned at the stake this time” and then carried them through.

His Riders of the Purple Wage in Dangerous Visions blew my head off, so did The Alley God, and so did the original Riverworld novella—what an idea, everyone in all of history ressurected naked along the banks of an enormous Mississippi. It was later expanded to multiple volumes which were one of the first things I waited for, thus starting me on a lifetime of waiting for books to come out. He wrote more than thirty novels but his best and most memorable work was at short lengths, at a time when that was the lifeblood and the experimental crucible of the genre. Heinlein dedicated Stranger in a Strange Land to him. He was influential on the way the genre developed, he was the New Wave before there was a New Wave, and by the time it had been formed he’d moved on and was doing something else. He was always an exciting writer, you never had any idea what he was going to do next, he brought modernism into science fiction, and there really wasn’t anyone like him, ever.

I’m very sorry to hear that he’s dead. I’m glad he lived long enough to be named a Grand Master (2000) and the be given World Fantasy Life Achievement Award (2001).

They should name an extra-solar planet after him.

6 comments
David G. Hartwell
1. David G. Hartwell
Jo,

I did know Phil, and was his editor for a while in the 1970s, and again in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He and his wife Betty were charming, and sometimes uproariously funny. Phil was the first SF writer to concentrate overtly on human sexuality in his SF, which certainly impressed Heinlein. In a sense he open the way for Stranger in a Strange Land.

David
Blue Tyson
2. BlueTyson
Baen has an excellent collection of the sort of thing Mr. Hartwell is talking about, here :-

http://www.webscription.net/10.1125/Baen/1416509348/1416509348.htm

With their usually lengthy samples, so you can have a look. Or buy it instantly, if you like.

Jess wouldn't be happy with you, either, for not mentioning the brilliant Tarzan Alive and its Wold Newton family tree.



David G. Hartwell
3. mofojar
Philip Jose Farmer was always one of my favourite authors growing up. His ideas were always incredible, and his passion for SF pulp fiction (like E.R.Burroughs before him) helped me fall in love with the genre. Phil, you will be missed.
J Dalziel
4. BunnyM
They should name an extra-solar planet after him.

Whilst I agree with all of the above post, I think this sums it all up beautifully. A fitting memorial indeed, and one he well deserves.
William S. Higgins
5. higgins
Jo writes:

They should name an extra-solar planet after him.

Farmer in the Sky, eh?

David G. Hartwell writes in #1:

He and his wife Betty were charming, and sometimes uproariously funny. Phil was the first SF writer to concentrate overtly on human sexuality in his SF, which certainly impressed Heinlein. In a sense he open the way for Stranger in a Strange Land.

Indeed, that book is dedicated to Farmer, along with Fredric Brown and Robert A. Cornog.
Jo Walton
6. bluejo
Bill: Yes! Exactly! From the author of "Winnegan's Fake".

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment