Philip José Farmer

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Philip José Farmer
Farmer in 2002
Farmer in 2002
Born(1918-01-26)January 26, 1918
North Terre Haute, Indiana, U.S.
DiedFebruary 25, 2009(2009-02-25) (aged 91)
Peoria, Illinois, U.S.
Pen namemore than a dozen[1] (below)
OccupationNovelist, short story writer
Alma materPeoria High School
Bradley University
Periodc. 1952–2009
GenreFantasy, science fiction
Bette V. Andre
(m. 1941)

Philip José Farmer (January 26, 1918 – February 25, 2009) was an American author known for his science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories.[2]

Farmer is best known for his sequences of novels, especially the World of Tiers (1965–93) and Riverworld (1971–83) series. He is noted for the pioneering use of sexual and religious themes in his work, his fascination for, and reworking of, the lore of celebrated pulp heroes, and occasional tongue-in-cheek pseudonymous works written as if by fictional characters. Farmer often mixed real and classic fictional characters and worlds and real and fake authors as epitomized by his Wold Newton family books, which tie classic fictional characters together as real people and blood relatives resulting from an alien conspiracy. Such works as The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (1973) and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973) are early examples of literary mashup novels.

Literary critic Leslie Fiedler compared Farmer to Ray Bradbury, describing both as "provincial American eccentrics" who "strain at the classic limits of the [science fiction] form," but found Farmer distinctive for his capacity "to be at once naive and sophisticated in his odd blending of theology, pornography, and adventure."[3]


Youth and education[edit]

Farmer and his great-grandson in 1995

Farmer was born in North Terre Haute, Indiana. According to colleague Frederik Pohl, his middle name was in honor of an aunt, Josie.[4] Farmer grew up in Peoria, Illinois, where he attended Peoria High School. His father was a civil engineer and a supervisor for the local power company. A voracious reader as a boy, Farmer said he resolved to become a writer in the fourth grade. He underwent basic religious training in the Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) as a child, which he later characterized as a "peculiar background" for a science fiction writer.[5] He became an agnostic at the age of 14, and ultimately an atheist, though not, he said, indifferent to religion. At age 23, in 1941, he married Bette V. Andre and eventually fathered a son and a daughter. After washing out of flight training in World War II, he went to work in a local steel mill. He later continued his education, however, earning a bachelor's degree in English from Bradley University in 1950[6] at the age of 32.

Early career[edit]

Farmer had his first literary success when his novella The Lovers was published by Samuel Mines in Startling Stories, August 1952,[1] which features a sexual relationship between a human and an extraterrestrial. He won a Hugo Award for Best New SF Author or Artist in 1953, the first of three Hugo awards he won in his career. Thus encouraged, he quit his job to become a full-time writer, entered a publisher's contest, and promptly won first prize for a novel, Owe for the Flesh, that contained the germ of his later Riverworld series. But the book was not published and Farmer did not get the $4,000 prize money that was supposed to go to the winner.[7] Literary success did not translate into financial security, so he left Peoria in 1956 to launch a career as a technical writer. He spent the next 14 years working in that capacity for various defense contractors, from Syracuse, New York to Los Angeles, while writing science fiction in his spare time.[6]

Farmer won a second Hugo award in 1968, in the category Best Novella, for Riders of the Purple Wage,[8] a pastiche of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake as well as a satire on a futuristic, cradle-to-grave welfare state. Reinvigorated, Farmer became a full-time writer again in 1969.[9] Upon moving back to Peoria in 1970, he entered his most prolific period, publishing 25 books in 10 years. His novel To Your Scattered Bodies Go (a reworking of the unpublished prize-winning first novel of 20 years before) won him a third Hugo in 1972, for Best Novel.[8]

A 1975 novel, Venus on the Half-Shell, created a stir in the larger literary community and media. It purported to be written in the first person by one "Kilgore Trout," a fictional character appearing as an underappreciated science fiction writer in several of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. The escapade did not please Vonnegut when some reviewers not only concluded that it had been written by Vonnegut himself, but that it was a worthy addition to his works. Farmer did have permission from Vonnegut to write the book, although Vonnegut later said he regretted giving permission.[10]

Later years[edit]

Farmer had both critical champions and detractors. Leslie Fiedler proclaimed him "the greatest science fiction writer ever"[11] and lauded his approach to storytelling as a "gargantuan lust to swallow down the whole cosmos, past, present and to come, and to spew it out again."[12] Isaac Asimov praised Farmer as an "excellent science fiction writer; in fact, a far more skillful writer than I am...."[13] But Christopher Lehmann-Haupt dismissed him in The New York Times in 1972 as "a humdrum toiler in the fields of science fiction."[6]

In 2001 Farmer won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement and the Science Fiction Writers of America made him its 19th SFWA Grand Master in the same year.[8][14]

Farmer's output slowed, but he continued to be active, publishing one novel and co-authoring three others (as well as producing about 20 short stories) in his last decade. He died on February 25, 2009.[2][15] He was survived by his wife Bette, two children, five grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.[16]

Novel sequences[edit]

Farmer's novelette "Some Fabulous Yonder" was the cover story on the April 1963 issue of Fantastic

Riverworld series[edit]

The Riverworld series follows the adventures of such diverse characters as Richard Francis Burton, Hermann Göring, and Samuel Clemens through a bizarre afterlife in which every human ever to have lived is simultaneously resurrected along a single river valley that stretches over an entire planet. The series consists of To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), The Fabulous Riverboat (1971), The Dark Design (1977), The Magic Labyrinth (1980) and Gods of Riverworld (1983). Although Riverworld and Other Stories (1979) is not part of the series as such, it does include the second-published Riverworld story, which is free-standing rather than integrated into one of the novels.

The first two Riverworld books were originally published as novellas, "The Day of the Great Shout" and "The Suicide Express," and as a two-part serial, "The Felled Star," in the science fiction magazines Worlds of Tomorrow and If between 1965 and 1967. The separate novelette "Riverworld" ran in Worlds of Tomorrow in January 1966. A final pair of linked novelettes appeared in the 1990s: "Crossing the Dark River" (in Tales of Riverworld, 1992) and "Up the Bright River" (in Quest to Riverworld, 1993). Farmer introduced himself into the series as Peter Jairus Frigate (PJF).

The Riverworld series originated in a novel, Owe for the Flesh, written in one month in 1952 as a contest entry. It won the contest, but the book was left unpublished and orphaned when the prize money was misappropriated, and Farmer nearly gave up writing altogether.[17] The original manuscript of the novel was lost, but years later Farmer reworked the material into the Riverworld magazine stories mentioned above. Eventually, a copy of a revised version of the original novel surfaced in a box in a garage and was published as River of Eternity by Phantasia Press in 1983. Farmer's introduction to this edition gives the details of how it all happened.[17]

World of Tiers series[edit]

The series is set within a number of artificially constructed parallel universes[18] (of which Earth is one), created tens of thousands of years ago by a race of human beings not from Earth who had achieved an advanced level of technology which gave them almost godlike power and immortality. The principal universe in which these stories take place, and from which the series derives its name, consists of an enormous tiered planet, shaped like a stack of disks or squat cylinders, of diminishing radius, one atop the other. The series follows the adventures of several of these godlike humans and several "ordinary" humans from Earth who accidentally travel to these artificial universes. (One of those "ordinary" humans was Paul Janus Finnegan [PJF], who becomes the main character in the series.) The series consists of The Maker of Universes (1965), The Gates of Creation (1966), A Private Cosmos (1968), Behind the Walls of Terra (1970), The Lavalite World (1977) and More Than Fire (1993). Roger Zelazny has mentioned that The World of Tiers was something he had in his mind when he created his Amber series.[19] A related novel is Red Orc's Rage (1991), which does not involve the principal characters of the other books directly, but does provide background information to certain events and characters portrayed in the other novels. This is the most "psychological" of Farmer's novels.

Literary themes[edit]


Farmer's work often handles sexual themes; some early works were notable for their ground-breaking introduction of such material to popular science fiction literature.[20] His first published science fiction story (with one minor exception), the novella The Lovers, earned him the Hugo Award for Best New SF Author or Artist in 1953, and is critically recognized as the story that broke the taboo on sex in science fiction.[21] It instantly put Farmer on the literary map.[22] The short story collection Strange Relations (1960) was a notable event in the genre.[20] He was one of three persons to whom Robert A. Heinlein dedicated Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), a novel which explored sexual freedom as one of its primary themes.[23] Moreover, Fire and the Night (1962) is a mainstream novel about an interracial romance; it features sociological and psychosexual twists. In Night of Light (1966), he devised an alien race where aliens have only one mother but several fathers, perhaps because of an unusual or untenable physical position that cannot be reached or continued by two individuals acting alone. Both Image of the Beast and the sequel Blown from 1968 to 1969 explore group sex, interplanetary travel, and interplay between fictional figures like Herald Childe and real people like Forry Ackerman. In the World of Tiers series he explores Oedipal themes.


Farmer's fiction frequently included religious themes; he once went so far as to muse that "religion is the earliest form of science fiction".[24] Raised in the Christian Science church, he lost his religious faith in early youth. Nevertheless, he eventually found that he was not truly indifferent to religion, but was "powerfully attracted by the Roman Catholic faith". Immortality and soteriology were particular theological concerns for him. "The brain, knowing that a person can't live forever in this world, rationalizes a future, or other-dimensional, world in which immortality is possible.... For me, only those stories concerned with this one vital issue are serious stories. All others, no matter how moving or profound, are mere entertainments. They do not deal with that which is our gravest concern. Without a belief in eternal life for us, the terrestrial existence is something to be gotten through with as little pain and as much pleasure as possible. If this conclusion is the triumph of irrationality over logic, so be it."[25]

In his groundbreaking novella The Lovers (1952) he invented a fictional religion based on J. W. Dunne's "Serialism". The novel Night of Light (1957, expanded 1966) takes the rather unholy Father John Carmody on an odyssey on an alien world where spiritual forces are made manifest in the material world. In Flesh (1960) astronauts return to an Earth 800 years in their future dominated by a pagan goddess-worshiping religion. Jesus of Nazareth shows up as a character in both the Riverworld series (in the 1966 novelette "Riverworld" — but not in the novels, except for the brief mention of his death early in The Magic Labyrinth) and in the 1979 novel Jesus on Mars. Other examples include the short stories "J.C. on the Dude Ranch", "The God Business", "The Making of Revelation, Part I", and the novels Inside, Outside (1964) — which may or may not be set in Hell — and Traitor to the Living (1973), among many others.

Pulp heroes[edit]

Many of Farmer's works rework existing characters from fiction and history,[2] as in The Wind Whales of Ishmael (1971), a far-future sequel to Herman Melville's Moby-Dick; The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (1973), which fills in the missing time periods from Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days; and A Barnstormer in Oz (1982), in which Dorothy's adult son, a pilot, flies to the Land of Oz by accident.

He has often written about the pulp heroes Tarzan and Doc Savage, or pastiches thereof: In his novel The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes team up. Farmer's Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban series portray analogues of Tarzan and Doc Savage. It consists of A Feast Unknown (1969), Lord of the Trees (1970) and The Mad Goblin (1970). Farmer has also written two mock biographies of both characters, Tarzan Alive (1972) and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973), which adopt the premise that the two were based on real people fictionalized by their original chroniclers, and connect them genealogically with a large number of other well-known fictional characters in a schema now known as the "Wold Newton family." Further, Farmer wrote both an authorized Doc Savage novel, Escape from Loki (1991) and an authorized Tarzan novel, The Dark Heart of Time (1999). In his 1972 novel Time's Last Gift, Farmer also explored the Tarzan theme combined with time travel, using the transparently reverse-syllabled name of "Sahhindar" for his hero (and the book's initials, TLG, as code for "Tarzan, Lord Greystoke"). A short story on this theme is "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod" (1968): "if William S. rather than Edgar Rice [Burroughs] had written Tarzan," Farmer also wrote Lord Tyger (1970) about a ruthless millionaire who tries to create a real Tarzan by having a child kidnapped and then brought up subject to the same tragic events which shaped Tarzan in the original books.

In his incomplete historical Khokarsa cycle — Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974) and Flight to Opar (1976) — Farmer portrayed the "lost city" of Opar, which plays an important part in the Tarzan saga, in the time of its glory as a colony city of the empire of Khokarsa. One of the books mentions a mysterious grey-eyed traveller, clearly "Sahhindar"/Tarzan.


Farmer wrote Venus on the Half-Shell (1975) under the name Kilgore Trout, a fictional author who appears in the works of Kurt Vonnegut. He had planned to write more of Trout's fictional books (notably Son of Jimmy Valentine), but Vonnegut put an end to those plans.[26] Farmer's use of the pseudonym had caused confusion among many readers, who for some time assumed that Vonnegut was behind it; when the truth of Venus on the Half-Shell's authorship came out, Vonnegut was reported as being "not amused." In an issue of the semi-prozine The Alien Critic/Science Fiction Review, published by Richard E. Geis, Farmer claimed to have received an angry, obscenity-laden telephone call from Vonnegut about it. Thereafter Farmer wrote a number of pseudonymous "fictional author" stories, mostly for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. These were stories whose "authors" are characters in other stories. The first such story was "by" Jonathan Swift Somers III (invented by Farmer himself in Venus on the Half-Shell but inspired by one of the dead voices of Spoon River Anthology). Later Farmer used the "Cordwainer Bird" byline, a pseudonym invented by Harlan Ellison for film and television projects from which he wished to disassociate himself, and perhaps related to the name Cordwainer Smith, a pseudonym used by Paul Linebarger.

Awards and honors[edit]

Runners-up, etc[8]


In a writing career spanning more than 60 years (1946–2008), Farmer published almost 60 novels, over 100 short stories and novellas (many expanded or combined into novels), two "fictional biographies" and numerous essays, articles and ephemera in fan publications.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Philip José Farmer at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB). Retrieved 2013-04-05.
  2. ^ a b c "Philip José Farmer". Obituaries. The Daily Telegraph. London. March 4, 2009. Retrieved May 31, 2012. Obituary.
  3. ^ Fiedler, Leslie A., ed. (1975), In Dreams Awake: A Historical-Critical Anthology of Science Fiction, New York City: Dell Publishing Company, pg 120.
  4. ^ Pohl, Frederik (February 28, 2009). "Josie!". The Way the Future Blogs. Archived from the original on March 18, 2010. Retrieved March 1, 2009.
  5. ^ Farmer, Philip José (1977), "Religion and Myths" in The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction; Reprinted in Farmer, Philip José (2006; edited by Paul Spiteri), Pearls from Peoria, Subterranean Press, pp 719-720.
  6. ^ a b c Jonas, Gerald (February 26, 2009). "Philip José Farmer, Daring Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 91". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Carlson, Michael (February 27, 2009). "Obituary: Philip José Farmer". the Guardian.
  8. ^ a b c d e "Farmer, Philip Jose". The Locus Index to SF Awards: Index of Literary Nominees. Locus Publications. Retrieved 2013-04-05.
  9. ^ Clute, John and Peter Nicholls (1993, 1995), The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, New York: St. Martin's Griffin, pp 417–419.
  10. ^ Chapman, Edgar, The Magic Labyrinth of Philip Jose Farmer, Borgo Press, 1984. Pps. 64-6.
  11. ^ Stoler, Peter (1980), “’Riverworld’ Revisited”, Time, July 28.
  12. ^ Fiedler, Leslie A. (1972), "Getting into the Task of Now Pornography" The Los Angeles Times, April 23. (Reprinted in slightly different form as "Thanks for the Feast: Notes on Philip Jose Farmer," In: Farmer, Philip Jose (1973), The Book of Philip Jose Farmer, or the Wares of Simple Simon's Custard Pie and Space Man, New York: Daw Books, Inc, pp 233–239.)
  13. ^ I, Asimov. Isaac Asimov. Bantam Books. p. 504. 1994.
  14. ^ a b "Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master" Archived July 1, 2011, at the Wayback Machine. Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Retrieved 2013-04-05.
  15. ^ "The Official Philip José Farmer Web Page - Home".
  16. ^ McLellan, Dennis (March 4, 2009). "Philip Jose Farmer dies at 91; acclaimed science fiction writer". Los Angeles Times.
  17. ^ a b Farmer 1983: Author's Introduction
  18. ^ Anders, Charlie Jane (February 25, 2009). "R.I.P. Philip José Farmer". io9. Gizmodo.
  19. ^ "A Conversation With Roger Zelazny 8th April, 1978". Archived from the original on July 1, 2007. Retrieved September 13, 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  20. ^ a b Clute 1993
  21. ^ Merrick 2003
  22. ^ Carey 2007
  23. ^ Heinlein 1991
  24. ^ Farmer (1977), Op. cit.
  25. ^ Farmer (1977), Op. cit.
  26. ^ Trout Archived December 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  27. ^ a b "1972 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved October 5, 2009.
  28. ^ World Fantasy Convention (2010). "Award Winners and Nominees". Archived from the original on December 1, 2010. Retrieved February 4, 2011.
  29. ^ "The Official Philip Jose Farmer Home Page - Awards". Archived from the original on December 20, 2013. Retrieved October 23, 2014.

General and cited sources[edit]

External links[edit]