It is with great sadness and regret to report that science fiction and fantasy author Philip Jose Farmer passed away on February 25th, 2009 at the age of 91 in Peoria, Illinois. The New York Times has posted his obituary here.
Regular readers of this blog may have noted my interest in sharing and promoting the works of Mr. Farmer to the library community. The first book of his I had ever read was the now-out-of-print "fictional biography" Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (Bantam; 1975), which I read originally because I was a Doc Savage fan at the time. (The pulp novels of the character written by "Kenneth Robeson" from 1933-1949 were then being reprinted by Bantam Books when I came across Farmer's tome.) I couldn't believe how Farmer, using all 181 novels in the series, could come up with an exciting, informative and well-researched book on the character without losing his (or the reader's) interest. In due course, I also sought out his similar work, 1972's Tarzan Alive which focused on Edgar Rice Burroughs' famed action hero. In both books, Farmer came up with a proposed chronology of the characters' literary adventures, sorting out which stories were "real" and which were simply "fiction". Additionally, Farmer linked both heroes to the Wold Newton Family literary concept, which stated that several fictional adventure characters (including Sherlock Holmes, Sam Spade, The Shadow and James Bond) all belonged to the same family tree.
As I grew older, I sought out other works by Farmer, including the Riverworld series (adapted, rather poorly, as a 2003 miniseries by the Sci Fi Channel), "stand-alone" novels like The Lovers and Night of Light, and pastiches like Venus on the Half-Shell (discussed by me in a previous post). Farmer eventually even got to write new novels (also, sadly, out-of-print) of Doc Savage (1991's Escape From Loki) and Tarzan (1999's The Dark Heart of Time) as well.
Mr. Farmer's constant and imaginative usage of literary references (in addition to pulp novels, he also acknowledged such diverse influences as Herman Melville, H.P. Lovecraft and L. Frank Baum) always made his stories stand out. I often found myself checking out the works of writers of various genres that Mr. Farmer had mentioned. Because of Mr. Farmer (among others), I became much more appreciative of classic and current literature, as well as still enjoying so-called "pulp" stories.
On a personal note: when I first proposed setting up this blog for the library, I set up a "proto blog" to show staffers how it could be done. One of my posts from this practice blog on Mr. Farmer (which basically covers the same ground as this entry) elicited a response from Win Scott Eckert , who was kind enough to inform me of an upcoming collaboration he had with the author (information on which can be read here). More recently, Christopher Paul Carey, who edited the recent Venus on the Half Shell collection, informed me of the forthcoming The Other in the Mirror book, which you can read about here. Had I not proceeded with this blog and been allowed to discuss Mr. Farmer, I would never have heard from these authors and receive the information they gave me, as well as validating the purpose of my blog. I owe them, and Mr. Farmer, quite a debt.
Related links: The Official Philip Jose Farmer Home Page ; The Wold Newton Universe (and also check out the library's copy of Win Scott Eckert's Myths for the Modern Age, which you can reserve from our catalog here).
The Sci Fi Channel has a new Riverworld series coming up! Check it out here.
Doc Savage's adventures are currently being reprinted by Anthony Tollin's Sanctum Books: Go here to see what's coming up.