fantasy, Science Fiction, Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday: Making Universes with Philip José Farmer

The-Other-Log-Of-Phileas-FoggGiven a career spanning 60 years and as many novels, Philip José Farmer’s science fiction and fantasy work covers a lot of ground. Add to that an extensive mythology that runs through and between many of his books, and figuring out where to jump into his universe might seem completely overwhelming. But while a huge fandom has sprung up to explore and extrapolate on the worlds of PJF,  he never let his overarching mythology stand in the way of a good read. In other words: have fun, and don’t sweat the details until you’re ready to do so.
That said, where should you start? It’s hard to narrow down a list of essentials without feeling like I’m leaving out an awful lot. Still, if you’re looking for an entry point, or just a  great standalone, any of these personal favorites should do nicely.

Time's Last Gift

Time's Last Gift

Paperback $9.95

Time's Last Gift

Philip José Farmer

In Stock Online

Paperback $9.95

Time’s Last Gift
Time’s Last Gift was my first PJF book, and, on the surface at least, it’s one of his most traditional sci-fi adventures: a team of scientists from the near future travel back in time to 12,000 BCE in order to study ancient man, with the understanding that there’s no danger of causing an alteration to the timeline. In Farmer’s temporal theory, anything that happens in the past has already happened. A time paradox is an impossibility. The author is much more interested in the effect the past has on our team of advanced scientists, about how standards of behavior and notions of masculinity evolve (or devolve) in the presence of primitive people.
It’s a great read in that regard, but it’s also the book that launched a thousand theories. The main character, the impossibly butch John Griburdsun, is clearly much more than he seems. Though it’s never made explicit, it’s generally assumed that his resemblance to a certain yodeling, vine-swinging pulp character isn’t coincidence. Similarly, a mysterious guy named Sahhindar shows up in Farmer’s later Khokarsa books. That series begins in 12,000 BCE and tells the elaborate ancient history of the city of Opar, encountered throughout Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. Got all that? These (sometimes) subtle interconnections are nerd catnip to me. I went nuts when I realized that this slim, enjoyable book slyly points to so much other stuff.

Time’s Last Gift
Time’s Last Gift was my first PJF book, and, on the surface at least, it’s one of his most traditional sci-fi adventures: a team of scientists from the near future travel back in time to 12,000 BCE in order to study ancient man, with the understanding that there’s no danger of causing an alteration to the timeline. In Farmer’s temporal theory, anything that happens in the past has already happened. A time paradox is an impossibility. The author is much more interested in the effect the past has on our team of advanced scientists, about how standards of behavior and notions of masculinity evolve (or devolve) in the presence of primitive people.
It’s a great read in that regard, but it’s also the book that launched a thousand theories. The main character, the impossibly butch John Griburdsun, is clearly much more than he seems. Though it’s never made explicit, it’s generally assumed that his resemblance to a certain yodeling, vine-swinging pulp character isn’t coincidence. Similarly, a mysterious guy named Sahhindar shows up in Farmer’s later Khokarsa books. That series begins in 12,000 BCE and tells the elaborate ancient history of the city of Opar, encountered throughout Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. Got all that? These (sometimes) subtle interconnections are nerd catnip to me. I went nuts when I realized that this slim, enjoyable book slyly points to so much other stuff.

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

Paperback $9.95

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg

Philip José Farmer

In Stock Online

Paperback $9.95

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg
You think you’re steampunk? PJF was steampunk way before it was cool. Other Log foregoes some of the heavy themes of his other novels and gets right to the fun: a secret history of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days in which Phileas Fogg’s trip isn’t the result of a wager, but is instead tied into a secret alien war and a hunt for Captain Nemo. This is Farmer at his world-building best, and clearly having a blast. It’s a lot of fun on its own, but also a particularly good gateway read, provided the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-style of literary mash-up appeals to you. (Of course it does.)

The Other Log of Phileas Fogg
You think you’re steampunk? PJF was steampunk way before it was cool. Other Log foregoes some of the heavy themes of his other novels and gets right to the fun: a secret history of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days in which Phileas Fogg’s trip isn’t the result of a wager, but is instead tied into a secret alien war and a hunt for Captain Nemo. This is Farmer at his world-building best, and clearly having a blast. It’s a lot of fun on its own, but also a particularly good gateway read, provided the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen-style of literary mash-up appeals to you. (Of course it does.)

A Feast Unknown: Wold Newton Parallel Universe

A Feast Unknown: Wold Newton Parallel Universe

Paperback $12.95

A Feast Unknown: Wold Newton Parallel Universe

Philip José Farmer

In Stock Online

Paperback $12.95

A Feast Unknown
I have to pass along the warning that I was given when I first picked up this one: it’s extremely violent, sexually explicit, and deeply (deeply) weird. It’s also one of my favorites (stop judging me). PJF was fascinated by literary and pulp heroes like Doc Savage and Tarzan, and much of his fiction features analogues of those characters. Later in his career, he was licensed to produce authorized fiction along those lines, continuing and expanding on the original stories in (relatively) straightforward ways. In general, though, he was working with thinly veiled versions, and in doing so gave himself tremendous freedom.
In A Feast Unknown, “Lord Grandith” and “Doc Caliban” battle each other and “The Nine,” mysterious benefactors who granted them each youth and immortality. As the book begins, they’ve both begun to realize that they’ve become so accustomed to ultra-violence, it’s now completely entwined with their sexuality. Meaning: they’re unable to derive any sexual pleasure without inflicting violence. Sexuality is a frequent theme for PJF, but Feast is both his most graphic and most elegant statement on the ways in which we humans intertwine sex and violence. By the end, he even manages to offer a hopeful message about healthier ways of doing things. The story continues in two fun, but more traditional, sequels.

A Feast Unknown
I have to pass along the warning that I was given when I first picked up this one: it’s extremely violent, sexually explicit, and deeply (deeply) weird. It’s also one of my favorites (stop judging me). PJF was fascinated by literary and pulp heroes like Doc Savage and Tarzan, and much of his fiction features analogues of those characters. Later in his career, he was licensed to produce authorized fiction along those lines, continuing and expanding on the original stories in (relatively) straightforward ways. In general, though, he was working with thinly veiled versions, and in doing so gave himself tremendous freedom.
In A Feast Unknown, “Lord Grandith” and “Doc Caliban” battle each other and “The Nine,” mysterious benefactors who granted them each youth and immortality. As the book begins, they’ve both begun to realize that they’ve become so accustomed to ultra-violence, it’s now completely entwined with their sexuality. Meaning: they’re unable to derive any sexual pleasure without inflicting violence. Sexuality is a frequent theme for PJF, but Feast is both his most graphic and most elegant statement on the ways in which we humans intertwine sex and violence. By the end, he even manages to offer a hopeful message about healthier ways of doing things. The story continues in two fun, but more traditional, sequels.

Riverworld: To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Fabulous Riverboat

Riverworld: To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Fabulous Riverboat

Paperback $29.99

Riverworld: To Your Scattered Bodies Go, The Fabulous Riverboat

Philip José Farmer

In Stock Online

Paperback $29.99

To Your Scattered Bodies Go
Farmer’s most famous novel, and the one for which he took home a Hugo Award, begins the Riverworld series. Millenia from now, humans are mysteriously resurrected on an Earthlike world alongside a planet-spanning river. The high-concept and the mystery behind the whole thing is really just the means to an end: PJF’s cast is largely made up of real-life historical figures from different eras who change and develop as a result of the struggles and mysteries of life along the river. Mark Twain versus aliens? How is that not a great idea?

To Your Scattered Bodies Go
Farmer’s most famous novel, and the one for which he took home a Hugo Award, begins the Riverworld series. Millenia from now, humans are mysteriously resurrected on an Earthlike world alongside a planet-spanning river. The high-concept and the mystery behind the whole thing is really just the means to an end: PJF’s cast is largely made up of real-life historical figures from different eras who change and develop as a result of the struggles and mysteries of life along the river. Mark Twain versus aliens? How is that not a great idea?

The World of Tiers

The World of Tiers

Paperback $29.99

The World of Tiers

Philip José Farmer

In Stock Online

Paperback $29.99

The Maker of Universes
It isn’t just pulp-fiction heroes that Farmer loves to play around with. His other popular series, World of Tiers, begins as a spin on Narnia. Rather than little kids and a wardrobe, it’s Robert Wolff: a paunchy, middle-aged man who is given a magic horn while looking at some real estate. He journeys into a series of pocket universes ruled over by technologically advanced, but capricious, aliens, who created each alternate world for their own amusement. The story moves in directions that take it well beyond Narnia pastiche, but the initial conceit is smart—in spite of the constant danger, Wolff is so liberated by his journey that a magical doorway suddenly seems a terrible thing to waste on a bunch of kids.
What do you think, fellow Farmerphiles? Which classics did we miss?
 

The Maker of Universes
It isn’t just pulp-fiction heroes that Farmer loves to play around with. His other popular series, World of Tiers, begins as a spin on Narnia. Rather than little kids and a wardrobe, it’s Robert Wolff: a paunchy, middle-aged man who is given a magic horn while looking at some real estate. He journeys into a series of pocket universes ruled over by technologically advanced, but capricious, aliens, who created each alternate world for their own amusement. The story moves in directions that take it well beyond Narnia pastiche, but the initial conceit is smart—in spite of the constant danger, Wolff is so liberated by his journey that a magical doorway suddenly seems a terrible thing to waste on a bunch of kids.
What do you think, fellow Farmerphiles? Which classics did we miss?