Philip José Farmer, one of sci fi’s great minds, is gone (see entry on him in BoingBoing).
Damn. I shed a tear.
PJF was one of the writers who turned me on to the genre. Not just to what sci fi was, but what it could do and where it could go. WHen I discovered his work as a youjng teen, First via his Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche, HAdon of ANcient Opar, which actually was one of the best books he ever wrote), and then with ‘vebus on the half shell’ and the ‘world of tiers’, it changed how I read sci fi.
When I began reading, it was because I wanted fantasy and space. Narnia, Tolkein, Asimov. But it wasn’t until I found two authors (Farmer and Zelazney) that I encountered what I’d call ‘adult sci fi’; sci fi that isn’t just about space, but is about life and people.
Farmer isn’t by any means a great writer. His work can be clunky and awkward to my reader’s eye today. But it wasn’t his prose skills that made him important. What made him important was the wild, bizarre imagination, and the impossible yet believable world he created. Who else could have invented River World, with every human ever to live reincarnated along the banks of a seemingly endless river? Who else could have invented the World of Tiers (a world shaped like a giant wedding cake), or Day World where everyone’s in status 6 days a week and gets to live only on one week day. Who else could have gotten into the minds (and crotches) of tarzan, doc savage, teh Wizard of Oz, and so many other characters? He invented the ‘Wold Newton’ concept, interconnecting characters and real people in common universes. Zelazney’s ‘lonesom october’ and alan moor’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” certainly owe him direct debt, as do dozens of other writers who use this device.
PJF was, for many years, my favorite write; and he’s still one of those few who I think changed sci fi, not just for me, but for the genre itself. He opened doors between the real world and the fantastic one in a way no other writer I can think of (then, at least) ever did.
He’ll be missed.