Friday, February 27, 2009

Philip José Farmer, Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 91

'Philip José Farmer, unconventional Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 91" He lived in Peoria, Ill. His official Web site,, announced his death, saying he had “passed away peacefully in his sleep.”

Mr. Farmer’s blend of intellectual and pulp-fiction prose found a worldwide audience. His more than 75 books have been translated into 22 languages and published in more than 40 countries. Though he wrote many short stories, he was best known for his many series of multiple novels. These sprawling, episodic works gave him room to explore the nuances of a provocative premise while indulging his taste for lurid, violent action.

In his Riverworld series Mr. Farmer imagined a river millions of miles long on a distant planet where virtually everyone who has died on Earth is physically reborn, strong and vital, and given a second chance to make something of life.

In the first of the series, “To Your Scattered Bodies Go,” a reborn character discovers that his “skin was smooth, and the muscles of his belly were ridged, and his thighs were packed with strong young muscles.”

“He no longer had the body of the enfeebled and sick 69-year-old man who had been dying only a moment ago. And the hundred or so scars were gone.”

In his Dayworld series, an overpopulation crisis on Earth has been relieved by a technical fix: each person spends one day a week awake and the other six days in suspended animation. In his World of Tiers series, mad demigods create pocket universes for their own amusement, only to face rebellion from their putative creatures.

In a genre known for prolific writers, Mr. Farmer’s output was famously prodigious. At one point in the 1970s he had 11 different series in various stages of completion. Even some of his admirers said he wrote too much too fast. The critic Leslie Fiedler said that his work was sometimes sloppily written but added that was a small price to pay for the breadth of Mr. Farmer’s imagination.

Mr. Farmer made no apologies for his excesses. “Imagination,” he said, “is like a muscle. I found out that the more I wrote, the bigger it got.”

Philip José Farmer was born Jan. 26, 1918, in North Terre Haute, Ind. He grew up in Peoria, where his father, a civil engineer, was a supervisor for the power company. A voracious reader as a boy, Mr. Farmer said he resolved to become a writer in the fourth grade. After washing out of flight training in World War II, he went to work in a steel mill while attending Bradley University in Peoria at night and writing in his spare time.

His first success came in 1952 with a story called “The Lovers,” about a man seduced by an alien with an unusual reproductive system. The story was rejected by the two leading science fiction editors; both said that its graphic description of interspecies sex made them physically ill. Published in a pulp magazine called Startling Stories, the story won Mr. Farmer his first Hugo as “most promising new writer.”

Emboldened, he quit his job to become a full-time writer. Entering a publisher’s contest, he won the $4,000 first prize for a novel that held the germ of his Riverworld series. But an unscrupulous editor failed to deliver the money, and the manuscript was lost. Struggling financially, Mr. Farmer left Peoria in 1956 to become a technical writer. He spent the next 14 years working for defense contractors, from Syracuse, N.Y., to Los Angeles, while continuing to write science fiction on the side.

With the loosening of social taboos in the 1960s, Mr. Farmer emerged as a major force in the genre. In a 1966 story set on Riverworld, one of the resurrected is a resentful Jesus, angry that he had been deceived about the nature of the afterlife.

Mr. Farmer won a Hugo for his 1967 novella “Riders of the Purple Wage,” a satire on a cradle-to-grave welfare state, written as an exuberant pastiche of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” His 1971 novel “To Your Scattered Bodies Go” also won the Hugo.

After moving back to Peoria in 1970, Mr. Farmer published 25 new works over the next decade. A 1975 novel, “Venus on the Half-Shell,” created a stir beyond the genre. The jacket and title page identified the author only as Kilgore Trout, a fictional character who appears as an unappreciated science fiction writer in several of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels. Although Mr. Farmer claimed he had permission for this playful hoax, Vonnegut was not amused to learn that some reviewers not only concluded that he had written “Venus on the Half-Shell” but that it was a worthy addition to the Vonnegut canon.

Mr. Farmer also wrote full-length, mock-scholarly “biographies” of Tarzan and Doc Savage, two of the pulp heroes whose stories had inspired him to become a writer.

Mr. Farmer had his detractors. “A humdrum toiler in the fields of science fiction,” Christopher Lehmann-Haupt wrote in The New York Times in 1972. But Mr. Fiedler saw in Mr. Farmer’s approach to storytelling a “gargantuan lust to swallow down the whole cosmos, past, present and to come, and to spew it out again.”

In the Riverworld series, for example, Mr. Farmer resurrected not just historical personages like Samuel Clemens and the explorer Richard Francis Burton but legendary figures like Odysseus and Gilgamesh.

He is survived by his wife, Bette, his son, Philip, his daughter, Kristen, and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Prophecy or Parady?

Plato has returned from the dead to write an article for the Sun (UK's version of the National Enquirer) Plato wrote about Atlantis and now that evidence is popping up, he's decided to say, "I told you so." Well, maybe not, but he would if he could.
Actually, the photo that people are saying looks like an ancient city on the ocean floor was taking by Google Oceans, a segment of Google Earth. Google insists that it is not archaeological ruins but rather scan lines used in obtaining its computer imagery. Sure, go ahead and rain on Plato's parade. The site is in the same area that Plato insisted the ancient city of Atlantis once existed. Coincidence? You decide. What are the odds that this mysterious grid shows up right in the same spot that Atlantis was supposed to be? Even Edgar Cayce, the famous sleeping prophet, spoke of Atlantis. Maybe, Google Earth will finally photograph Big Foot. It really is too bad that Plato isn't around to give his insight on the matter. I, for one, believe that Atlantis existed. I mean, how can you explain the pyramids in South America, Egypt and the mounds in North America? The Earth's evolution has come a long way. Who's to say how many times it evolved, only to return to its beginnings and start anew. Well, it gives scientists something to research and speculate. Just think, someday our own civilization will be ancient history. Even with written records, time has a way of turning many things into myths. Given enough time, life as we know it could end up being one big conspiracy theory.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


I read an article about writing your own memoirs. Many people will say that there isn't anything interesting to write about. On the surface, it may seem that way. However, if you really look at your life you might be amazed. Ask a relative if they can think of anything about your life that seems interesting. Sometimes a person on the outside can see things we don't. I thought about the whole memoir idea. I know that I had wished my parents had written one. They've been gone for many years now. Most of their contemporaries are gone too. Looking at it this way, I realized something. Writing your memoirs is something you not only do for yourself, you do it for your children or future generations to see what life was like "then". You have to see your life from different angles. For example, you are and were witness to history. You can describe what it was like to witness the moon landing on TV or the events of 9/11/2001. You can describe the nation's passion during the 2008 election. Writing about your life helps you see things anew. It can be very healing and cathartic. It also gives your children, if you have any, insight into who you really are. My mother had a diary which helped me see the kind of person she was when she met my father. My grandmothers both told many fascinating stories about their lives in the first part of the 20th century. My son loved reading about one of our ancestors during the 1800's for his ethnic heritage project. I realized that this ancestor's whole life boiled down to general anecdotes passed down from his contemporaries and public records. Did it depict who he really was? Do I want my life remembered that way? Some future genealogist would write that I published a book, bought a house and car and graduated college. They may be able to note where I worked and what my income was. Is that all there is to say about me? ...Not by a long shot! Set the records straight. Write about who you are, what you've done and what you've witnessed. You don't have to chronicle every little detail. A memoir is about significant events in your life. A biography chronicles your life from start to finish. Even a biography leaves out many details. If you feel your life was boring, you may want to recall your feelings at witnessing a major event. It could be a world shattering event or just a vacation to someplace amazing. Your memoir doesn't have to be published to be significant. There was a 96 year old lady who wrote her memoirs and passed it out to relatives. The relatives found it captivating and learned so much about this amazing lady that they had never known.
Socrates once said, "An unexamined life is not worth living."
Let the world know that you were here. Some future genealogist or archaeologist just might discover your memoir and use it in understanding life in the 21st century. At the very least, a page from your memoir might accidentally escape through an open window. The breeze might take it to parts unknown, where, a despondent individual just might pick it up and read it as he stands on the ledge of a high rise contemplating his fate. Then, just maybe, said individual might have an epiphany and change the course of his entire life by leaving the ledge. He just might realize maybe his life wasn't so bad after all. He could have been you. Or, conversely, he could actually be inspired to be you!