Philip José Farmer died on Wednesday. He was 91 years old and one of my favorite writers. I know he lived a long life and accomplished a lot, so it does not seem like it should be tragic to lose him, but I am mourning him because his is a voice silenced that still had more to say.
Philip José Farmer passed away peacefully in his sleep this morning. He will be missed greatly by his wife Bette, his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and countless fans around the world.
January 26, 1918 - February 25, 2009. R.I.P. We love you Phil.
Philip José Farmer's last book will be published this year. He kept writing till the end. I look forward to getting it and am sad it will be the last one. But it was the book series called Riverworld that I loved the most. To me, his depiction of an alternative world that was humanity's life after death made as much of an impact on me as Frank Herbert's Dune or Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, a book that Heinlein said had been influenced by Farmer's writing and willingness to explore human sexuality at an adult level.
More around the river bend...
Can you imagine what it would be like to die and then wake up back in your mid-twenties along with everyone who had ever lived waking up at the same time by the banks of a planet that was actually one long winding river valley?
What would that mean? Who could have brought them there? What did it say about religion?
Farmer was able to draw from all of history for his characters -- all of them reborn in their mid-twenties. The historical Alice from Alice in Wonderland fame, Sam Clemens (aka Mark Twain), poet Richard Burton, Göring (yes, that one), I think there was a Caesar in there, too, iirc.
The Riverworld series follows the adventures of such diverse characters as Richard 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 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 It won the contest, but the book was left unpublished and orphaned when the prize money was misappropriated, and Farmer nearly gave up writing altogether. 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.
How these characters work together or against one another becomes a study in the human condition; the surprise when they realize they cannot die -- that if they try to drown themselves in what they call "the suicide express" they end up reborn on some other part of the river and have to go through life all over again.
The main character, not famous in history, is our everyman through which we watch this world Farmer has created, from his unexpected awakening in a resuscitation chamber (precursor to the Matrix maybe?) to his rebirth by the river. This allows us the insight that their rebirth is not religious in nature but manufactured by a more advanced but ultimately mortal being.
Farmer explores many human dynamics in the series, from life and death to power and supplication, sexuality and love, vengeance and forgiveness and, above all, religion.
I feel sad that there won't be more books from Philip José Farmer. I don't know much about him as a man. I loved him as a writer.