The Worlds of Philip José Farmer, Volume 4 edited by Michael Croteau. Book review

The Worlds of Philip José Farmer, Volume 4: Voyages to Strange Days edited by Michael Croteau, Meteor House, p/b, $25.00, Website

Reviewed by Dave Brzeski

The theme for this fourth volume of ‘The Worlds of Philip José Farmer’ is ‘Philip José Farmer: classic science fiction author’. As always, the book opens with an insightful preface, by editor, Michael Croteau, delineating the theme and contents of the book. This is followed by an excellent forward from Robert Silverberg, in which he tells of his initial discovery of, and meeting with, Philip José Farmer. Like much of the non-fiction in this series of books, we are treated to biographical details of Philip José Farmer by someone who was actually there.

The book is divided into sections, as usual, and the first is ‘Peoria-Colored Worlds’, focusing on Farmer’s life in his home town of Peoria, by those who knew him.

Fist comes ‘The Case of the Curious Contradiction’, by Terry Bibo, which focuses on the strange fact that the closer to home Farmer got, the less famous he seemed to be—in fact he actually sold best in Europe. Terry Bibo tells us of Farmer’s almost total lack of recognition in Peoria, and gives details of what little press reporting there was of his work. As a journalist, who also happened to be  a science fiction fan, she writes fondly of her introduction to Farmer and his wife, and how they eventually became great friends.

‘Eleven Days in Springtime’, continues this theme of Farmer’s popularity in Europe, as it tells of a French fan making a pilgrimage to Peoria to meet his idol. François Mottier, on finding Farmer’s actual address in a facsimile of a letter, printed in the pocket edition of ‘Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life’ (What were the publishers thinking?) writes to Farmer, requesting permission to use him  as the lead character in a science fiction novel, ‘PJF: Conquiert l’Univers’. Farmer was enthusiastic enough to supply Mottier with a wealth of photographic and biographical detail, and so a friendship was forged. Eventually Mottier made a trip to Peoria to visit Farmer, and this article supplies the fascinating details of that trip.

Farmer even supplied an afterward for Mottier’s book, which was translated into French, then translated back into English by Farmer’s son for it’s publication in the 2009 FarmerCon Program book. ‘Philip José Farmer Conquiert l’Univers Postface’ is the first ever printing of the original English version, as written by Farmer. Farmer tells his side of how the novel came to be, and suggests that Mottier’s vision of Peoria, at that time, before his visit, was, as is the way of such things, somewhat better than the reality. ‘Philip José Farmer Conquiert l’Univers’ has still yet to be translated into English. One has to wonder, reading Farmer’s glowing praise for the book, whether the same might not apply to it. Only time, and an interested publisher, will tell.

This first section of the book concludes with Farmer’s fascinating guest of honour speech at Pecon 2, in Peoria, 1972. Farmer begins with an overview of how the literary attitudes to science fiction have changed over the years, and ends up with a look at the possibility that a study of past decades of SF might reveal some pscychopredictive talent amongst the authors.

As interesting as I always find the various non-fiction sections of this series of books, it’s the fiction I really look forward to. The fiction is also the reason why it always takes me so long to write my reviews, as I will insist on rereading, or reading for the first time in some cases, the original Farmer works which the stories in ‘Expanded Worlds’ extrapolate from. Thus I had to take a break at this point to reacquaint myself with ‘The Green Odyssey’.

Martin Gately’s ‘Sandroo and the Grassman’ tells us the actual story behind legendary events that are referred to several times in ‘The Green Odyssey’. It’s an entertaining tale, and Gately does a fine job of capturing the feel of Farmer’s first published novel. My only complaint—that it was tripping along at a nice pace, when the author quite suddenly wound things up—was mollified by the hint that this is the first in a series of tales, telling the history of Sandroo. I don’t know if more episodes will appear in future books in this series, or elsewhere—or indeed if they’ll be issued in a Martin Gately collection at some point—but wherever they may appear, I certainly intend to come along for the ride.

I had a feeling that this collection would require me to read more than a few of Farmer’s books in preparation. It seems I was right as, while Danny Adams’ ‘The Whiteness of the Whale’ is indeed perfectly readable on its own, I definitely felt that it benefited from my reading ‘The Wind Whales of Ishmael’ first. Adams continues the story of Ishmael, now stranded so far in the future that the sun is a huge red giant, and the seas have all but dried up. He captures the style and feel of the original novel very well indeed. Again I was struck by the fact that this appears to be but the first chapter in the continued adventures of Ishmael. I sincerely hope there will be more, as the new revelations about Queequeg’s mysterious rune-covered coffin are very intriguing indeed. It reminded me, in various places, of a certain well known time travel machine, and the mysterious monolith in ‘2001: a Space Odyssey’.

Another story, another book was becoming a theme, as I searched out my copy of  ‘Night of Light’ to read, before dipping into Paul Spiteri’s follow-up, ‘Ite, Missa Est’. By this point I found myself thinking that I could just take it as read that the authors in this volume have been successful in capturing the spirit of the books they are extrapolating from. It has often been said that science fiction writers use alien worlds and cultures as a mirror to reflect our own. Never has it been more true than in this tale, where, John Carmody takes a dangerous journey to an alien world to evaluate its very familiar seeming faith.

In ‘Antlers of Flesh’, Edward C. Lisic—a professor, with a Ph.D. in chemistry—gives us a very well thought out scientific basis for how the antlers that are grafted onto the skull of the Sunhero work. At the same time he manages to craft an excellent prequel to Philip José Farmer’s classic post-apocalyptic novel—‘Flesh’.

This section is rounded off with another tie-in to Farmer’s ‘Father John Carmody’ series—this time from Christopher Paul Carey, who is certainly no novice at picking up where Farmer left off. Carmody doesn’t actually feature in this tale. Instead, the focus is on Detective Raspold—a fairly minor character in Farmer’s Carmody series, who also featured in a couple of non-Carmody stories. This is not to say that Raspold was a minor character in Carmody’s life. In fact they were major adversaries during Carmody’s early criminal career, but these tales have yet to be fully told, having been thus far relegated to mere references in the Carmody stories. Christopher Paul Carey cleverly uses his story to address one of the inconsistencies in Farmer’s Raspold/Carmody cycle of stories.

The next section of the book has the umbrella title ‘Classic Worlds’. First up is ‘A Carmody-Raspold Chronology’, also by Christopher Paul Carey. Here, Carey lists all the published stories involving Carmody and Raspold, either individually, or collectively, and puts them in chronological order—which is by no means the original published order. Be warned, if you want to take Chritopher Paul Carey’s advice to—“…read the Father Carmody and Detective Raspold stories in the order that the characters experience them.”—then you should skip to this chronology before reading Paul Spiteri’s story, which actually takes place much later than Carey’s own story. It occurred to me that Detective Raspold is possibly the most under-used of all Farmer’s series characters. I’d love to see a complete collection dedicated to the Galactic Sherlock Holmes.

‘A Letter of Dischord’ is a letter from Philip José Farmer, printed in the fanzine, ‘Dischord’ #12 (May 1961), in response to a review of a book by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Farmer writes of his own interest in writing a Space Opera novel, which eventually led to ‘The Unreasoning Mask’, published 20 years later.

‘For Where Your Treasure Is’, is a fascinating piece from Arthur C. Sippo, in which he examines the use of religion and sexuality in Farmer’s ‘Sturch’ series, which comprises: ‘Rastignac the Devil’; the widely acclaimed ‘The Lovers’ and the never before reprinted ‘Moth and Rust’. He also examines the differences between ‘Moth and Rust’ and its later novel-length expanded version, ‘The Day of Timestop’ (aka: ‘A Woman a Day’, aka: ‘Timestop’).

Which brings us at last to the final item in the book—the headline act if you will—‘Moth and Rust’.

In his article, Athur Sippo states that, “The dystopian vision in ‘Moth and Rust’ is based on the previous story ‘The Lovers.’ It is important to be familiar with this to understand the sequel.” I, naturally, needed no further encouragement. I dug out and read ‘Rastignac the Devil’ followed by ‘The Lovers’ (both of which are available for inexpensive download). ‘The Lovers’ is famous for the stir its frank portrayal of sexuality caused on publication. I feel that, to some extent, this has served to lessen the attention paid to the other powerful themes, such as the justification of genocide by organised religion. It’s an excellent novel, fully deserving of all its praise. I was particularly taken with Farmer’s creation of the lalitha, a brilliantly conceived alien race, which I won’t describe further, because some of you won’t have read ‘The Lovers’ yet. Suffice it to say that Farmer does a superb job of working out their biology. I really happy to see more of them, which is ironic, as they were replaced by genetically-enhanced human females in ‘The Day of Timestop’—the full-length novel which was later expanded from ‘Moth and Rust’. Arthur Sippo states that the story both lost and gained from the rewrite. I can see his point. While I have yet to read the novel, I can’t help but feel a little robbed that the lalitha were written out, making it much less of a sequel to ‘The Lovers’ than the original version.

‘Moth and Rust’ is generally referred to as a novella, but it is worth mentioning that, at 56,000 words, it well exceeds the 40,000 word limit imposed by the Hugo Awards for the maximum length for a novella. It’s closer to a short novel, and is well worth the price of this collection on it’s own. ‘The Lovers’ won Philip José Farmer a Hugo for most promising new talent, but I actually liked ‘Moth and Rust’ even more. I am confident that none of the talented authors involved in this volume will feel in the slightest bit disgruntled at my stating that ‘Moth and Rust’ is, in my opinion, the highlight of the book.