The Worlds Of Philip José Farmer, Vol. 1: Protean Dimensions edited by Michael Croteau. Book review

THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER, Vol. 1: PROTEAN DIMENSIONS edited by Michael Croteau, Meteor House Press, p/b, $20.00,

Reviewed by David Brzeski

Being, as it is, a collection of PJF rarities, culled from his “magic filing cabinet”, plus related articles and works by friends, contemporaries and followers of Farmer, one could easily assume this to be a collection of barrel scrapings, of interest to no one other than the Farmer fanatic.

Indeed, when you consider the publication in 2006 of ‘Pearls From Peoria’, a huge collection of rare and obscure PJF material, not to mention 15 issues of a magazine called ‘Farmerphile’, all full of material culled from those same files, one has to ask how much more worthwhile material could there possibly be?

The answer is… plenty!

The first section – ‘Lost Worlds’, opens with a reprint of an article originally published in Ted White’s fanzine, ‘Stellar’, in 1957, in which Randall Garrett details one of the worst crimes ever perpetrated against an author’s work by a supposed editor. PJF’s story, ‘The Bite of the Asp’, was completely rewritten by Hugo Gernsback and the dreadful result was published as the ‘Biological Revolt’, in the first issue of ‘Science Fiction Plus’ in 1953. It has, understandably, never been reprinted. Sadly, the original, unedited manuscript has been lost, so the only known fragments of PJF’s original are those reprinted in the article.

Also on the non-fiction side we have a great piece by Laura Wilkes Carey, culled from unsent letters to Lester Del Rey, charting the progress of ideas for a proposed, but never written novel.

In the previously unpublished story, ‘My Summer Husband’, we learn how the wife of a part-human, part-bear, part-god gets through the long winters, while he hibernates, without causing him to have to hunt down and kill any lovers his powerful olfactory sense reveals to him upon awakening.

The section titled – ‘Classic Worlds’ starts with a reprint of what is probably Farmer’s best known and most reprinted story, ‘Sail On! Sail On!’, is presented here because it wouldn’t make sense to print the two articles which follow without it.

‘Read On! Read On!’ by James Gunn, an article previously only seen in an academic work, uses Farmer’s story as a perfect example demonstrating the difference in approach the science fiction reader has to learn from that of the mainstream reader.

This is followed by a piece by Farmer himself, explaining why his devotion to internal logic had so far prevented him from writing a sequel. A flat Earth may work in fantasy fiction, but it gives the scientifically-minded writer no end of trouble!

The third section – ‘Peoria-Colored Worlds’, contains a transcript of a speech, an interview and an article, which give fascinating insights into PJF’s writing process and his experiences with publishers and Hollywood.

Section four – ‘Parallel Worlds’, is devoted to a couple of tales by other writers, in which PJF himself features as a character.

‘Infamy’ by Edward Morris is another take on an idea previously used by PJF. What if Tarzan had been written by William S. Burroughs, rather than Edgar Rice Burroughs? Rather than simply presenting a version of the book in a different style, Morris gives us an alternate universe story in which ERB is the president of the USA. William Burroughs talks with a young fan, Philip José Farmer, about his writer’s block on ‘Tar-z’n of the Apes’.

‘Le Maréchal’ by Paul Spiteri, tells us of PJF’s second trip through time using the Eridaneans’ time distorter; the first having appeared in the final issue of Michael Croteau’s ‘Farmerphile’ fanzine. I sincerely hope Spiteri is going to write much more fiction, as he’s an excellent writer.

The fifth section is called ‘Expanded Worlds, for reasons that quickly become obvious. In ‘The Pollinators’, Rhys Hughes takes a minor character from PJF’s novel, ‘The Lovers’, and follows him on an adventure of his own. Hopefully, Nosy Sam’s story will be continued.

Anyone familiar with the work of Win Scott Eckert will know that his expansion of one of PJF’s works is going to be a ‘Wold Newton’ story. That, for the uninitiated, is a tale springing from PJF’s fictional biographies, which postulated that two large coaches were within a few yards of an historically recorded meteor strike near the English village of Wold Newton on December 13th, 1795. Radiation from the meteor caused a beneficial genetic mutation in those present. Their descendants included an extraordinary number of great crime fighters, scientists, explorers, and even criminal masterminds. Eckert’s story explores how these particular people came to be in the right place at the right time. The events leading to this gathering involve Sir Percy Blakeney – ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ and a villain last seen troubling a certain Cimmerian barbarian king some millennia earlier.

The next story, by David Bischoff, worried me a little. Not through any fault of the author’s, but I have to own up to something here that is cause for shame in any who consider themselves Farmer fans… I have never ready any of his seven book ‘World Of Tiers’ series! ‘No Trees of Earth’, however, still works as a stand alone story and it has inspired me to seek out the original novels and read them soon.

I’d been looking forward to Christopher Paul Carey’s ‘A Kick in the Side’, it being a tale which takes place in the world of PJF’s Khokarsa series, of which the author co-wrote the final book with Farmer himself. It’s a nice little tale of brains vs. brawn, which has wetted my appetite for the newly published ‘Gods Of Opar’, which collects the first two volumes of the series, along with the brand new third volume, ‘The Song of Kwasin’, by Farmer and Carey.

‘Flesh Endures’ by Dennis E. Power crosses over the far future world of PJF’s ‘Flesh’, with another post apocalyptic tale, ‘Cache From Outer Space’, in an exciting tale of sport, religion and sex that’s never going to end well for the protagonist.

The last story in this collection is ‘The Final Flight of Greatheart Silver’ by Chris Roberson, in which Farmer’s eternally unlucky hero bows out in considerable style.

This book stands up as much more than the sum of its parts. It’s not a short book (I haven’t even covered all of it in this review) and there really is no filler. While I couldn’t deny that a reader already familiar with Farmer’s work might get a little more out of it, this book stands on its own as a worthwhile collection of speculative fiction.