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R.I.P. Philip Jose Farmer
February 25, 2009 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Pioneering science fiction writer Philip Jose Farmer, who won a Hugo in 1953 for Most Promising New Talent for his disturbing story, The Lovers, died today at age 91.

Best known perhaps for his Riverworld series (winning the Hugo in '72 for the first volume, To Your Scattered Bodies Go), he's also known for his World of Tiers stories and for the Wold Newton sequence (previously), in which he tied together pulp heroes such as Tarzan and Doc Savage and even Sherlock Holmes to the same genealogy. His exploration of sexuality helped elevate the field above its pulp origins. Good entry about him at Wikipedia.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit (103 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by interrobang at 8:43 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by louche mustachio at 8:44 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:46 AM on February 25, 2009


My first introduction to his writing was in high school - someone had a copy of the "Kilgore Trout" novel "Venus on the Half Shell," which, as it turns out, was not written by Vonnegut... but by Philip Jose Farmer. Good stuff.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:48 AM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


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posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:49 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by Mister_A at 8:50 AM on February 25, 2009


Why do I never find out that people are still alive until after they are dead?
posted by DU at 8:52 AM on February 25, 2009 [11 favorites]


Wow... I read a disturbing short story as a child and images of it had haunted me ever since; so much so that 30 years later I described the plot outline in an AskMeFi to finally discover the author (and god bless AskMeFi). It was, of course, Philip Jose Farmer - part of a collection of stories later incorporated into his Stations of the Nightmare.

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posted by Auden at 8:55 AM on February 25, 2009


I shared an elevator with him once.

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posted by Faint of Butt at 8:57 AM on February 25, 2009


May his river run on and never end.
posted by stbalbach at 8:59 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I hope there's a spot for him on that raft. Godspeed.
posted by malocchio at 9:00 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why do I never find out that people are still alive until after they are dead?

You are so TOTALLY in for a surprise when ou meet him next. With Mark Twain, Jesus and Genghis Khan.
posted by GuyZero at 9:02 AM on February 25, 2009 [9 favorites]


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posted by tommasz at 9:03 AM on February 25, 2009


A sad day in Peoria.

In his honor I feel like I should go enhance his wikipedia page.

Aparently, there is a book out there somewhere where "a local author" contributed an entire chapter about a land grant given to one Col. Kilgore Trout for his mapping of much of the Illinois and Fox rivers. Or so said an author who lived near the Illinois river at a science fiction convention once upon a time.

Or was he just having fun with his audience?

Or am I just having fun with my audience?

posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:09 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by grumpster at 9:14 AM on February 25, 2009


He wrote some great stories and his big, weird, unflinching ideas had a significant impact on my own development as an artist.
posted by picea at 9:15 AM on February 25, 2009


So it goes.
posted by not_on_display at 9:17 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Riverworld blew my mind in high school.

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posted by Shepherd at 9:21 AM on February 25, 2009


Man, it's a shame that To Their Scattered Bodies Go was the only great book in that Riverworld series—the rest just had sequel plot disease. Dayworld was pretty good too. Definitely a big part of my high school reading.
posted by klangklangston at 9:25 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


My first intro to PJ Farmer was "J.C. On the Dude Ranch", from "Riverworld and Other Stories." I had no idea sci-fi could actually be hip, smart and funny (and profane).
posted by KokuRyu at 9:26 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by aquanaut at 9:28 AM on February 25, 2009


I loved Riverworld. It is very rare these days to read a science fiction novel these days where you don't have the entire plot figured out in the first five seconds. was one of those books. Simply amazing.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:28 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:29 AM on February 25, 2009


Loved his fascinating ideas. Like many others here, his writing had a big effect on my literary upbringing.

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posted by Rock Steady at 9:34 AM on February 25, 2009


. Kilgore Trout
posted by SPUTNIK at 9:35 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by aught at 9:37 AM on February 25, 2009


One of my favorites.......

We're losing so many of the authors from that era.... and it doesn't feel like they've been replaced...
posted by HuronBob at 9:39 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


He's not dead - he's waking up next to a grailstone somewhere else on the river.

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posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:40 AM on February 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


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posted by bru at 9:40 AM on February 25, 2009


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91, he lived almost as long as Tarzan :)
posted by doctor_negative at 9:41 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by eyeballkid at 9:43 AM on February 25, 2009


See you on the river some years hence, Mr. Farmer. And thanks for the many hours of great reading.
posted by jamstigator at 9:44 AM on February 25, 2009


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My parents bought me one of his books for Christmas one year when I was a child, thus solidifying my love for SF and putting me firmly on the path towards geekdom. I can't remember which book it was, but weird alien sex was involved.
posted by bashos_frog at 9:44 AM on February 25, 2009


We're losing so many of the authors from that era.... and it doesn't feel like they've been replaced...

This is true. Not just nostalgic sentiment.

My father told me this would happen as I got older. Your childhood literally dies away. One actor, author, sports hero at a time. The only way to combat this profound sense of loss is to try and share their works with younger people.

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posted by tkchrist at 9:47 AM on February 25, 2009


"Image of the Beast" warped me forever. Thanks, Phil. I hope you're waking up alongside a river right now.
posted by 445supermag at 9:47 AM on February 25, 2009


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He pretty much invented the historical character/famous fictional character mash-up genre didn't he?
posted by Artw at 9:48 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


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I hope he wakes up close enough to Mark Twain to help with the riverboats.
posted by mwhybark at 9:49 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by Halloween Jack at 9:50 AM on February 25, 2009


He pretty much invented the historical character/famous fictional character mash-up genre didn't he?

Bangsian fantasy
posted by interrobang at 9:50 AM on February 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


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posted by cookie-k at 9:52 AM on February 25, 2009


Jimi Hendrix was evidently a fan. Farmer's story, "Night of Light," inspired the title of the song, Purple Haze.

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posted by jonp72 at 9:54 AM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


He had a very unique style, and while his subject matter was not always easy to digest, his actual writing was always quite good. To Their Scattered Bodies Go was a great read, but I also enjoyed Blown and Images of the Beast, which were very weird and...disturbing. He had a way of making the reader uncomfortable that has to be read to be appreciated. I remember reading those last two in London while doing a semester abroad and just being mentally paralyzed for a few days afterwards. His stuff could really get under your skin.

I'm glad his life was long, but I also hope it was happy. He was definitely one of the sci-fi writers whose work exceeded the genre.

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posted by mosk at 9:55 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by Mitheral at 9:57 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by OmieWise at 10:03 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by MythMaker at 10:06 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:07 AM on February 25, 2009


Also: Terre Haute represent! Two of my aunts - nuns - live there. There is a portion of that town called "Toad Hop".
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:08 AM on February 25, 2009


His work did a lot to legitimize the notion of science fiction as a literary form, and he's one of the few authors who you could refer as genre-changing, and decades ago was one of the authors who you began to seek out once you got tired of rocketship fantasies and space marines. In my high school days, on a years-long SF binge, Farmer was never one of the authors I sought out with the same energy I put into tracking down work by others, but I loved how his stories probed the space between Sturgeon's humanism and Dick's unnerving explorations of reality. And even when he was phoning it in the results were leavened with a wit that kept it worthwhile.

Here's to a long life lived well.
posted by ardgedee at 10:11 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by cjorgensen at 10:12 AM on February 25, 2009


Someone up above mentioned Dayworld. Here's the classic short story that inspired that series:

The Sliced-Crosswise-Only-On-Wednesday World
posted by Ian A.T. at 10:16 AM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


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Riverworld... one of the few key books of my youth. See you on the river bank...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 10:18 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Too bad - well, he did live a long life. One of the greats.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:21 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by languagehat at 10:25 AM on February 25, 2009


I liked 'A barnstormer in Oz', too. Nice to know Oz is still loved.
posted by pentagoet at 10:29 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by DaddyNewt at 10:37 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by Thorzdad at 10:39 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:42 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by lester at 10:43 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by asfuller at 10:50 AM on February 25, 2009


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In seventh grade my class got a new English teacher with whom I immediately fell in hopeless puppy love. She assigned us book reports. I wrote mine on "To Your Scattered Bodies Go". Slaved over it. Rewrote it twice. Finally turned it in -- spelling and grammar checked by mom, handwriting approved by dad. It was the best book report in the history of seventh-grade book reports. It was a detailed exegesis of a book I had truly loved reading. I was bursting with pride.

She gave me a D.

In screaming red ink across the bottom of the last page she had written: "This is a creative effort but I am convinced you made this all up. In the future, see me to be assigned a book for the next book report. No more imaginary novels, please."

So the work of Philip Jose Farmer taught me three things:

1) Honest effort often seems suspicious to people who've never exerted it.
2) Just because you teach English doesn't mean you've read everything, or even anything.
3) Never uncritically adore an authority figure.

I brought the book to school to prove that it was real. She changed my grade to a B, and lectured me about reading "that garbage".

Bitch. You broke my heart, Ms. Caldwell. And you have TERRIBLE taste in literature.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:51 AM on February 25, 2009 [33 favorites]


I just came across PJF's personal website the other day (a result of reading his cranky response regarding the sort of sad, at one remove dispute he had with Kurt Vonnegut over Venus on the Half Shell). I noted his well-advanced age at the time and wasn't too surprised to see this.

Why do I never find out that people are still alive until after they are dead?
posted by DU at 10:52 AM on February 25 [4 favorites +] [!]


I've been thinking a bit about this depressing reality... Unless you really follow a particular individual you are certainly going to lose track with them past their productive prime. If you really pay attention to their particular market you might note new anthologies or collaborations, but their big news novel publication days are likely past. Genre-specific directories of living authors with active web presences would be a nice project for someone with, uh, a lot of time on their hands (I shouldn't even be taking the time to post this...). Now would be a good time to start reading Frederick Pohl's blog, by the way, if you are so inclined...

Good travels, PJF. I hope the afterworld is even crazier, funnier, busier and dirtier than you could have imagined.
posted by nanojath at 10:53 AM on February 25, 2009


I end up referencing the idea of "The Sliced-Crosswise-Only-On-Wednesday World" at least once a year for some reason or another.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:11 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by Bron at 11:27 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by PontifexPrimus at 11:33 AM on February 25, 2009


May his grail always be full.
posted by jabo at 11:37 AM on February 25, 2009


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posted by longbaugh at 11:45 AM on February 25, 2009


My favorite thing about Farmer was that I can always find something of his I haven't read in just about any used bookstore. I ration his novels out to myself, and I've been sitting on Image of the Beast for too long.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:01 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wow. I was all junked out over him for a period of my teens. I discovered him after borrowing an SF story from the base library that was saturated with (fairly explicit) sex, wish I could find that book again. Sure it was boner fuel, but well written science fiction as well.
Rest well guy, hope to meet you in the whatever-is-after.
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(or should that be a comma...)
posted by djrock3k at 12:17 PM on February 25, 2009


My dad had a couple of his books and they were easily the most shocking things I read as a kid. Kudos to my dad for never trying to tell me not to read them.

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posted by peacheater at 12:44 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


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posted by anansi at 1:13 PM on February 25, 2009


We're losing so many of the authors from that era.... and it doesn't feel like they've been replaced...

True, the dead cannot be replaced.

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Having said that, let's not forget that there was nothing in the past quite exactly like our own cstross and jscalzi. Peter Watts' Blindsight (full text) is the most impressive hard SF I know, and it was published in 2006. The new can't replace the old, but I think the old would have reason to be proud of having inspired the new.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 1:17 PM on February 25, 2009


Having said that, let's not forget that there was nothing in the past quite exactly like... jscalzi.

Jscalzi is neat and all, but Heinleinesque to the point where I wonder what would differ in his books if they were written 40 years ago.
posted by Artw at 1:27 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 1:33 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by valis at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2009



Yes, yes, Riverworld, Venus on the Half-Shell, and Wold Newton, obviously, but Phil Farmer was so much more.

Some of my favourites --
Shorts: "The Alley Man", "My Sister's Brother", "Riders of the Purple Wage", "The Voice of the Sonar in my Vermiform Appendix", "Skinburn".
Novels: Flesh, Night of Light, The Wind Whales of Ishmael, The Unreasoning Mask

And don't forget: Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze" was inspired by Farmer's Night of Light. Every seven years, the sky of Dante's Joy turns purple and the whole planet goes mad (or sleeps).

The phrase "purple haze" does not appear in the story, but 'purplish haze" does twice (I believe). Like: "The sky was clear but the stars seemed far away, blobs straining to pierce the purplish haze." and "The dark purplish haze began to grow lighter, to turn pale violet."

. . . an SF story from the base library that was saturated with (fairly explicit) sex, wish I could find that book again. Sure it was boner fuel, but well written science fiction as well.

You might be thinking of Flesh or A Feast Unknown, or. . . actually quite a few others.
posted by Herodios at 1:40 PM on February 25, 2009


Gak! I see that jonp72 beat me to the reference.

Oh, well. Anyway, I'd left out my

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posted by Herodios at 1:42 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by Confess, Fletch at 1:45 PM on February 25, 2009


I loved the Riverworld books. They were my introduction to the remarkable life of Sir Richard Francis Burton.

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posted by homunculus at 1:48 PM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


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posted by sloe at 1:58 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by Xoebe at 2:13 PM on February 25, 2009


"Scattered Bodies" made an indelible impact on me. I had read a lot of PJF short stories in Analog, etc., but the Riverworld books were an opera compared to sonatas.

My sadness at the news of PJF's passing is ameliorated by the knowledge that Frederick Pohl is alive. . . and blogging!

Oh yeah,

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posted by rdone at 2:40 PM on February 25, 2009


Farmer, you son of a bitch, I loved you more than I have most of all the rest. For Wold Newton, of course, but for the others, too.

And for everybody who contributed to this thread without snark, that I have seen, so far.

Ahem.

Shout-out for the "porn novels" ... Image of The Beast and so on.
posted by sighmoan at 3:21 PM on February 25, 2009


Awww . . .

I got really into Riverworld about two years ago. The last two books were a major letdown, but the first few were amazing--I'd never imagined such a brilliant areligious afterlife before. Here's to hoping PJF is up there, with his heroes.

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posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:44 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by Smart Dalek at 3:55 PM on February 25, 2009


At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go ;
All whom the flood did, and fire shall o'erthrow,
All whom war, death, age, agues, tyrannies,
Despair, law, chance hath slain, and you, whose eyes
Shall behold God, and never taste death's woe.
But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space ;
For, if above all these my sins abound,
'Tis late to ask abundance of Thy grace,
When we are there. Here on this lowly ground,
Teach me how to repent, for that's as good
As if Thou hadst seal'd my pardon with Thy blood.

John Donne
Holy Sonnet VII

posted by Ian A.T. at 4:00 PM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


. Look, you made Harlan Ellison cry!
posted by Max McCarty at 4:14 PM on February 25, 2009


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And damn! Why can't they all live forever? Guess that's what their books are for, eh.
posted by Francis7 at 4:16 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by cupcakeninja at 4:58 PM on February 25, 2009


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This makes me sad. Thank you PHF for your wonderful 'Riverworld' and 'World of Tiers' books.
posted by UseyurBrain at 5:10 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by sammyo at 5:25 PM on February 25, 2009


I actually loved Gods of Riverworld, though it is definitely very different from the rest of the series.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 6:11 PM on February 25, 2009


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I have a feeling they haven't aged that well, but I loved the Riverworld books in high school.
posted by dfan at 6:44 PM on February 25, 2009


"Riders of the Purple Wage," when I read it in Dangerous Visions as a teenager totally warped my idea of what fiction could and couldn't do.

I read it again a few months back, many years later, and it still kicks ass in a way I wish most of what I read did.

Ave atque vale, PJF.

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posted by the sobsister at 7:24 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Darn, not too many of my favorite SF authors of my youth are still around. Farmer was one of the best, I loved Riverworld and Dayworld and lots of his short stories. I wish that we all would wake up next to the river some day.
posted by octothorpe at 7:49 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by omnidrew at 9:14 PM on February 25, 2009


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posted by FormlessOne at 9:59 PM on February 25, 2009


Farmer is what I loved about imaginative fiction. It can create a wonderful, warm feeling that is unlike any other, a feeling of untapped possibilities waiting to be thought of.
posted by Snyder at 11:43 PM on February 25, 2009


He made me realise that what I thought was impossible to realise, was. I can't think of anything more to say.

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Except, he was one of my favourites. I'm glad he lived a long life.
posted by h00py at 12:56 AM on February 26, 2009


I only recall having read Riverworld, and I don't think I finished the series. It's one of those things I've been saving, to re-read one day. But times change, and I spend very little time reading novels now.

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posted by Goofyy at 1:10 AM on February 26, 2009


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posted by ktrey at 9:58 AM on February 26, 2009


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posted by phrits at 1:52 PM on February 26, 2009


Had to be more than 30 years ago, but my brother and a couple of his friends had been inhaling a bit and talking about the Riverworld series. They all lived just about 60 miles north of Peoria. So they called directory assistance.

From my bro's telling, Farmer answered the phone, and he asked

"Is this Philip Jose Farmer?"

"Yes"

"Can you tell us what's going to happen next in the Riverworld series?"

"No. I am still writing it"

"OK....you wanna to Dave?....Hey Dave come here"

handing the phone around

"OK hey...you wanna talk to Willy?...Hey Willy come here."

Whatever planet or state of mind his fiction took off to on the page, from what they say his feet seemed pretty well planted in Peoria. Pretty decent guy who talked to them forever, answered every question he could, and I'm guessing was a little tickled by the attention. He even went into some detail about what he thought might happen with the characters etc. Kinda cool.


And yeah, I had a little damage after Image of the Beast too.
posted by timsteil at 4:27 PM on February 27, 2009 [3 favorites]


Philip José Farmer, rebel against reality
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:08 AM on February 28, 2009


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