In this morning’s Barnes and Noble Review, you’ll find my extended appreciation of Philip José Farmer — the wildly imaginative fantasy writer who died back in February. Farmer wrote relentlessly and created numerous books, and there was no conceivable way to dwell on them all. In the interest of providing an entry point for the Farmer neophyte, I have focused mainly on the five Riverworld books.
It’s worth pointing out that the critic Leslie Fiedler held Farmer in high regard and wrote a piece entitled “Getting Into the Task of Now Pornographer” for the Los Angeles Times in April 23, 1972. (Interesting how, even in 1972, one had to go to a West Coast outlet to sing the proper praises for a genre writer.)
Personally, I have never seen invention or yarn-spinning as literary liabilities. They are qualities just as noble and as praiseworthy as the lifeless highbrow qualities fawned over and heralded by the Bookforum snobs and the Granta dilettantes; in Farmer’s case, even more so.
Ah, good old Philip Jose Farmer–you have to love a guy who adds “Jose” to his name just to sound more memorable. I have many happy memories of reading the Riverworld books (which also introduced me to Victorian loose cannon Richard Francis Burton). I’ll admit that the law of diminishing returns kicked in over the course of the whole series. But the basic premise–all of human civilization resurrected along one enormous riverbank–is a tremendous imaginative feat. Why doesn’t somebody make a movie out of the first book? It could have been done for a fraction of the money blown on the terrible Matrix sequels.