Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Discuss: Philip Jose Farmer


Karen: Philip Jose Farmer is probably best known for his Riverworld series of novels, where every person who ever lived is reincarnated on an artificial world, and his Wold Newton stories, which unite a vast number of pulp heroes under a large family tree. Farmer's works are definitely unusual and in some cases provocative.

Karen: I was introduced to him by one of his most spectacularly bizarre novels, A Feast Unknown, which I read on a road trip with a friend when I was in college. I thought I would be getting a pastiche of Doc Savage and Tarzan -little did I know what I was getting myself into! Despite the unpleasant sexual situations, the action and adventure intrigued me, and I gave his Riverworld series a go years later, and was well rewarded as a reader. Farmer was inventive and fun. I've yet to read his World of Tiers novels, but perhaps I'll give them a try one of these days. I also just discovered recently that other writers have been expanding upon his Wold Newton universe. Any other fans of this writer and his work?

10 comments:

Edo Bosnar said...

Count me as a prospective fan - I haven't read any of his major stuff yet, although a few of his books have been sitting on my to-read shelf for, well, about 2-3 years now (that tells you what kind of backlog I'm dealing with). For some reason I never got into Farmer's stuff earlier, maybe because it seemed so daunting - so many of his books are parts of larger cycles. However, I am intrigued by his whole Wold Newton concept - can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something oddly familiar about the concept of bringing together all of those pulp fiction heroes into a shared universe... ;)

Anonymous said...

A critic commenting on Irving Stone's biographical novels (about van Gogh, Michelangelo, Freud, John Adams) once sneered that Stone apparently could not create any original characters. I admit a similar attitude toward Farmer. Most of his works seem to be pastiches (Tarzan, Doc Savage, Conan Doyle, Jules Verne), and the one Riverworld story I remember used historical figures (such as Mark Twain) rather than new characters. I found "A Feast Unknown" to be distasteful, although the sequels (Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin) toned down the sex and violence considerably.

bmcmolo said...

I echo your thoughts on A Feast Unknown - that was such a shock to me when I picked it up at a library book sale. I wasn't prepared for that at all!

William Preston said...

As a Doc Savage fan, I bought Farmer's Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life when I was a teen, but though I liked the concept and flipped through it from time to time, it wasn't a book I could simply read. (Nevertheless, I do obliquely make one Wold Newton connection in my third Doc Savage–inspired story about my "Old Man" character: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AW5CDQM )

I long wanted to read the Riverworld stories, but when I read the first one last year, I found, again, the idea more engaging than the execution.

Karen said...

I had the Doc Savage and Tarzan bios too, although I don't think I ever read through them in their entirety.

William, thanks for the link to your Old Man stories. I am about to finish a book and nothing in my 'to read' pile was looking appealing at the moment. I also have an unexpected trip this weekend, so it will be great to load those on my iPad and take with me. I'm intrigued by your 'reverse chronological' order.

William Preston said...

Cool, Karen! I hope you enjoy them.

Rip Jagger said...

I'm a fan of Farmer's Wold Newton books. The faux-bios are outstanding bits of creations. The conceit that most of the heroes I've read and enjoyed over the decades are actually in reality part of a magnificently elaborate family tree is fascinating.

I have to admit that I don't always appreciate how Farmer is writing a certain passage, but I can usually count on a Farmer book offering up a satisfactory ending, not something all fiction does by any means. The journey is worth it in a Farmer book.

Right now, I'm trying to fill a long-standing chasm in my literary experience by actually getting around to reading some H.Rider Haggard novels. These I'm enjoying on their own right, but I confess, part of me is reading them, so I can more fully grok Farmer's Wold Newton variations.

Rip Off

Karen said...

It's probably been almost ten years since I read the Riverworld books, but I don't recall having any issues with Farmer's writing style at the time.

I do want to find some of these new Wold Newton stories being produced by other writers to see what they come up with. I'm intrigued by taking known characters and doing new things with them. I read Anno Dracula by Kim Newton and found it somewhat interesting if a bit long. My own writing endeavors fall in the same category -"borrowing" existing characters and re-working them. I think it's fun.

Meteor House said...

For the past three years Meteor House has been publishing annual collections titled The Worlds of Philip José Farmer. They include fiction and non fiction, new and old material, all by or about Farmer. Including new licensed fiction using his characters and previously unpublished material by the Grand Master himself.



On the one hand you could say these books are for Farmer completists, but I feel they can also act as good introduction to him as well.



As for A Feast Unknown, I first picked that up when I was 13, to do a book report for school. I didn't get very far... You should have seen the look on Phil's face when I told him that story!

Hoosier X said...

I think I was in the 7th or 8th grade when one of my friends described Lord Tyger to me ... and I didn't believe him. I was shocked, SHOCKED I tell you, at the very idea that someone would put that stuff in a book.

So he loaned it to me - just to show me! There are very few books that changed my view of the world - Naked Lunch, Understanding Media come to mind - but Lord Tyger was one of them.

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