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The Best of Philip José Farmer
Philip José Farmer
Subterranean Press, 630 pages

The Best of Philip José Farmer
Philip José Farmer
Philip José Farmer was born in 1918 in North Terre Haute, Indiana. He attended Bradley University, receiving a BA in English in 1950. His novella The Lovers, published in Startling Stories, won a Hugo Award in 1953. He won another in 1968 for the story "Riders of the Purple Wage," which was written for the Dangerous Visions series, and a third in 1972 for the first novel of the Riverworld series, To Your Scattered Bodies Go. Farmer has written also under a number of pseudonyms, the best known being Kilgore Trout.

Philip José Farmer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Riverworld Saga
SF Site Review: Nothing Burns in Hell

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Nathan Brazil

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'Jill was a very bright child, but what if too many TV shows at too early an age had done her some irreparable harm? What if, a few years from now, she could easily see, and even define, the distinction between reality and unreality on the screen, but deep down in her there was a child that still could not distinguish?'
Any 'best of' title is, by its nature, prone to individual interpretation, and putting together a cross section of work by an author as prolific as Philip José Farmer was never going to be easy. Some of his best includes entire series, which clearly could not form part of this single book collection, although the Riverworld is represented here. What the book does manage, is to provide an excellent primer for what made Farmer so popular for so long. Readers who have heard his name, and want to know what all the fuss is about without risking their cash on an entire series, should start here. I took longer to review this title than anything I'd read in the past eighteen months. Not due to lack of interest, or because the book is hard going, quite the opposite, it is a fascinating collection written in a variety of styles that are all easy to read. What I found arresting was the power and diversity of Farmer's visions, many of which required me to reset my mind for a while before continuing. In his introduction to the collection, Joe R. Lansdale calls Farmer 'The Man With the Electric Brain' and suggests that he may be 'the most underrated science fiction writer of all time.' Both statements are proved to be accurate assessments of a writer without whom the genre of SF would be a far poorer place.

There are 21 stories here, taken from various parts of Farmer's almost 60 year career, so far. Among them are; 'After King Kong Fell,' a brilliantly observed reworking, from the perspective of a man who was there when it really happened. 'The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol' is a comedy, featuring a sexually rampant pensioner, and former pilot, who sees the closed world of his nursing home almost entirely in terms of WW I aircraft. 'Sketches Among The Ruins of My Mind' is a scary tale concerning our world under the influence of an orbiting alien object, which literally clocks back mankind's memory, regressing personal experience even as real time progresses. 'The Shadow of Space' is a mind-expanding work about a prototype space ship whose crew find themselves outside of the known universe. 'My Sister's Brother,' set during a manned mission on Mars, cleverly reveals why alien cultures choose not to make contact with us. 'The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod' is a surreal, amusing parody, presenting a version of Tarzan as if it were written, not by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but by the acid soaked mind of William Burroughs. 'The Alley Man,' which was my favourite, is the sad and sorry tale of the last pure blood Neanderthal, now reduced to making a living as a trash picker.

Entirely missing from this collection are any examples of Farmer's World of Tiers series, or his more controversial semi-pornographic novels such as Flesh, Blown and Image of the Beast. I was also a little disappointed to find there was only a fleeting glimpse of Farmer's adventure oriented reimaging of Doc Savage, and the traditional Tarzan, who appear as the Apeman and Doc Caliban, the bastard sons of Jack the Ripper, in the novel A Feast Unknown. That said, this collection is quite large, more than satisfactory, and does a fine job of showing off Farmer's terrific diversity. It also includes good examples of the key elements that originally made him stand out. When science-fiction was all about two dimensional military men battling purple tentacled monsters, Farmer pioneered work depicting a more recognisable, down and dirty face. When other writers -- and their publishers -- were scared to include elements such as humour or romance, Farmer forged ahead regardless. Most tellingly of all, when it came to including the taboo subjects politics, religion and sex within science-fiction, Farmer had no qualms over who he might offend, just as long as his stories were both entertaining and thought provoking. It is an attitude which many modern novelists would do well to copy, and one reason why I can heartily recommend The Best of Philip José Farmer to anyone who enjoys aerobics of the imagination.

Copyright © 2006 Nathan Brazil

Nathan Brazil
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading, writing and throwing chips to the seagulls. Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.


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