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Up the Bright River
Philip José Farmer, edited by Gary K. Wolfe
Subterranean Press, 336 pages

Up the Bright River
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. He died in his sleep on February 25, 2009.

Philip José Farmer Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Other in the Mirror
SF Site Review: Up from the Bottomless Pit and Other Stories
SF Site Review: Pearls from Peoria
SF Site Review: The Best of Philip José Farmer
SF Site Review: The Riverworld Saga
SF Site Review: Nothing Burns in Hell

Past Feature Reviews
A review by D. Douglas Fratz

Subterranean Press has been engaged in a laudable effort to get back into print much of the more than five decades of brilliant and trend-setting work by SF Grand Master Philip José Farmer, and with his unfortunate death in 2009, Up the Bright River is the first to appear posthumously. Edited by noted critic and historian Gary K. Wolfe, the volume collects sixteen of Farmer's less available works beginning near the very start of his career in 1953 and spanning the next 40 years.

The stories are arranged chronologically, and, with a few exceptions, are very emblematic of the times in which they were written. But throughout the decades, Farmer returns to several common themes, especially those dealing with religion and medical doctors. In the later stories, his focus moves to putting historical figures in new settings -- whether it real people as in the Riverworld series, or imaginary characters as in the Wold Newton stories.

The collection begins with "Attitudes," the first of the fascinating Father Carmody stories that were collected in 1981 in Father to the Stars. The next two stories are from the early 60s, "How Deep the Groove" and "The Blasphemers," are satires set in dark futures typical of Cold War era SF. The latter is an especially complex piece of work. In 1967's "A Bowl Bigger Than Earth" we begin to feel the New Wave fomenting in this strange tale of an afterlife that could been seen as a precursor to Riverworld. "Down in the Black Gang" (1969) is a bizarre but effective tale of aliens working clandestinely on Earth to crew an interstellar craft that could only have been written in that period. Two stories here -- "The Voice of the Sonar in My Vermiform Appendix" (1971) and "The Sumerian Oath" (1972) -- are New Wave silliness in full New Worlds mode, both dark satires of the medical profession. Several stories from this era diverge somewhat from this trend, including "Father's in the Basement" (1972), an emotionally effective horror story, and "Skinburn" (1972), a minor but effective science fiction mystery, as well as "Toward the Beloved City," an extremely interesting post-apocalyptic story based on the premise that events similar to those described in the Biblical Book of Revelations have actually occurred.

"Extracts from the Memoirs of Lord Greystoke" (1974) is the only story included from Farmer's fascinatingly clever and engaging Wold Newton universe, written in first person by the "real" man chronicled by Edgar Rice Burroughs as Tarzan. It provides an effective, if anecdotal, introduction to the wonderful stories Farmer told in that series. "The Two-Edged Gift" (1974) is the first of the Paul Eyre stories that include as a character Farmer himself in the guise of writer Leo Queequeg Tincrowder, and also give a brief taste of the work collected in Stations of the Nightmare (1982).

The remaining stories included here were written somewhat later in Farmer's career. "St. Francis Kisses His Ass Goodbye" (1989) is a marvelous story of time travel. The final three stories are the last works Farmer wrote in his Riverworld series, and feature primarily characters based on Farmer's actual ancestors -- "Crossing the Dark River" (1992, from Tales of Riverworld) and "Up the Bright River" and "Coda" (1993, Quest to Riverworld).

This is a valuable collection, and must reading for all fans of Philip José Farmer's brilliant fictional oeuvre. It is, however, only a sampling, and as such can prove somewhat frustratingly incomplete in some instances. Some of these stories are the start of a series, and might have been better left to separate volumes where all of the stories could be included. (This is especially true for "The Two-Edged Gift," which ends mid-plot.) Although Wolfe provides an insightful introduction to the volume, it would have been useful to have introductions to each story to put each in the proper context.

But for Farmer fans who can afford all of these beautiful but expensive Subterranean Press editions, these books are providing a more permanent source for the brilliant and varied work of one of the finest science fiction authors of the 20th century.

Copyright © 2011 D. Douglas Fratz

D. Douglas Fratz has more than forty years experience as editor and publisher of literary review magazines in the science fiction and fantasy field, and author of commentary and critiques on science fiction and fantasy literature and media.

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