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Pearls from Peoria
Philip José Farmer
Subterranean Press, 778 pages

Pearls from Peoria
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 Best of Philip José Farmer
SF Site Review: The Riverworld Saga
SF Site Review: Nothing Burns in Hell

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

Philip José Farmer is a Grandmaster of the SFWA with three Hugo Awards to his name, yet most science fiction readers can probably only name a few of his books or stories: Riverworld, World of Tiers, "The Lovers," and "Riders of the Purple Wage." For such an important author, this is a little surprising. In Subterranean Press's massive retrospective of Farmer's life and work, Pearls from Peoria, none of those best known works appear.

Despite missing those seminal works -- the short stories are included in the companion volume, The Best of Philip José Farmer -- Pearls from Peoria contains a wide variety of stories and essays by Farmer. These stories provide a clear insight into why Farmer is a grandmaster of the science fiction field. The essays give a wonderful look at not only the man behind the stories, but the techniques and thought that went into writing the stories.

Unlike many science fiction authors, Farmer revels in direct examination of the authors and characters who influenced him. This takes a form at novel length in his Tarzan Alive, The Other Log of Phineas Fogg, and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. Several of the essays in Pearls from Peoria demonstrate how seriously Farmer took these projects, both from the point of view of research and trying to fit the various stories into a coherent timeline, to his battles with the publishers to try to ensure the books appeared in a manner respectful to the source material.

Of course, Farmer didn't get to his level of prominence in the science fiction field merely by recycling and expanding on the work of other authors. His story "Seventy Years of Decpop" is prophetic in a way so much science fiction isn't, yet everyone thinks science fiction should be. "Mother Earth Wants You" contains the sort of gender exploration which made Farmer's reputation with his story "The Lovers" or the novel Flesh.

Not only do Farmer's essays discuss his own work, but they also provide a glimpse of the science fiction field, from "IF R.I.P.," written on the occasion of the cessation of publication of the magazine If, to his story "The Terminalization of J.G. Ballard," which is a pastiche and look at the author of the title.

Because Subterranean Press so recently published The Best of Philip José Farmer, most of Farmer's most iconic and basic work is not included in Pearls from Peoria. The reader who is looking for an introduction to Farmer's fiction, therefore, is better served with the earlier volume. For those who are interested in some of Farmer's lesser known works or the man behind the author, Pearls from Peoria is an essential addition to a science fiction collection, bringing together stories and essays which are otherwise not easily available.

Copyright © 2006 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a five-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings. He is the publisher of ISFiC Press. In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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