Philip Jose Farmer a Zombie!

That statement is a lie (as far as I know).

And the news is late (of his death, to this blog, the news, not of his death, but this blog’s referring to it), coming as it does from an e-mail I’ve had saved in my inbox since February 25th.

There aren’t that many writers whose work I collect, but Farmer’s is one of them. He was one of those writers who seem to be constantly pushing themselves in terms of what they create, challenging their own limits rather than spinning constantly the good yarn that they know they are perfectly capable of. [Others in that vein: China Mieville, Stephen Brust]

The aspect of his writing that inspired me most, however, in both reading his work and writing my own, was his constant desire to tear into other works of fiction and make them his own through exploiting gaps left in the original works. For example, see The Other Log of Phineas Fogg, which turns the hero of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days into an extraterrestrial secret agent, all while sticking to the original timeline of Verne’s book. [See also A Barnstormer in Oz and, for an idea of what he does to twist preconceptions of known historical entities, read the Riverworld series.]

Farmer is known for bringing sex and the erotic into science fiction, though I have to admit I never really noticed this when first reading him (which probably has to do with being first exposed to his writing in the late eighties rather than in the fifties). And that’s obvious. But more so what he did is allow for science fiction to tackle the entirety of human experience rather than cutting out a section simply because it was seen as “something not to be spoken about”.

I won’t say Philip Jose Farmer’s death is a great loss, only because he wrote so much during his lifetime. People die, and Farmer created a body of work which will certainly speak to readers a good many years from now. But his death saddens me. Farmer, along with Roger Zelazny, built the cliff of what I think science fiction should do and can do. Now they both are dead. Their ghosts dare me to jump off that cliff they built, again and again.

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