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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Philip José Farmer — In Memoriam by Fábio Fernandes

It´s with the deepest sadness that I learned that Philip José Farmer passed away in his sleep yesterday morning. He was 91 years old.

He leaves us a huge legacy. Since his first published science fiction story, “The Lovers”, won him the Hugo Award for “most promising new writer” in 1953 (the John W. Campbell Award didn´t exist then, having been created in 1973), and is widely recognized as the story that broke the taboo on sex in SF, featuring sexual relations between a human and an alien.

Farmer spawned worlds. In his Riverworld series, he managed to create a social experiment featuring resurrected people from all time periods of mankind to populate a world tailor-made for them by humans from the far future.

The first volume of the series, “To Your Scattered Bodies Go”, feature none other than Sir Richard Francis Burton, Alice Hargreaves (who inspired Lewis Carroll to create Alice in Wonderland), and Hermann Göering. (Other volumes will feature Mark Twain, Tom Mix, Mozart, and Jack London (even Jesus Christ will appear, but in a short apart from the novel series).

Even the most improbable scenarios were made believable in Farmer´s hands, as it was the case in Dayworld, where, due to overpopulation, human beings were forced by the government to live only one day per week, sleeping cryogenically the other six days. Of course, as this system is very far from perfect, there is a rebel who manages to override this system, managing to live the entire week, even if that means to lose himself in a plethora of different personalities, one-a-day.

Farmer also was sort of as a father to all fanfickers, since he practically invented the modern “pastiche” writing the biographies of Tarzan, Doc Savage and the other journal of Phileas Fogg—the explanation to reunite all the famous super-human characters was that their ancestors were all exposed to the strange radiation of a radioactive meteor in the city of Wold Newton, England, in 1795.

Some of these pulp characters would include Solomon Kane, Captain Blood, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quatermain, Tarzan, Professor Challenger, Fu Manchu, Sir Denis Nayland Smith, The Shadow, Sam Spade, Doc Savage, The Spider, Nero Wolfe, Philip Marlowe, and James Bond, among many others.

He would win the Hugo again in 1968 for the novella “Riders of the Purple Wage”, and in 1972 for his first Riverworld novel, “To Your Scattered Bodies Go”. He would become a Grand Master in 2000, receiving also the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2001 and the Forry Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2003. There are still one novel (The Evil in Pemberley House, co-authored with Win Scott Eckert) and one short story collection (The Other in the Mirror) forthcoming in 2009.

It was a long, fruitful life, and I am proud to have been his reader. Books like “The Lovers” and The Riverworld series touched me deeply as I was growing up. Later, his books on Tarzan and Doc Savage inspired me to write some of my first stories, fanfictions, and then the World of Tiers series and novels like “Two Hawks from Earth” and “Dayworld” spurred my imagination even further.

Our deepest condolences—from Robert Thompson, me and all the reviewers of Fantasy Book Critic—to his wife Bette, his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Go in peace, master...

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