Barsoom Needs Bazooms
by Patrick Lozito
I got my favorite writer a gig. Talking with an editor of Star
Trek novels, I mentioned that Voyager was a lot like a script Philip
José Farmer wrote for the original series. Rejected for being
impossible to film - how do you show the Enterprise stranded outside
the universe on a TV budget? - the story without any Star Trek
references as "The Shadow of Space," to be found in Farmer's collection
Down in the Black Gang.
This same editor contacted Farmer's agent and a deal was struck. So
far, no one knows if the book will be in the Voyager series or on one
of the other ST series, but Farmer will be the most prestigious science
fiction author to contribute to Star Trek. As it inevitably hits the
best seller list, maybe we'll see massive reissues of Farmer's 50 plus books.
This article should prepare you for that.
While Farmer is prestigious, his name is unforunately not on
everyone's lips. Still, he has warranted the attention of noted literary
critic Leslie Fielder. Fielder once wrote that "Farmer wants to eat and
regurgitate himself...," in a 1972 Los Angeles Times Book review
article entitled "Getting Into the Task of the Now Pornography." I mentioned
this title only to remind you that at one time some of Farmer's best known
works, like Image of the Beast and Blown were
considered pornographic filth. If Farmer's readership has dwindled lately,
it's because what he's best known for, unbridled lust and sex, is commonplace
today, remarked anthologist and critic David Hartwell to me, in
In Red Orc's Rage, (Tor, $5.99) Farmer has finally
succeeded in "regurgitating himself." The novel is based on a form of therapy
from the real world that is, in turn, spun off from Farmer's World of Tiers
series. In both the therapy and the novel, a patient reads the series and
chooses a character from it to identify with. It should surprise nobody that
troubled 17-year-old Jim Grimson (he's a grim son!) has chosen Red Orc as his
character. To explain: the World of Tiers books follow the adventures
of an earthman Paul J. Finnegan (dig those initials) in "pocket universes"
that are set to right angles to our own. These universes were created
millennia ago by the immortal and decadent race called the Lords. Over time
they've lost most of their technology and knowledge to create more pocket
universes. Bored, the Lords wage war on each other for control of all
universes. Earth's universe, also artificial, is caught in the middle of it
all with only Finnegan-renamed Kickaha-standing in the way. His previous
adventures are recounted in The Maker of Universes,
The Gates of Creation, A Private Cosmos,
Behind the Walls of Terra, and The Lavalite World. In
these, Red Orc is the most fearsome and vile of all the Lords.
Back to Red Orc's Rage: Young Jim is in therapy, and through real or
imagined trips into the mind Red Orc, as an adolescent, is locked in
internecine struggle with his father Los. It becomes clear that Red Orc's
battles with Los have led to his status as the evilest Lord. Through the help
of a Dr. Porsena, Jim learns that Red Orc's independence and high self-esteem
are what he needs to adapt to his own life. Jim is himself struggling with his
own abusive father. We see that if Red Orc had come to terms with his father
they could have avoided conflict that included crucifixion, disfigurement, and
banishment. Kickaha doesn't even appear in the novel.
If Fielder anticipated Farmer's moves by 20 years, so too has Farmer
pre-figured "men's work" guru Robert Bly by many decades. Virtually all
of the territory Bly mapped out in his non-fiction bestseller Iron
John was covered by Farmer from the start of his career in the '50's.
One of Bly's major points is that man must be in touch with the Wild
Man but not become the Wild Man. Farmer is the perfect example of that. One of
his enduring obsessions; besides alien sex, messiahs, immortality and Sherlock
Holmes, is Tarzan. So far, he has written five books that involve the Lord of
the Jungle, including a faux biography called Tarzan Alive.
Creator Edgar Rice Burroughs didn't see all of the possibilities
inherent in Tarzan. Farmer has posited, for example, that such a superman
would have a super sex drive.
Bly also has said that in order for the boy to become a man, the
child inside must first die. This is at odds with what Farmer wrote in his
other biography Doc Savage:His Apocalyptic Life, "...the
reprinting of the Doc Savage series by Bantam Books resurrected the 15 year
old" inside him. According to Farmer, Savage and Tarzan are cousins and he can
prove it (see what I mean about obsessions?). You can read Farmer's version of
the times they collaborated and fought in A Feast Unknown,
The Mad Goblin and Lord of the Trees (Savage is
also noteworthy for being pivotal in the development of Superman, Batman,
Indiana Jones, and even Buckaroo Banzai, and the Rocketeer).
Another of Burroughs' heros was John Carter, former
Confederate calvary officer transported to a barbaric Mars (which the
inhabitants call Barsoom). That Carter marries a human-like Barsoomian gives
us the blueprint for much of Farmer's science fiction: alien-human mating and
larger than life heroes involved in endless action. Still, Carter couldn't
hold a candle to Burroughs' other hero in Farmer's imagination. He told
interviewer Charles Platt that his childhood nickname was Tarzan. Obviously,
Farmer spent as much time climbing trees as reading.
With his latest novel, More Than Fire (Tor $5.99),
Farmer closes out the World of Tiers series. MTF has enough action,
violence and imagination on display for a dozen ordinary novels. Just in
passing, Farmer throws in clone warfare, duplicate Earths, mind wipes,
instantaneous travel to multiple universes and limb regeneration. They may all
be old hat in science fiction, but Farmer doesn't linger on any of them too
long. However, an eye being knocked loose in hand-to-hand combat is
nauseating, even if the victim has the medical know-how to grow a new one.
Yes, the final confrontation between Red Orc and Kickaha is just plain brutal
beyond belief. All the more reason to read it, I suppose. It is a satisfying
conclusion to a mind-boggling series.
There's more to Farmer than the World of Tiers and the secret
sex lives of heroes. There's the Riverorld series: To Your
Scatteres Bodies Go, The Fabulous Riverboat, The
Dark Design, The Magic Labyrinth, and The Gods of
Riverworld in which everyone who ever lived is revived along the banks
of a million mile long river. We know the length because Mark Twain made it up
to the headwaters in a riverboat. Messiahs and religion have always been
fascinating to Farmer since reading the Book of Revelations as a child.
Night of Light and Father to the Stars feature a
crook turned priest. Farmer has also written the novels of fictional authors,
which started out as a way to cure writer's block, and resulted in Farmer
having written Kigore Trout's Venus on the Half-Shell and
numerous short stories that appeared in science fiction magazines and were
never reprinted. This practice even inspired Harlan Ellison to write a
Cordwainer Bird (his alter ego) adventure in the hopelessly
out-of-print Weird Heroes series, which has Farmer also
well-represented. Farmer also claims to have merely "edited" manuscripts like
Dr. John Watson's The Adventures of the Peerless Peer, wherein
Sherlock Holmes meets Tarzan to battle Germans in Africa during
World War I and The Other Log of Phineas Fogg,
in which Mr. Fogg's odd behaviour is explained in astounding science fiction
terms (he was repelling an alien invasion) and is a wonderful sequel to
Verne's Around the World in 80 Days, as well. There are other
unrelated novels from Farmer that are all stunning and imaginative like
Inside Out, Dare, Traitor to the Living,
A Woman A Day, all impossible to find in the local bookstore.
Analyzing the work of Philip Jose Famer has raised more questions
than it has answered. For example, if American culture is obsessed with the
female breast, why aren't science fiction and it's fans similarly obsessed?
What does it mean that there is a common thread of the weak or absent fathers
in Red Orc, Tarzan, Doc Savage, and Robert Bly?
Are the rockets, swords and phasers of science fiction manifestations of the
Late word finds Farmer collaborating with Piers Anthony for
The Caterpillar's Question (Ace $5.99) and contributing text to
the 1996 Boris Vallejo calendar (Vallejo, of course, painted covers for
some of Farmer's books) and the Star Trek novel that hopefully won't
involve that self-conscious Professor Moriarity hologram. That would be too
weird, even for Farmer.
Patrick Lozito has an exceptionally good relationship with his father. He
seems not to be obsessed with women's breasts and also hs quite a bit of
Batman memorabilia. If you should ever meet him, buy him lunch.
This article was sent to me by the author, for which I am very grateful. It
appeared in a fanzine called Interzone. If you would like to comment on it you
can email Patrick Lozito and
tell him what you think.