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 conversation.

  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 phallus?

  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.