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Philip Jose Farmer

Philip Jose FarmerAKA Philip José Farmer

Born: 26-Jan-1918
Birthplace: Terre Haute, IN
Died: 25-Feb-2009
Location of death: Peoria, IL
Cause of death: unspecified
Remains: Cremated, First Federated Columbarium, Peoria, IL

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Author

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Riverworld saga

Science fiction author Phillip Jose Farmer was noteworthy for his Riverworld saga (To Your Scattered Bodies Go) and his copious infusions of sexuality into a previously chaste genre. Farmer authored roughly seventy-five books including Venus On The Half Shell, a novel penned under the pseudonym Kilgore Trout. He was the recipient of numerous science fiction awards and distinctions including the Nebula Grand Master Award (2001) and the Lifetime Achievement World Fantasy Award (2001). Farmer's short piece "Night of Light" (first published in 1957) sparked Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze". Phillip Jose Farmer was also noted for his fascination with trickster characters and his penchant for literary references and allusions.

Born North Terre Haute, Indiana, Farmer's family lived variously in Indianapolis and Missouri before settling in Peoria, Illinois (in a house with an outdoor toilet) in 1923. It was in this home that six year-old Phillip saw a silver dirigible flying over, sparking his interest in lighter-than-air craft (a common feature in his stories). As the young Farmer's reading skills developed he turned to L. Frank Baum's Oz books and to Greek Mythology. Later he discovered Jules Verne, Sherlock Holmes, Gulliver's Travels, and of course the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (whose Tarzan would later feature in Farmer's own works). While still a teenager at Peoria Central High School he developed a sketchy outline of ideas that would later become Maker of Universes, the novel he finally published in 1965 which featured artificial pocket universes that had their own physical laws, a world of flat layers stacked on top of each other.

Farmer's writing career would soon be put on hold however. Despite graduating high school as both a lettering athlete and a member of the National Senior Honor society (one of only five to hold that distinction), his promising entrance into the University of Missouri was soon cut short. His family hit financial hard times and the young Farmer was forced to abandon his journalism studies for a position on a line crew for Illinois Power and Light (1937-39). When he had finally put aside enough money to help out his family and afford further studies he returned to college, this time to nearby Bradley Polytechnical Institute in Peoria. His new focus was English literature with a minor in philosophy. (He would return to Missouri later on in order to study classical Greek, a subject not taught at Bradley.)

In May of 1941 Farmer married girlfriend Bette in a secret ceremony, and the following summer he enrolled as an aviation cadet in the Army Air Force. In December of that year, while he was in preflight school at Kelly Field in Texas, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. But amazingly Farmer never entered the war -- he washed out of flight training, was discharged from the Air Force, and was never drafted. Instead he spent the next eleven and a half years working for the Keystone Steel & Wire Company.

The Farmers meanwhile had two children, a son Phillip (1942) and a daughter Kristen (1945), and Phillip Sr. continued to write in his spare time. In 1946 Phillip Jose Farmer published his first short story, "O'Brien and Obrenov", in the March issue of Adventure. Finally, three years later, he gave in to Bette’s urging, quit Keystone, and returned to college to finish his degree. In 1952, he published the groundbreaking short "The Lovers" -- the piece that would earn him his first Hugo (best new writer).

The next dozen years or so would prove to be trying for the fledgling writer, as he balanced family responsibilities (day job, small children) against his need to write. It would not be until 1969 when he would finally have the freedom to devote all of his work time to crafting his fiction. Despite his immense productivity, Farmer is still best known for his Riverworld saga (in which dead notables like Mark Twain and British explorer Sir Richard Burton all pop back into existence in a strange land laid out along a seemingly endless river). But he also has to his credit a slough of other novels and short stories, many of which have been highly praised for their astonishing imagination and inventiveness.

At the same time, it has also been said that he wrote professional fan fiction, that is, he took characters from other authors' work -- such as Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan or 1930s pulp fiction hero Doc Savage -- and recast them in stories of his own creation (in his own style with, arguably, original plots), perhaps pairing them up with one or more historical figures, and exploring the possible situations that result. At best it offers the wry intellectual stimulation of philosophies colliding, but at worst it smacks of that boyhood argument, "What would happen if Spiderman had to fight Superman? Who do you think would win?"

Of course with Farmer the question would more appropriately be "Tarzan or Doc Savage?" Due to his ongoing obsession with Tarzan of the Apes, Farmer has hacked out at least 7 or 8 novels starring the character, as well as at least two spin-off novels dealing with a city (Opar) that Tarzan had visited in Burroughs' writing. And, yes, in one novel (A Feast Unknown), he even has Tarzan facing off against 1930s pulp fiction hero Doc Savage (a.k.a. The Man of Bronze). The heroes are pitted against each other at the manipulation of a secret society -- with each having erections every time he commits an act of violence.

Which brings us to another notable theme in the work of Phillip Jose Farmer (especially in material published during the 1950s and 1960s): his frequent interjection of sexuality and other facets of human physicality (i.e. defecation and urination) into science fiction. His very first published science fiction story, "The Lovers" (which was also the first sci-fi story with sexual relations between humans and aliens) created such a buzz that many critics argue it was shock value rather than literary skill that garnered him the 1953 Hugo. Farmer's acceptance speech at Worldcon was entitled "Science Fiction and the Kinsey Report". While other authors found the inclusion of graphic sexuality crass and the mark of an ignoble, uncreative mind, Farmer remained dedicated to including such reality into his stories and novels. As a result the publication of his short story collection Strange Relations was in itself a notable event in the history of sex in science fiction.

Clearly controversy did little to deter Farmer. Yet not all the controversy he generated was due to sexual or scatological content. In 1975 he published Venus On the Half Shell -- writing as Kilgore Trout. The trouble with this was that "Kilgore Trout" was in fact a character, and in true Farmer style, he was originally someone else's character -- created in the science fiction of Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut was not amused to have another author writing under a name associated with his work. Although many critics liked the book, Vonnegut thought it was poorly written, and he did not appreciate someone making money off his creation, even if roundaboutly. Farmer's primary retort, years later, was that he never really made money off "Trout" either.

Farmer published over seventy-five novels in addition to numerous works of short fiction that appeared in various magazines over the years. Recognition earned for this body of work included his first Hugo Award for Most Promising New Talent (1953), at least 4 other Hugo nominations and two Nebula Award nominations for various novels, plus the Hugo for his novella Riders of the Purple Wage (1969) and another Hugo for To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1972). In 2001 he received both a Nebula Grand Master Award and a Lifetime Achievement World Fantasy Award.

Father: George Farmer
Mother: Lucille Jackson Farmer
Wife: Bette Virginia Andre (m. 10-May-1941, two children)
Son: Philip Laird (b. 1942)
Daughter: Kristen (b. 1945)

    High School: Peoria High School, Peoria, IL
    University: English Literature, Bradley University (1950)

    Hugo 1953 for Most Promising New Author, The Lovers
    Hugo 1968 for Best Novella, Riders of the Purple Wage
    Hugo 1972 for Best Novel, To Your Scattered Bodies Go
    World Fantasy Award 2001 Lifetime Achievement

Official Website:

Is the subject of books:
The Magic Labyrinth of Philip Jose Farmer, 1984, BY: Edgar L. Chapman
Collecting Philip Jose Farmer, The Illustrated Guide, Vol. 1, 1998, BY: Michael Croteau

Author of books:
The Green Odessey (1957)
Flesh (1969)
A Woman A Day (1960)
The Lovers (1961)
Cache From Outer Space (1962)
Night of Light (1966)
A Private Cosmos (1968)
Image of the Beast (1968)
A Feast Unknown (1969)
Blown (1969)
Behind the Walls of Terra (1970)
Lord of the Trees (1970)
The Mad Goblin (1970)
Lord Tyger (1970)
Love Song (1970)
The Stone God Awakens (1970)
To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971)
The Fabulous Riverboat (1971)
The Wind Whales of Ismael (1971)
Tarzan Alive (1972)
Time's Last Gift (1972)
The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (1973)
Doc Savage His Apocalyptic Life (1973)
Traitor To The Living (1973)
The Adventures of the Peerless Peer (1974)
Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974)
Venus on the Half-Shell (1974)
Ironcastle (1976)
Flight To Opar (1976)
The Dark Design (1977)
The Lavalite World (1977)
Dark Is The Sun (1979)
Jesus On Mars (1979)
The Magic Labyrinth (1980)
The Unreasoning Mask (1981)
A Barnstormer In Oz (1982)
Gods of Riverworld (1983)
River of Eternity (1983)
Dayworld (1985)
Dayworld Rebel (1987)
Dayworld Breakup (1990)
Red Orc's Rage (1991)
Escape from Loki (1991)
The Caterpillar's Question (1992, with Piers Anthony)
More Than Fire (1993)
Nothing Burns In Hell (1998)
Naked Came The Farmer (1998)
The Dark Heart of Time (1999)

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