Sunday, April 4, 2010

Where to start reading Philip José Farmer

Judging by the ascending sales rank at amazon for the new Tor edition of Riverworld (an omnibus of To Your Scattered Bodies Go and The Fabulous Riverboat, the first two books in Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series), excitement is growing for the new Riverworld miniseries coming soon on Syfy.

While Riverworld is Farmer's best known series, last week I chose to reread The Maker of Universes, the first novel in what is arguably his best series: The World of Tiers. Maker is a grand adventure tale in the Edgar Rice Burroughs tradition but which also shows off Farmer's inventiveness. An immortal race of Lords create their own "pocket universes" which contain creatures, and even physical laws, different than in our own. These Lords have lost the knowledge to create their advanced technology and simply use the tools they still have. They have grown isolated and decadent and now their biggest thrill is trying to kill each other off.

However, the most interesting character in the book, who becomes the protagonist from the third book on in the series, is not a Lord, but a thorn in many of their sides; Paul Janus Finnegan, also known as Kickaha. Picture a Tarzan-like character with a wicked sense of humor. One who, if he doesn't have time to take a few women while raiding an enemy's camp, will at least pause long enough to pee in their stew pot.

Philip José Farmer has described Paul Janus Finnegan (note the initials) as having characteristics he wish he possessed himself. While Peter Jarius Frigate, from the Riverworld series, behaves much more as Phil himself does.

As a rule I don't care for Book Club books, but the SFBC World of Tiers omnibus collections published in the 1980s were my—and many others—introduction to Farmer. They are one good place to start reading him.

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