Philip J. Farmer was born 100 years ago

Philip J. Farmer in 2002
Philip J. Farmer in 2002

Philip José Farmer (photo ©Zacharias L.A Nuninga) was born on January 26, 1918 in Terre Haute, Indiana, USA.

Philip J. Farmer’s family was very puritanical with the consequence that his education was rigid and as a young man he found his only escape in reading adventure and speculative fiction novels, both classic and modern. His education had some interruptions due to economic problems and only in 1950 he graduated in English at Bradley University.

Meanwhile, Philip J. Farmer had already married, in 1941, and the couple had two children: Philip Laird in 1942 and Kristen in 1945. In 1946 he managed to publish his first story but again the initial phase of his career as a writer had various problems because he still had to earn a living for him and his family.

In 1952, Philip J. Farmer revealed all his iconoclastic strength in his story “The Lovers”, rejected by various magazines and then published on “Startling Stories”. Sexual themes were one of the biggest taboos in the field of science fiction so his story was a real bomb for the time.

Further problems came with the 1954 novel “I owe for the Flesh”, which won a literary prize but Philip J. Farmer never received the $4,000 owed to him due to the publisher’s bankrupt. The author was forced to stop working as a writer and find a job to support his family.

In the following years, Philip J. Farmer was able to resume his work as a full-time writer publishing novels such as “The Green Odyssey” and “Flesh”, another story in which the sexual theme is important and also contains the religious theme, also important in several of the author’s works.

In 1965, Philip J. Farmer published one of his most important novels, “The Maker of Universes”, the first of one of the cycles for which the writer became best known, which had a number of sequel over the following years.

Themes related to sex in stories this time closer to supernatural horror are contained in the Herald Childe trilogy, formed by the novels “The Image of the Beast” (1968), “Blown” (1969) and “Traitor to the Living” (1973).

Those themes also appeared in other novels by Philip J. Farmer related to pulp heroes who were already classics such as Tarzan and Doc Savage. There are several works in which those characters are present in a more or less explicit way, from “A Feast Unknown” (1969) to “Lord Tyger” (1970) to expand to other characters such as in “The Other Log of Phileas Fogg” (1973).

Meanwhile, Philip J. Farmer had revised “I owe for the Flesh” and finally in 1971 he was able to publish it as “To Your Scattered Bodies Go”, which won the Hugo award. In the following years the author wrote a number of sequels for a total of five novels and short fiction. In this cycle many protagonists are not pulp heroes but historical characters.

Among the other novels written by Philip J. Farmer there was “Venus on the Half-Shell”, published in 1974 under the pseudonym Kilgore Trout, a fictional writer created by Kurt Vonnegut. Farmer intended to write more novels with that pseudonym but Vonnegut was not happy because of the confusion induced in part of the readers and the project was abandoned.

In the 1980s and 1990s Philip J. Farmer continued some cycles and began the Dayworld one, composed of the novels “Dayworld” (1985), “Dayworld Rebel” (1987) and “Dayworld Breakup” (1990).

In the last phase of his career, Philip J. Farmer lost much of his innovative and iconoclastic strength but at that point certain taboos had been eliminated from the world of science fiction and part of the merit is his. The author died on February 25, 2009 leaving an important legacy and not only in the field of science fiction and fantasy.

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