RIP Philip Jose Farmer

Like many other people I read Farmer’s Riverworld series (the television adaptation did not do it justice) but I have read other books by him as well. Perhaps his most intriguing series (for me) was his Tier World series. The premise of those books was that a small family of immortal humans created their own universes (including Earth’s) and lived out fantasy existences.

Farmer included references to other science fiction and fantasy authors’ works in his World of Tiers stories. One of the moons orbiting the Tier world was modeled on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom.

A friend of mine in college set up a role-playing game based on the Tier World. He adapted elements of Dungeons and Dragons and Aftermath to create a hybrid RPG system in which my gaming friends and I used a combination of fantasy and militaristic fiction skills to combat an evil wizard of some sort.

The adventure was so many years ago I don’t recall all the details, except that my character was transported from the Aftermath Earth to this RPG Tier World and given the role (and powers) of a great wizard. Oh, the magical devices I put together in five years’ game time ….

I really didn’t know much about role-playing games at the time and learning the basics in a blended game system was probably more of a detriment than a boon for me. After that experience, however, I was curious about the books that had inspired the setting, and eventually I was able to read them.

I don’t know that I would have enjoyed adventuring in the Riverworld setting. I believe there was a commercial game based on those books. Still, I remember being completely fascinated by the concept of an artificial resurrection process when I first read To Your Scattered Bodies, Go as a teenager.

The sequel story, The Fabulous Riverboat, was interesting but not nearly as compelling for me. I think the reason why it failed to move my imagination as much as the first book was that Farmer didn’t need to invent nearly as much for TFR as he had to for TYSBG.

I think it would be fair to say that at the time I was still discovering science fiction and it was the newness of each world that captured my attention more than anything else. There were other authors contemporary with Farmer whose universes held many worlds, or larger worlds, to explore. Farmer was able to intrigue me more with different series than with just one.

And I was touched to read Philip Jose Farmer has died yesterday. Although he was not one of my all-time favorite SF authors he was one of the first whose books I read and the memories his stories left me with are indelibly etched in my mind.

Farmer really was one of those authors who made a huge first impression. My thoughts go out to his friends and family. I am sure he will be missed by many.


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