Philip Jose Farmer: January 26, 1918 - February 25, 2009. R.I.P.
Philip Jose Farmer died yesterday, February 25, 2009. According to his official Web site, he died peacefully in his sleep.
I first read his Riverworld series when I was about ten. It was so creative and so different than the other sci-fi and fantasy that I'd been reading up until that time, that it really opened up one of those doors in my head. You know... you think you understand the dimensions of something, then you notice another door... a small, unobtrusive bit of a thing. But when you open it, there's an entirely new world there. You take a look and say to yoursef, "Ahhh... Well. Yes. Now I see. Things can be this other way, too."
If that sounds overly dramatic, well I'm sorry. There are few series of books that had as profound an impact on me as a young writer. One of my writing professors at college used to say, "All great writing is about two things. It's about what it's about, and it's about great writing." Farmer's stories weren't just great because they were great stories... they were great because they pointed at all kinds of other *ways* that stories *could be* great. Without being obnoxious or heavy-handed, they were meta-story guideposts.
[The SciFi channel series based on the books was, of course, awful. The main protagonist of the series was the post-mortal (it makes sense... read the books) Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton, one of the most interesting people you'll meet in fiction or history. Because of Riverworld, I read two actual biographies of Burton before the age of 16, and a third later in life. In the TV series, Burton was replaced with (gag) an astronaut. I was deeply and personally offended.]
Anyway... if you're looking for good, odd, important, rollicking sci-fi fun... look no further than PJ Farmer.
I would say, "He will be missed," but we do not need to miss him, as he is still very much with us.