The Worlds Of Philip José Farmer, Vol. 3: Portraits Of A Trickster edited by Michael Croteau. Book review

THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER, Vol. 3: PORTRAITS OF A TRICKSTER edited by Michael Croteau, Meteor House Press, p/b, $25.00, http://meteorhousepress.com/

Reviewed by David Brzeski

I’d wondered when reviewing book two of this series if the high quality could be maintained. Not only is the quality still maintained in this third volume, I regard it as the best yet. It’s a more focused collection than the others in that it’s all about Farmer’s fascination with mythological tricksters and how his wry sense of humour led him to play many tricks on his readership.

As in the previous volumes, the book is split into various sections.

Section one: ‘Peoria-Colored Worlds’ contains a nice piece on Farmer which ran in his home-town newspaper, the Peoria Journal Star, just after his death. This is followed by a revised first chapter from an unpublished book on PJF by Steven Connelly which was begun in 1975. Finally we have a humorous speech Farmer gave at Bradley University, from where he graduated in 1952 with a B.A. In English.

The next section, ‘Of Friendships and Influences’ is pretty much what it says on the tin. It opens with an excellent piece on Farmer by Bruce Sterling, taken from the Philcon 89 program.

Many readers have no doubt wondered about the dedication to “the unholy trinity of Bobs” in his novel, ‘The Fabulous Riverboat’. After all, we’ve all heard of two of them (Bloch and Heinlein) but just who is Bob Traurig? We find the answer in this series of hilarious letters they exchanged in ‘The Robert Traurig Letters’.

In ‘A Box of Influence’, Christopher J. Garcia tells of how he discovered Farmer’s work in a box of forbidden treasures owned by his father, and of the connection he continued to find in his books at different periods of his life.

The first actual PJF authored piece in the book is ‘Wild Weird Clime’, a speech he gave at a convention in 1967. Here he talks of a planned new novel set in the SF publishing world, to be released under a fictional author name, as he’d recently done with his classic ‘Venus on the Half-Shell’. He goes on to explain how he intends to introduce this fictional author, Tom Wode Bellman, to the reading public.

The next piece is a follow-up by Tom Wode Bellman, a long-time friend of Farmer’s who is not in any way fictional. Here’s where the editor really gets the trickster focus of this volume moving. Trust me, by the time you’ve finished the next section you’ll be wondering if authors you always believed to be real might actually have been PJF under yet another pseudonym, or if some of the ones you’ve always known were fictional creations might actually be real and you’ll be googling for books the existence of which you simply aren’t sure of!

‘Worlds in Disguise’ starts off with a brilliant article about Farmer’s great practical Joke – Venus on the Half-Shell and its author, ‘Kilgore Trout’ (actually a fictional creation of Kurt Vonnegut). The article is written by Jonathan Swift Somers III… I’ll say no more, other than ‘Trout Masque Rectifier’ gets my vote for the best title of 2012!

‘Kilgore, Kurt, and Me’, is a real coup – a piece by David M. Harris, one of Farmer’s first editors who actually bought ‘Venus on the Half-Shell’ back in the 70s.

The first straight fiction piece in the book is ‘The Many Dooms of Harold Hall’, by Charlotte Corday-Marat. PJF used that name on an unpublished manuscript found in his “Magic Filing Cabinet”, but there’s no evidence to prove that he wrote this story too. Nor is there any evidence to show he didn’t. Opinions are divided. Either way, it’s a great story.

This is followed by another article about Farmer, written by another of Farmer’s fictional authors… or is he? It ends with a postscript by Win Scott Eckert, who I’m reasonably certain does exist.

‘Classic Worlds’ is the section devoted to reprints of stories you may have seen before. We begin with ‘Osiris on Crutches’, which is the story Farmer co-wrote with Leo Queequeg Tincrowdor.

In, ‘The Genuine Imposter’, Rick Lai examines some of the complications caused by bringing even minor pulp characters into his Wold Newton Universe. Who was Margo Lane, and exactly how many purple girasols were there anyway? I’m a sucker for this kind of thing, but beware… it’ll add a number of books to your shopping list.

Next up is the first unexpurgated reprint of ‘The Long Wet Dream of Rip Van Winkle since it’s original appearance in the adult magazine – ‘Puritan’ in 1981.

‘Up, Out, and Over, Roger’ is a variant version of a story – ‘The Impotency of Bad Karma’, as by Cordwainer Bird, of which the original is near impossible to find and the later versions are short a column of text which PJF missed when preparing it for publication. Here we have an even earlier version, which while different to the original & later versions, does include the missing text.

Finally we come to the section I always look forward to most in this series of books – ‘Expanded Worlds’, in which other authors contribute new stories to PJF’s various worlds & concepts. As always, it’s the largest section of the book.

‘The Wild Huntsman’, by Win Scott Eckert is a continuation of his story in volume two, ‘Is He in Hell?’, in which Eckert examines the exact circumstances which brought those particular men and women to the precise location, at the precise time of the famous meteor strike at Wold Newton. It ties in nicely with ‘Gods of Opar’, by Farmer & Carey, which I reviewed here recently.

‘Dakota’s Gate’, by Heidi Ruby Miller, features Roger Two Hawks from the novel, ‘Two Hawks from Earth’. A book I haven’t yet read, it was originally published as ‘The Gate of Time’, but later revised under Farmer’s preferred title. This excellent story has me desperate to acquire a copy of the revised version of the original Farmer book.

An almost immortal adventurer (lost in Africa in the late 19th century as a baby & brought up by a tribe of great apes) John Gribardson is a member of a time travel expedition which travelled back from 2070AD to 12,000BC, who elects to stay behind when the rest return. (See ‘Times Last Gift’, by Philip José Farmer.) For the first time we have a hero who can have limitless adventures added to his cannon, set in any time period we want. In ‘The Last of the Guardians’, by Octavio Aragão and Carlos Orsi, we catch up with Gribardson sometime in the early 1700s in South America.

My favourite story in this volume is also the final one – ‘Trickster of the Apes’, by S.M. Stirling. It’s another World of Tiers tale (I still haven’t read that series!) and involves one of Farmer’s versions of himself – Peter Janus Finnegan (note the initials).

One final note. The publisher and editor of this series of books is one Michael Croteau. I would like to point out that ‘Black’ Mike Croteau is actually a fictional character invented by Win Scott Eckert!