Thursday, February 26, 2009

RIP: Philip José Farmer

As noted on his official home page, science fiction and fantasy author Philip José Farmer died yesterday at the age of 91. Farmer was an influence on the development of Dungeons & Dragons primarily through his "World of Tiers" series, which Gary Gygax cited in Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeons Masters Guide. Of course, Farmer was incredibly prolific and wrote many, many short stories and novels -- a career stretching back to the 1940s -- making it next to impossible to limit his influence on and inspiration to the hobby to a single book or series of books.

For myself, it was Farmer's frequent use of pulp heroes and heroines that endeared his writings to me. His magnificent "Wold Newton family" is an amazing work of creativity, an attempt to connect -- and, on some level, rationalize -- the lives and adventures of numerous beloved characters ranging from Sherlock Holmes to Doc Savage to Solomon Kane. Farmer demonstrated that same level of inventiveness (and cheekiness) in most of his works and he will be sorely missed by his legions of fans.

May he rest in peace.


  1. Getting into the Riverworld books about 10 years ago renewed my love of reading. Changed my life, really. Read them all in less than a year (a lot for me).

  2. This is indeed sad. He was talented, prolific, and inspirational--everything a great writer should be. He will be missed.

  3. Sad, one of the first old time sf authors I was introduced to, through Thieves World of all places.

    91 years is a pretty darn good run.

  4. Over at Steve Jackson Games, their eulogy contained an interesting note on PJF's take on gaming:

    He was perhaps best known for the Riverworld series, which we had the privilege of adapting for a GURPS supplement back in 1989. Farmer was a lot of fun to work with. He recognized gaming as a storytelling medium, and liked the idea that thousands of GMs would be setting their own stories in the Riverworld. The backstory of the series involves a technologically mediated "afterlife" for everyone who ever lived (including, of course, all the readers). I remember that he enjoyed the idea of a GM starting a campaign by telling the players "You're dead. What do you do now?" He also did us the huge compliment of making GURPS Riverworld the "series bible" for other authors writing Riverworld stories.

    GURPS Riverworld was one of my early RPG purchases--I'd never heard of the books or the author, but I thought the concept was monumentally cool. I've run a handful of short campaigns there since...and eventually got around to reading the books too. :)

  5. >of short campaigns<

    That was really the main thing keeping me from running a Riverworld game. I was daunted at how I could run more than a handful of games without either following the canon of the books (maybe eventually get characters to the Riverboat and join the crew - of course there were decades to be accounted for there), or having my own group be the ones who discovered the secrets of Riverworld, thus being a somewhat alternate version of the story.

    I feel group play beyond a three or four games would be difficult. And maybe even get boring. I mean, how much fishing, boating, and growth of industry mixed with the occasional fight and (perhaps) mysterious NPC shenannigans could a party take beyond several games?

    Perhaps much like a game like the original Metamorphosis Alpha, it is best as a short campaign with an "end game" separate from the original story.

    I loved Riverworld so much I gave World of Tiers a stab several years ago. Very interesting ideas therin. Unfortunatly, I found it much less compelling than RW, and got bored around page 90. Gotta give it another go one day.

  6. Farmer's output was very much a mixed-bag, which is fair enough given how much there was of it. But what was good was so damn good so as to let you forget the rest.

    The last billion pages of Riverworld were a bnit of a watse, but To Your Scattered Bodies Go is one of the boldest, most felicitous concepts for a story ever: Capt Sir Richard Francis Burton dies, falls in love with Alice in Wonderland, and battles Herman Goering. Again, his obsessions could get the better part of him (how many Tarzan-focused books can one man write?), but, again, that's all forgivable since it produced Tarzan Alive and the Wold-Newton Hypothesis.

    Here's one for Phil!

  7. He was one of the great ones! I've been reading through his works over the last couple of years. Great imagination and obviously an influence on the early days of RPG. Look at the second book of the world of Tiers if you want to see a bunch of great examples of special rooms (worlds actually) where physics work differently and complex traps worthy of any dungeon master.