Philip José Farmer was born on January 26, 1918 in North Terre Haute, Indiana. He grew up in Peoria, Illinois, where he spent much of his childhood reading everything from the Bible and books on mythology to the classics by Baum, Carroll, Cervantes, Defoe, Dickens, Homer, London, Swift, and Twain to popular works by Burroughs, Doyle, Haggard, Verne, and Wells.
He sold his first story, a mainstream tale titled “O’Brien and Obrenov,” to Adventure in 1946 before he decided to try his hand at science fiction. His next published story, “The Lovers,” appeared in the August 1952 issue of Startling Stories, and is noted for breaking the taboo on sex in science fiction, as well as for earning Farmer a Hugo Award for “Most Promising New Talent.”
Married and with two children, he soon quit his job to become a full-time writer, but after selling several more stories to the science fiction pulps, his career hit a stumbling block when he “won” the Shasta Prize Novel Contest. The grand prize was four thousand dollars (a lot of money in 1953), but he never received his winnings. Instead, the publisher asked Farmer for rewrites while the prize money was invested in another book, which bombed. By the time the truth came out, Farmer had lost his house and was forced to take up manual labor full time.
Farmer left Peoria with his family in 1956 and moved around the country working as a technical writer for the space-defense industry, eventually ending up in Beverly Hills, California in 1965. All the while he continued to write and sell science fiction short stories and novels, launching his popular World of Tiers series and even winning a second Hugo Award for the novella “Riders of the Purple Wage.” Then, just before the moon landing in 1969, he was laid off from his technical writing job, so he decided to write fiction full time once again. This time it stuck.
In 1970, Farmer moved back to Peoria with his family and again his career began to take off, this time with a third Hugo Award win, for To Your Scattered Bodies Go, the opening novel in his bestselling Riverworld series. For the next few years, Farmer sought inspiration from the popular literature he so loved, writing novels such as The Mad Goblin (a Doc Savage pastiche), Lord of the Trees and Lord Tyger (both Tarzan pastiches), The Wind Whales of Ishmael (a science fiction sequel to Moby-Dick), The Other Log of Phileas Fogg (the “true” story behind Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days), and Venus on the Half-Shell (written as if by Kilgore Trout, a character from the works of Kurt Vonnegut). He also wrote two “biographies” during this period: Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.
The next two decades saw the publication of the Dayworld trilogy, as well as the last installments in the Riverworld and World of Tiers series. Farmer also fulfilled his lifelong ambition to write authorized Oz, Doc Savage, and Tarzan novels with the publication of A Barnstormer in Oz, Escape from Loki, and The Dark Heart of Time. Late in his career, Farmer switched genres with Nothing Burns in Hell, a detective novel set in his hometown of Peoria.
After Farmer retired from writing in 1999, new collections such as Pearls from Peoria and Up from the Bottomless Pit and Other Stories continued to appear, as did new collaborative works such as The Evil in Pemberley House (with Win Scott Eckert) and The Song of Kwasin (with Christopher Paul Carey).
Philip José Farmer passed away on February 25, 2009, but his fan base is as ardent as ever, ensuring that his works will continue to be reprinted and enjoyed by readers for generations to come.
Visit Philip José Farmer’s official website at www.pjfarmer.com.