Monday, April 22, 2024

"Heretic: Stories" by Philip José Farmer

Introduction to Heretic: Stories

by Philip José Farmer


The critic Leslie Fiedler called Philip José Farmer “the greatest science fiction writer ever” and Isaac Asimov proclaimed him as “a far more skillful writer than I am.” Farmer is widely considered to have broken the genres’ taboo with sexuality. His first significant publication, the novella “The Lovers” (Startling Stories, Aug. 1961), used sexuality—specifically a sexual relationship between a human male and an extraterrestrial—as a central theme, which would have been a volatile topic in mid-century America. According to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, “[‘The Lovers’] concerned xenobiology, parasitism and sex, an explosive mixture, certainly for the SF genre of that era.”

Farmer’s fiction was consistently critical of religion, too, which is where the title of this collection, Heretic, is derived. As a boy Farmer attended religious training in the Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science), but by 14 he had become an agnostic and later in life he described himself as an atheist. Farmer’s criticisms of religion, particularly how it segregates people by creating false differences, can be seen in much of his fiction, including the stories in this collection. He is best known for his Riverworld series—which features such luminaries as Richard Francis Burton and Mark Twain in a world where every person who has ever lived is resurrected into a world dominated by river valleys—and his World of Tiers series about parallel universes and the origins of humanity.

Farmer’s science fiction won three Hugo Awards—Best New SF Author or Artist, 1953; Best Novella, 1968, for “Riders of the Purple Wage”; and Best Novel, 1972, for To Your Scattered Bodies Go. He was awarded the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award from Science Fiction Writers of America and the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement.

Farmer’s birth name was Philip Josie Farmer. “Josie” was meant as an honor to his paternal grandmother, Josephine, but it he disliked it because of its feminine sound. As an adult Farmer legally changed his middle name to José, which he thought livened his rather bland and alliterative name: Philip Farmer. He was born in North Terre Haute, Indiana, on January 26, 1918, to George and Lucile Theodora Farmer (née Jackson). The Farmers moved frequently, at least six times, during the 1920s; living in Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois. In 1936, Farmer graduated from Peoria Central High School (Illinois) and enrolled at the University of Missouri, Columbia, where he studied journalism. He left school in 1937 to take a job with Illinois Power and Light—reportedly to help his father payoff a debt—and returned to school, Bradley Polytechnical Institute, in 1939 to study English literature. In 1941, he transferred back to the University of Missouri where his future wife, Elizabeth Virginia Andre, attended as a music student. He graduated with a B.A. in 1949 from Bradley in Peoria.

Philip and Elizabeth were married on May 10, 1941. The couple had two children, a son and daughter. Farmer volunteered to become a pilot with the Army Air Corps in 1941, but he was discharged and took a job with the Keystone Steel & Wire Co. where he worked until becoming a fulltime writer in the early-1950s. During much of the 1950s and 1960s Farmer worked as a technical writer for defense contractors, including General Electric, Motorola, and McDonnell-Douglas. He became a fulltime fiction writer in 1969.

Philip José Farmer died on February 25, 2009, in Peoria, Illinois.

The three stories included in Heretic—a novelette and two shorts—are excellent examples of Farmer’s best work: thoughtful, critical of authority and religion, and downright fun to read. “The Celestial Blueprint” (Fantastic Journey, July 1954) is an entertaining and ironic journey into religious zealotry, distrust, and revenge. The central theme of “How Deep the Grooves” (Amazing Stories, February 1963) is free will and absolute predestination; a thinking person’s dilemma written as highspeed entertainment. The final story is the novelette, “Tongues of the Moon” (Amazing Stories, September 1961), which is a space opera-like adventure—hasty pacing, space blasters, and explosions—with a serious look at nationalism and religion.

The cover was designed by


Click here to purchase the Kindle edition and here to purchase the trade paperback.

Philip José Farmer’s Heretic: Stories is the first volume in Vintage Lists’ 3 PLAY series, which is a line of high-quality books featuring three stories—every so often a bonus tale appears to keep things interesting—from authors both old and new. Each entry features stories from a single author with an emphasis on story quality. The books are short, anywhere between 95 and 120 pages and each is designed for readers with a discerning eye and a love of genre fiction—crime, mystery, horror, and science fiction—at its very best.

Plus, and this is a big thing, the books are designed for easy reading—paperbacks have an easy-to-read font size—and affordability in both paperback and electronic editions.


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