Tuesday, December 15, 2015


THE FORCE AWAKENS finally late Thursday night, December 17, 2015 and the Disney era of the STAR WARS phenomenon officially begins.  I find it so fascinating in my late 40s to watch the clamor build toward this film premiere because I have strong memories of the original and all that followed.  My interest lays equally in my desire to see where the story goes and my rubber-necking the global crowd chorus surrounding this monumental debut.

In law school we were taught that it was axiomatic that eyewitness testimony is the least reliable evidence.  Why is that?  Our memories are fickle and easily malleable and, thus, highly inaccurate without other objective evidence to support it.  An example relating to my point might be the nice gentleman who worked the check-out counter at a local Taco Bell just two days ago.  He noticed my son’s STAR WARS t-shirt and this triggered him to start up a conversation with me about the “new” STAR WARS movie coming out this week.  And while I talked to him he regaled me with his memories of people camped out at the theater waiting to buy their tickets back in 1977.  I was polite and just laughed about it with him but inside I was thinking back on that original opening weekend and, while I can’t say with absolute assuredness that he did not experience that, I strongly suspect he is conflating memories of the craziness surrounding the prequels with his memories of the original trilogy.  Even in 1977 terms, an opening weekend of $1.5 million, which was good, was not the sort of opening gross that supports the notion that people were camping out en masse for a movie that (1) they had little prior knowledge, and (2) was not even conceived of as a franchise or larger universe yet.  I mention this because the phenomenon that STAR WARS has become is widely based not on the films or the characters themselves but rather the “feelings” we associate with them.  STAR WARS is a phenomenon mostly because we associate, and recapture just a smidgeon of, a moment from our childhood where anything was possible and life was without the crushing weight of adult responsibility.  The fairy tale of our childhood nostalgia becomes connected to this fairy tale set in outer space and how it captured our collective imaginations and held onto it.  And like all fairy tales, they evolve and sometimes lose touch with the original version over time in the retelling.

There are plenty of resources out there that can recount in minute detail every step of the production of the original STAR WARS and the succeeding films, cartoons, novels, and…yes, one stupefyingly horrible television holiday special.  I want to focus specifically on my memories, as best and as accurately as I can be at this point, of the original STAR WARS.  I will leave it to others to discuss the colossal impact of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and how that last-minute second-draft exclusion of Luke’s father and inclusion of a new revelation about his father is the “Big Bang” moment where the phenomenon of the STAR WARS universe actually began.  I want to focus on this stand-alone movie that cookbooked itself along the structural path of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” monomyth and was a nostalgic attempt itself by George Lucas to capture the feelings he had as a child watching FLASH GORDON serials at the movie theater.  He wanted to reproduce that feeling for modern children.  It was also his attempt at upgrading science-fiction adventure film effects to a degree never seen before.  And maybe more than anything else, Lucas recognized the importance of sound in the experience than anyone before him.  Those of us who do have visceral memories of sitting down to see STAR WARS in the theater for the very first time will understand.  From the bombastic John Williams score to the rumble of a seemingly endless giant space ship coming into view for the first time to Darth Vader’s wheezing and threatening voice to the hum of the light sabers and the “pew-pew” of the laser blasters (something that has now replaced “bang-bang” in the childhood playground lexicon).  Lucas created more than just a movie, he created an experience—and with EMPIRE he gave birth to a phenomenon that has grown to maturity and moved on without him.  And by all accounts—if the current 9.5 out of 10 rating on IMDB is any indication—has surpassed him with the advent of THE FORCE AWAKENS.

Saturday, October 3, 2015


Recently Stephen Colbert featured the MBTI Personality Assessment on his new Late Show.  It triggered in me an idea to do a series of MBTI-oriented comic book cover parodies and this is my first foray into this series of Photoshop wonders:  THE ESTP AND THE INFP, which is perfectly encapsulated in Steve Ditko's super-hero brothers The Hawk (ESTP) and the Dove (INFP).  Enjoy.

Friday, August 14, 2015


★★★★ out of ★★★★★

Official Synopsis:  In the early 1960s, CIA agent Napoleon Solo and KGB operative Illya Kuryakin participate in a joint mission against a mysterious criminal organization, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

Director: Guy Ritchie
Writers: Guy Ritchie (screenplay), Lionel Wigram (screenplay)
Stars: Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer, Alicia Vikander

THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. film adaptation of the 1960's television spy series is pretty much a filmmaking class on how to properly do films based on old television series.  Director Guy Ritchie brings exciting stylized visuals and action sequences on a modern wide-screen scale.  Set in the early years of the Cold War (the early 1960s) the plot is a wry convolution of spy vs spy vs spy as the mysterious and deadly Soviet spy Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) is paired up with unflappable American rival Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) to stop a nuclear bomb from getting in the wrong hands.  The film sweeps in and out of tense action sequences, beautiful locations, explosions, and more plot-twisting and plot-turning than your average summer movie.  The film also delivers legitimately funny moments throughout which lends an air of fun to the proceedings without ever diving into jokes and gags.

Cavill's suave, dry Solo is charming and brilliant.  Hammer's Kuryakin is equally brilliant but has protective stoic walls in place as high and as girded as the Berlin Wall itself.  Their chemistry onscreen as partners and rivals perfectly translates the chemistry of the characters (and actors) from the television series without doing impressions.  The smartest thing to do in an adaptation like this is to give a modern flair to the storytelling but stay true to the characters, even if you add some new bits to their backgrounds, which they do in this "origin" story.   What Ritchie gets so right is that the point of adapting a beloved old television series (or even a comic book like THE FANTASTIC FOUR) is not to go meta on it or give it a new "twist" or try to darken it up or lighten it up.  There is a reason why characters stay in the public consciousness and that is because the public likes them and is interested in them.  When adapting them into a film, then the audience should expect the characters to at least "feel" right.   In THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., Ritchie has distilled the essence of the show's tone and what makes these characters connect with the audience.

As far as I'm concerned this was about as flawless of a television series adaptation as I've ever seen. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is my favorite movie of the summer hands down!  Cannot wait to go see it again.

*Not that it really matters in the scheme of things, but I did not notice a single instance of swearing or even coarse language throughout the entire movie.  For those parents who are concerned about that sort of thing, this is a pretty clean movie for a spy movie with a little implied sex and some well-done torture and kill moments.


Saturday, August 8, 2015


In light of the severe Tranking of the new FF movie, I think it's time for the geeks to unite and make our voices heard.
I'm making it a thing.

Friday, August 7, 2015


★1/2 out of ★★★★★

Official Synopsis:  Four young outsiders teleport to an alternate and dangerous universe which alters their physical form in shocking ways. The four must learn to harness their new abilities and work together to save Earth from a former friend turned enemy.

Director: Josh Trank
Writers: Simon Kinberg (screenplay), Jeremy Slater (screenplay), Josh Trank (screenplay) supposedly based on the works of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Stars: Miles Teller (Reed Richards), Kate Mara (Sue Storm), Michael B. Jordan (Johnny Storm), Jamie Bell (Ben Grimm), Toby Kebbell (Victor Von Doom), Reg. E. Cathey (Franklin Storm)

FANTASTIC FOUR is one of those movies that will probably have a Netflix documentary made about the production in about 20 years.  It is a bad fumble by a studio and talent that should never have messed up on this level.  My review is going to be in two-parts.  The first part is addressing the film on its own merits divorced from the source material.  The second part is a dissection of why the deviations from the source material sealed their....doom (pun intended).

I rewatched the, mostly derided, FANTASTIC FOUR film from 2005 last night as a prelude to watching this one today.  After watching both of them I can say that the 2005 version comes off pretty much like a super-hero sit-com with fairly cheap special f/x but enjoyable while the 2015 version comes off dark, depressing, and mostly incoherent.  The new film is a bait-and-switch, or at least it was for me, in that the first half of the movie was actually kind of interesting and intriguing.  Kicking off with Reed Richards as a young and brilliant child who has already cracked the code for teleportation—IF ONLY SOME ADULT WOULD LISTEN TO HIM!  He has a lifelong friend and protector in the less brilliant but implicitly athletic Ben Grimm.  In this version of the story, both come from clearly blue collar backgrounds somewhere unclear in the state of New York.  Reed's parents don't have a clue what to really do with him and Ben's family runs a salvage yard.  This is clearly supposed to set up a bit of a class conflict between Reed and Ben with the more upper class Storms (Sue and Johnny) and Victor von Doom. And in a better constructed film that might have actually been followed through more explicitly.

Dr. Franklin Storm, Sue and Johnny's father, is a scientist in charge of a program attempting to perfect human teleportation to explore an other-dimensional planet they have discovered and named Planet Zero.  Why Planet Zero?  The less questions you ask the more you will be able to handle this movie, so it's better you just don't ask.

Reed, Johnny, and Victor are the ones who decide after a night of imbibing that it's just not fair for the government to come in and use their technology to send some astronauts to Planet Zero and prevent them from being as famous as Neil Armstrong.  So they decide recklessly to do it themselves under cover of night.  Reed calls in Ben to tag along because, sure, that's what stupid college kids do.  Sue, being the only one with any semblance of responsibility is not aware of this scheme.

So our four reckless drunk numbskulls transport themselves to Planet Zero where it's all dark and spooky and then things start going completely to Hell as the ground starts quaking and glowing green liquid (lava?) starts spewing everywhere and they hightail it back to their teleportation machine.  But Victor doesn't make it, and when last we see him he is at the bottom of a mountain and his space suit is melting into his skin.  For some inexplicable reason, as the door starts to close on Ben a whole bunch of rocks from the planet start flying purposefully into his compartment.  Also, some flames appear out of nowhere and fly into Johnny's compartment.  Again, no reason given for these seemingly sentient actions by rocks and flame.  Also, during this, on our world Sue has become aware of what's happening and is trying to get these guys back by doing some sort of manual override of the remote return system.  And when it does return, there is an explosion and she's blasted invisible.

What follows after the return is eerie and creepy and the stuff of a horror sci-fi film.  What follows is a bit disturbing with the government taking control of the four and housing them separately where they are experimenting on them and studying them.  Franklin Storm is demanding to see his children.  And this is all very interesting up through the point where Reed breaks out, stretches his way in to see Ben and promises him that he'll fix things, and then runs away.

This is the point where the movie flashes a "ONE YEAR LATER" title card and an entirely different movie starts.  Whereas the first half of the movie had a clear narrative and developing characters and relationships along with a unique horrific tone to it, the second half of the movie is all over the place tonally and narratively.  Suddenly we've gone from something kind of haunting to a pretty run-of-the-mill super-hero movie.  And it makes no sense.  But then the government sends some astronauts to Planet Zero which means Doom has a chance to return here.  So he does.  And every gawdamned second he's on screen I wanted to set my hair on fire.  Visually he's ridiculous looking.  His motivations make no sense. His dialogue makes no sense.  His powers make no sense.  He's gone from being a somewhat vain aristocrat type to a skinny combination of the 1940s gasmask-wearing super-hero Sandman and Edvard Munch's "The Scream."  At one point, he's literally walking down a hallway and just looking at random people and their heads explode like we've walked into a SCANNERS movie.  However, at literally no point during the increasingly idiotic final act when Reed, Ben, Sue, and Johnny are fighting him on Planet Zero does Doom look at any of them and make their heads explode.

Seems to me if you're a psychotic robot man attempting to destroy Earth and you have the power to look at people and make their heads explode you might want to do that to the Fantastic Four if they're trying to stop you.  And yes, Doom is tryin g to destroy Earth but we have no idea why or how he's doing it.  First he says he just wants to return to Planet Zero and remake the planet into a kingdom he could rule but as soon as he gets his desire fulfilled he is suddenly making giant rocks fly up from the ground creating some blue electricity ring that starts creating a "black hole" (we know it is a "black hole" because thankfully Reed declared it so for the audience's sake) that is somehow now slowly sucking Earth through it into Planet Zero.  Now, I'm not sure Doom has thought this through fully because if I'm on Planet Zero I'm not thinking it's a very smart idea to then bring AN ENTIRE OTHER PLANET piece by piece ONTO my planet.   I doubt very much that anyone, including Doom, is going to survive that experience.  Also...THIS IS NOT HOW BLACK HOLES WORK!

Anyway, the good guys win. Doom is defeated.  And the Fantastic Four are created through one incredibly painful round of dialogue between our four heroes trying to come up with a name.  And they also never actually sayyyyy the words but instead they flash the title card up instead of allowing us to hear Reed speak it.  Reminiscent of Lois Lane not speaking the name "Superman" in MAN OF STEEL.

Now most people who keep up with the film-making scene know that the production on this film was in upheaval almost from the start.  It started with Fox needing to get a movie rushed into production quickly so that their Fantastic Four contractual license (bought cheaply way back when Marvel was in bankruptcy rather than the darling of Disney) did not lapse and return the rights to Marvel.  Then Fox handed a $120 million dollar budget to inexperienced young director Josh Trank and by all accounts a behind-the-scenes disaster went down.  Taking into account some of the rumors that swirled and within the context of the movie I just watched, I'm going to hazard a guess that the first half of the film was basically all Trank had inside him to give to this movie.  I think he basically hit a point where he was "done" but he still had an entire second half of a movie to construct and decided to just maybe not show up anymore.  The entire second half of the movie (other than maybe the heads blowing up) didn't seem like the same movie as the first half.  It felt like the kitchen had a whole lotta cooks playing around with the ingredients but nobody agreed upon what they were making or even which recipe to use.

Even within all that chaos, however, I have to admit that I like each of the main four actors.  If I was going to make a FANTASTIC FOUR movie but keep the characters substantially younger than their comic book counterparts, then I would be completely okay with these people.  They're giving it their best, but the chaos behind the scenes and shit-against-the-fan storytelling prevents them from ever rising up to catch a breath.  They drown along with the rest of the movie.

What gets my ire up about this mediocre at best movie is that the source material from the comics really does completely give them everything they needed to make a truly fantastic film.  The idea of using the Fantastic Four as the basis for a horror story about four individuals who are changed and twisted from within because of a science expedition gone awry is certainly fodder for a good story.  Ask Warren Ellis.  He did that in his ground-breaking series PLANETARY.  So, it's not an original idea.

An original idea would actually be to adapt specific storylines from the classic eras of the FANTASTIC FOUR comics.  The key here is that the FANTASTIC FOUR aren't really super-heroes so much as a family. They also are not tortured (altho Ben gets depressed sometimes).  The relationships are clear with the brotherly interaction between Sue, the older sibling, and Johnny the hot-headed younger.  We get to see the best-friend/brothers relationship of Reed and Ben.  Then there's the comic relief of the Johnny and Ben relationship as buddies who both love and hate each other at the same time.  These four are a family and the dynamics are like that of a family where frustrations and tempers can flare, but also each is completely devoted to the others to the point of self-sacrifice.  And this family is a family of explorers and adventurers.  They don't go on assignments for the government.  They don't go on patrol looking for criminals.  They seek out mysteries and explore the unknown.  Their enemies come to them, more often than not.  Doctor Doom is the would'a-could'a of the group.  He's the vain and megalomaniacal college classmate of Reed and Ben's who was always just a little bit less intelligent than Reed and through his own hubris mangled his face in an experiment.  When he returns on the scene after the Four have gained their powers, Doom has returned to his homeland of Latveria, a third-world country where he rules with a totalitarian control.

In other words, all the elements are right here for a relevant film about family, about wonder, about adventure, and maybe even a commentary on current world politics.   Where the first film adaptation failed was in going for superficial laughs over substance, this film failed because it did not embrace the large canvas it had available and made, instead, a very insular and small film.  It feels claustrophobic almost.  There's grand cgi spectacle in it but it all feels very small and limited.  The world of the Fantastic Four should be a world of excitement where anything is possible and mankind's potential is limitless.

The Fox bean-counters really need to reevaluate the cost-benefit analysis of whether it is in their best interest to keep dumping hundreds of millions of dollars down the shitter attempting to keep making movies that bear little more than the title in common with the Fantastic Four concept itself.  Take a cue from Sony and their recent Spider-Man deal with Marvel giving Marvel back the basic creative control of the films but retaining involvement and profit potential for Sony.  Imagine the marketing blitz available around 2020 after Marvel wraps up their Phase 3 with THE AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR PART 2 if Phase 4 was able to launch with "MARVEL'S THE FANTASTIC FOUR".

You don't even need to pay me for that million dollar idea, guys, but I wouldn't turn it down if you offered.

By the way, the following video is still the best FANTASTIC FOUR origin story ever done outside of the comics:


Wednesday, March 4, 2015


★★ out of ★★★★★

I never planned on seeing this movie and I most certainly was not planning to see it on Valentine's Day.  So, in the intervening couple of weeks since it premiered I have spent some time observing the reaction to the film and contemplating whether it was one of those awful movies that I should just bite the bullet and use my MoviePass to go see.  Of course, the danger is that I could walk in expecting the worst and end up with something like JUPITER ASCENDING which exceeded even that in its awfulness.  So I caved into my morbid curiosity and walked into a theater late last night to where I noted 4 other couples (kinky, I know) scattered strategically around the theater.  At this point in the rapidly collapsing attendance numbers, nobody was forced into sitting uncomfortably close to a stranger.

Oftentimes the first indicators of what I am about to endure in a theater is found in the movie trailers the powers-that-be have chosen to attach in front of the movie.  In this case, the ridiculously foul red band trailer for some upcoming Vince Vaughn movie and the regular trailer for TED 2.  That right there started lowering my expectations straight up.

Then the movie started and lo and behold, it is essentially EXACTLY what I expected.  Two fairly good actors caught like scared gerbils in a situation they can't get away from fast enough but giving it their best effort to find something resembling quality.  I'll say this, Dakota Johnson surprisingly brings a level of reality to her ridiculously simplistic character with the "laugh-out-loud" name of "Anastasia Steele."  The mere fact that anyone can say that name out loud without laughing (or cringing) is an impressive example of acting talent.  Jamie Dornan, as "Christian Grey," on the other hand, is trying his best but is unfortunately saddled with lines that would make Roger Corman turn over in his grave (if Corman were dead).  The absolute worst was Grey roaring "I'M FIFTY SHADES OF FUCKED UP!!!!"  And yes, I snorted embarrassingly out loud at that moment. I actually laughed inappropriately a number of times.

The movie almost kind of works as a parody.  The problem is that it is parodying itself so it is schizophrenically serious but ridiculous at the same time.  There were only 4 or 5 sex scenes crammed in between listless boredom. And the sex scenes were sometimes titillating, but that's all.  I was more distracted by the strategic cutting of the camera to avoid giving the movie an NC-17 rating by showing actual genitalia or penetration.  There is none to be had here. You will see more vagina in the half-second flash by Sharon Stone in BASIC INSTINCT.  Other than relentless lingering shots of both actors' nipples and butts, the most you are going to see is quick-flash glimpses of their pubic hair.  I also took note of Dornan's face being positioned way too far away to actually be doing to her what she was acting like he was doing and also his butt being positioned way too high for actual penetration (unless he's built like Long Dong Silver).  So, in other words, their efforts at simulating these "hot" sexual experiences resulted instead in an erotic detachment.  The single sex scene between Jennifer Lopez and her boy-toy in the mostly forgettable THE BOY NEXT DOOR was more graphically erotic than all the sex scenes in this movie.  I would almost say the movie would have benefited by going ahead and pursuing the NC-17.  At least it would have more authentically embraced its source material rather than a nervous self-parody.

Ultimately, however, if we want to analyze the controversial nature of the film, it is less disturbing because of the sex and more because of the psychologically abusive relationship.  Christian Grey was the victim of sexual abuse by a trusted adult who seduced him when he was 15 and used him as her submissive sex slave until he was 21.  She turned him into a sociopath who craves nothing but dominance.  He feels nothing but anger and pain and derives pleasure from inflicting it.  In fact, near the end when he is whipping Anastasia with a belt, the camera keeps cutting back to the clothed Christian reacting absurdly like Rob Schneider's "Orgasm Guy" on Saturday Night Live.  None of this justifies Christian's psychological raping of the young Anastasia's mind.  By being the shy introverted bookworm's first sexual experience and her first boyfriend, like all sexual abusers, he is replicating his own abuse with her.  Only now, he is the victimizer.  He becomes obsessed with her, to be sure, but there is no emotional connection on his end and she, being so inexperienced and naive, begins to mistake her attraction to him for love -- which is what he wants.  When the sociopathic abuser can make his victim think she loves him, then he has achieved his goal. He has her caught in his web where he can now feed on her at his leisure and on his terms.  Even in the end when she rejects him, there is no sense that she is leaving for good.  He has her where he wants her.  He knows she will always return.  And, like a good sociopath, this is all he really wants. There is no give and take in the relationship because there is no real relationship.  She serves a purpose for him and him alone and he does not have any concern for pleasuring her -- except as a means to further attach her to him.  All of this, by the way, is contrary to any real understanding of BDSM as a lifestyle between committed couples.  In Grey's case, the BDSM is merely an intriguing tool of seduction so the emotional vampire can be satiated and he can convince himself that he is powerful and in control (as a reaction to the 6 years he was a powerless victim himself).

It's all quite preposterous that so much of his time could be spent in these endeavors all while achieving billionaire status by age 27 and barely be seen spending any time actually doing his job.  I never believed him in that role as opposed to Anastasia's role as shy college student with butchered bangs -- she was imminently believable.  And from a personal standpoint, after actually seeing this, it is pretty shocking to me that the fantasy of subjugation by a sociopathic abuser appears to be the preferred fantasy of so many women out there. It is so contrary to what I would desire for any woman I care about.  In the end, however, the film itself suffers from the worst sin possible -- it is dull and boring most of the time.  It was less than 2 hours but felt like 3 and that's pretty bad.  I think there was an approach here that could have been good, but it would have required a wholesale rewrite of the entire story so that we actually got real characters and not caricatures.  They chose to play it safe, however, so that the studio could be more confident of making a profit.  But artistically, this is a movie that thinks it is clever just to frame shots and sets with a lot of gray.  It would have benefited from a director with a real personal style and approach who could have given this movie a heightened reality sense -- brought us into another world that is more exciting than our own.  A better director could have made us feel the pleasure and taste the sensations so we would find ourselves in Anastasia's place and experiencing her attraction and revulsion.  Instead, we got lingering shots of boobs, butts, abs, and watery Christian Grey eyes with no sparkle and a smarmy boyish smirk.

FIFTY SHADES OF GREY is watchable but forgettable and not anything I can really recommend.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

OLD FASHIONED Film Review ★★ out of ★★★★★

★★ out of ★★★★★

This is a movie about 2 damaged people who take a less-than-normal path to fall in love. It's no spoiler to say that they fall in love. This is an intentional and explicitly "Christian Romance" movie marketed, in very groan-inducing ways, as a Christian alternative to FIFTY SHADES OF GREY (a film I should be seeing in a few days for contrast).

The plot, such as it is, tells the story of Clay and Amber. Amber, just off an emotionally and physically abusive relationship takes off on her own to a small town to start over. There she rents the upstairs apartment owned by Clay who also owns the antique store below. Amber is worldly wise and outgoing. Clay is an odd introverted duck who keeps to himself and conducts himself insufferably with an odd set of obnoxiously off-putting rules about his interactions with women. For 9 years, he has holed himself up like a hermit and annoyed the living Hell out of everyone around him with using God, the Bible, and his made-up rules about courtship, love, and marriage as a barrier to expressing any real emotion or allowing himself to be emotionally vulnerable or intimate with a woman on any level.

Why, you may ask? A really bad break-up.

So, the movie is really about us watching this completely self-absorbed paragon of self-appointed virtue lording his bizarre fake chivalry under the guise of respecting Amber, when he's actually disrespecting her. What he is actually doing is using his obsessive compulsive disorder and fear of attachment issues as a "Rebel Without A Cause" outcast with deeply hidden feelings as fishbait to hook her attention and then proceeds to demand that if she wants to be with him she has to cowtow to his endless, and inconsistent (sometimes incoherent) absurd list of rules.

He is surrounded by his long-suffering best friends. One of whom is in a committed long-term relationship (unmarried) and raising their child together. The other is an obnoxious radio talk-show host supposedly in the style of the revolting misogynistic Tom Leykis Show. Unfortunately, this being a Christian movie, the guy's show is actually just absurdly hilarious in how tame it actually is even though everyone listening acts like it's incredibly offensive.

 They also surround Amber with 2 new friends who I have to assume he just cast from the pews of some random local church. Ugh. Oh yes, also Clay takes care of his elderly Aunt who had me wanting to leave the theater if she said "tuh-maters" one more damn time!!!! 
75% of this movie is excruciating. Basically anything that involved the lead actor, the writing, the directing, and producing (coincidentally the same guy, Rik Swartzwelder, for all of that) made me want to set my hair on fire. The other 25% that was not excruciating was because of the very charming and likeable lead actress, Elizabeth Roberts and the moment near the end where the annoying Aunt finally tells Clay off about what an incredible twit he is and how his narcissistic self-absorption is preventing him from living the life God put him on this planet for in the first place.

Basically, the deal is, there is a good movie idea buried in here. The flaws that make it excruciating to watch are the result of the execution of the idea and the eyeroll-inducing sepia-warm filter placed on the outdoor scenes, and the rocking chairs on the porch, and the grating soft guitar pluck music played under every conversation. And the dialogue is so hackneyed that I was cringing half the time. Really, only Elizabeth Roberts seems to be able to rise above the script to bring some sparkle and energy to an otherwise listlessly paced story.
 But that good idea kept poking at me as I watched it. I kept wondering to myself as my mind wandered at times about how this could be so easily turned into something awesome. First of all, it needed to have a sense of humor! This movie is so relentlessly serious it is painful. This is a crazy guy obsessed with being "old-fashioned". Have some fun with that!!! Second, they need to hand that script over to director Paul Feig (who directed BRIDESMAIDS among others) and let him massage the script and find those points where real circumstantial and character humor would best fit. Then dump this cast completely and replace them like this: Amber needs to be Jennifer Aniston. Clay needs to be Owen Wilson. Clays best friends need to be Kevin Hart as his good friend in the long-term relationship and Bradley Cooper needs to play the misogynistic radio host. Cloris Leachman needs to be the annoying aunt.

Hollywood really needs to take this and run with it. I think the idea of a guy and a girl damaged by life and love and one of them decides he is going to obsessively (and obnoxiously) commit himself to a distorted form of chivalry that never actually existed is gold. But this version of it should never have made it into theaters. It is, at best, a discount bin DVD in a Christian bookstore movie or something you might check out from your own church library.

I really can't recommend it because 75% excruciating is really too much for most people to waste their $10-$15 on. But then again, I did see JUPITER ASCENDING....and it made this movie seem like CITIZEN KANE, so.... maybe some of you might want to see it. I don't want to see it again.

Friday, February 13, 2015



I THINK, THEREFORE I COLOR is the first (of hopefully many more) official publication under the INTELLIGENT DESIGNS™ imprint.  For only $9.99 this educational coloring book features striking caricatures of 50 notable philosophers everyone should know. Spanning the ages from 551 BCE to the modern day, these great thinkers and teachers deserve your awareness and your mad coloring skills!

You might ask why I would say in the title of this coloring book that “you should know” these 50 individuals.  I believe philosophy is a very important field of study that strongly differentiates us humans from other animals.  We, of all the animals, have abstract minds that contemplate the unknown and even the unknowable.  In philosophy, oftentimes the questions being asked are much more important than the answers that may or may not come.  Philosophy can be a mirror of our own lives, which are wild journeys of discovery, if we all just open our minds’ eyes to see. Like great poetry that inspires our emotions, studying philosophy inspires the mind and the heart by sending our creative tendencies inward where all personal growth begins.  I believe putting a human face to it (through this series of caricatures) is a good way to associate and remember basic philosophical understanding.

The purpose of this coloring book is simply to have a little fun while also being educated.  As many a parent knows, sometimes the only way to get a child to eat her peas is to hide them inside bites of mashed potatoes.  The best teachers and students realize that learning is much more effective when it is also fun. Faces are interesting to look at and are fun to color—and the backgrounds are open to your limitless imagination!  So, if you complete this coloring book you will be exposed in chronological format to 50 great philosophers from Confucius to Camille Paglia. 

The criteria used for choosing these particular 50 is entirely based on my personal preferences.  This is not to say that inclusion in this book is endorsement of their philosophies but to acknowledge that their influence is, or was, very important and influential.  Some of those included are not commonly listed as “philosophers” but I made sure that I could find academic support recognizing, and encouraging acknowledgement of, each one as an influential philosopher of note.

I have included with each entry the person‘s birth and death dates, a selected field or school of philosophy that they are recognized for, a few highlights of their personal interests, and a personally selected quote.  I’ve included a Footnotes section that provides sources for each quote but can also serve as a de facto “Suggested Reading” section for anyone wishing to dig deeper into these individuals and their philosophies.  The Glossary pages define some key terms used in this book so that colorists who are new to philosophical musings can enhance their understanding.

Anyone from age 13 to 130 should be able to enjoy this book as much as I enjoyed creating it.  Let your imagination run away with you on the backgrounds and soak in a little bit of key info about these great thinkers that you may or may not already be aware of.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Philip José Farmer: His Apocalyptic Life (AN ARCHIVE INTERVIEW FROM 1990)

Those who know me also probably know that my favorite author is the late Philip José Farmer. There are a number of reasons why. Among them are his many instances of deliberately playing with Jungian archetypes and pulp mythology. But also, there’s just such a mischievous charm to everything he wrote and eyes open to the absurdities of humanity. He was constantly challenging literary and genre expectations — "pushing the envelope", so to speak. Phil was also writing for himself first and the audience second. As a result, his work reflects him and his inner workings much more than many authors who are cynically driven to compose based on audience expectations. That’s not to say he did not pursue the almighty dollar, but he struck a fine balance of a working author (making money at it) and a broad-minded thinker and feeler who wrote first and foremost because he had stuff in his head that needed to get out.

Oddly, however, I had never even heard his name nor read any of his books or stories prior to 1990 until I read this interview I am about to share. It was a lengthy two-part interview with Phil in the now-defunct STARLOG magazine that got my attention. All the topics and points-of-view just sang to me that we were operating on a similar wavelength. When I was done with that article, I set out on a quest to find some of this man’s books. And at this point, I own and have read every novel he wrote (except his hard to find 1962 novel about race relations Fire and The Night) and probably most every short story (or at least all I could get my hands on).

It’s taken me a couple of years since I first thought about it, but I'm finally getting around to publishing this blog. The timing inspiration for it is that Phil Farmer was born on January 26, 1918 in Terra Haute, Indiana, and I wanted to make this available to existing fans, but also the uninitiated, during his birth month as my simple way of remembering him and his work. Since STARLOG is long out of print and this article ran so long ago (pre-Information Age), the ability to access this rather exhaustive glimpse into Phil’s mind at age 71 is not an easy task if you did not purchase these magazine issues off the newsstand at the time they came out. I did make an effort to contact the current owners of the STARLOG brand to see if they were interested in sashaying alongside with me on this endeavor but they never responded. I did, however, contact by email the author Will Murray, who actually conducted the interview with Phil to make sure that he had no issue with my reproducing the text in this venue.  Mr. Murray kindly granted whatever permission rights he might have as the writer, so under Fair Use for archival and research purposes only, I present Will Murray’s interview with Philip José Farmer from 1990, originally published in STARLOG magazine issues 155 and 156. I claim no copyright on the interview text and reserve all content rights to the respective rights holders.

*Stay tuned for a few notes by me at the end. For now, enjoy this time capsule of sorts.*

STARLOG #155 (June 1990)


Part One

If Philip Jose Farmer had only written The Lovers, his place in science fiction would be secure. But after revolutionizing the field with his sexually explicit and psychologically sophisticated debut novella, he has since gone on to become one of the major creative forces in contemporary fiction and, some say, in 20th century popular literature. From his Riverworld books, in which immortal historical figures wend their way along a 10-million-mile river on a distant world, to his World of Tiers series with

its many "pocket universes" created by ruthless Lords, Farmer has demonstrated a creative energy more akin to coruscating stellar explosions than mere prose writing. Not content with his own series — which tumble from his seemingly inexhaustible imagination so rapidly that not all of them have been resolved — Farmer has also continued the careers of several of his childhood pulp heroes, in both pastiches and pastiche-like "biographies" — Tarzan Alive and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, written as if those characters were real — which Farmer claims, not always with tongue in cheek, is true.

STARLOG: You're contracted to write a new Doc Savage novel. How did that come about?

PHILIP JOSE FARMER: When I wrote Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, I hoped I would be able to do an original Doc Savage some day. I already had the title — Escape from Loki, in which Doc at age 16 lied about his age to get into the US Air Service, and was captured by the Germans [during World War I]. His plane was shot down, and he was one of those incorrigible escapees. The Germans had a special camp called Camp Loki, situated in Bavaria, near Berchtesgaden, where they sent all these prisoners that they particularly had trouble with, sort of an escape-proof concentration camp. That's where Doc met his future aides. And they were prisoners for about two months. You know, I had it in the table of chronology, too.

STARLOG: So, you've been planning this a long time.

FARMER: I originally proposed it after I wrote Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life in 1973. But Bantam wouldn't do it because they said they still had too many Doc Savage books to reprint, so I waited until they were getting close to the end. Proposed it again, and the editor, Lou Aronica, agreed with the premise. So, I signed the contract. And that's the novel I'm starting to work on right now. It'll be the first one I've ever written on a word processor, by the way!

This excites me because when I was a youth, I knew I was going to be a writer. I always wanted to write a Tarzan novel, a Doc Savage novel, an Oz novel and a Phineas Fogg novel. This will mean I've fulfilled all my childhood fantasies, except for the Tarzan novel. And I have to wait for 1999, in which case I'll be what, 81 years old or something like that! [Laughs.] I pick 1999 because I think that's the date in which Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. loses the rights, but I could write it maybe a couple of years from now and put it in the trunk.

STARLOG: When you were doing your Doc Caliban stories, you weren't merely doing pastiches. You were also doing Doc Savage as filtered through Philip José Farmer's imagination.

FARMER: Yes, giving the darker side that [Savage writer/creator] Lester Dent and the others couldn't put in the magazine. They had some taboos and restrictions because they were aimed at the stereotype of a 15-year-old youth.

STARLOG: So, will Escape from Loki slant more toward your psychological point-of-view or Dent's?

FARMER: There isn't going to be any sex in it, if that's what you're asking. I won't be trying to imitate the styles of any of the Doc Savage writers. I'll be using my own style — whatever that is, because I have a number of different styles.

STARLOG: So, it won't be as realistic in tone as Doc Caliban?

FARMER: It will be realistic in that I'll try to imagine Doc as he really was at age 16. He's pretty advanced in knowledge at that time, but of course he hasn't nearly completed his education and there is much he still doesn't know. I would also like to elaborate the characters of his aides more. There are some contradictions in the books that you must reconcile, so you have to figure that the earlier books probably tell the truth. For instance, in the first two Doc Savage books, he's not at all adverse to violence. He kills them right and left. In later ones, probably because of editorial dictates, Doc became very careful about killing anybody and wouldn't do it unless absolutely necessary. He usually set up traps. In effect, the villains killed themselves because they committed their evil actions.

STARLOG: Will Doc Savage's father be in this book?

FARMER: He'll be mentioned, but he won't be in it.

STARLOG: Recently, a writer used one of your Doc Savage ideas from Apocalyptic Life, apparently unaware that it wasn't part of the original pulp magazine series.

FARMER: I was making notes for Escape from Loki when a fan of mine, a French woman up in Canada who's also a Doc Savage fan, sent me a copy of the DC Comics Doc Savage Annual. It contained the section in which Doc Savage was captured and sent to this prison camp and met his aides.

And they had some things in there which I had originated and which were not in the books. It may have been due to ignorance. Or it may have been that they just didn't care. I don't know. Anyway, the point is they took all that from Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life, but when my novel comes out [currently scheduled for spring 1991], people will think that I lifted the idea and I don't want that!

STARLOG: What is it about these pulp characters that keeps you coming back to them? Is that the kid still inside you?

FARMER: Yeah. William Wordsworth said that the child is the father to the man, and I believe that. They talk about golden ages. Well, it's not when you retire, past 60. Usually, when you have a good childhood, it's when you were a child and starting to read all these fabulous works. It's an imprinting that affects particular children because they have a vivid imagination and love this stuff. You know the concept. When a duckling is hatched, it usually fastens onto its mother as the mother because that's the first object it sees. But if it doesn't see the mother, and somebody else comes walking by, it picks that as the mother. So, they call that imprinting. And I was imprinted by certain heroes of my earlier reading, like Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes, the Oz books in general. I was just 15 when I read the first Doc Savage when it came out and I was all aglow. And I used to imagine all these Doc Savage adventures which are quite separate from the ones in the books. I decided that someday I would like to continue the adventures of these people, but never really thought about it until after I had gotten my writing career started. I think it really started when Bantam began reprinting the first Doc Savage books [in 1964]. I know that seems peculiar to many people, but it stimulated me so much.

STARLOG: Yet you keep coming back to these childhood heroes, as if you're driven or haunted or motivated by these characters as much as your own.

FARMER: I really can't explain the psychological basis, except to say that in my own particular idiosyncratic personality, that stuff was all generated spontaneously. I never looked into its roots, but other people started wondering why. It seemed to me just a natural thing to do. The trouble is, there are many people interested in these heroes I write about, and they made a big thing out of it, sometimes to the detriment of my other work. My other work is getting recognized, but by a different type of people. But most of the publicity is about the pastiches I write.

STARLOG: Does that bother you?

FARMER: I don't care. Whatever they want.

STARLOG: Is it that you're trying to satisfy the mature reader in you by creating more plausible versions of these characters?

FARMER: Well, I think the idea was when I was young and read about these people, I accepted them on the terms that the authors presented them. As I got older, and had more experiences with people— I also did a tremendous amount of reading in all other fields including psychology— I started to extrapolate and deduce from my observations that Tarzan, Doc Savage and others probably had a darker side to their nature than the pulp writers could present.

STARLOG: What compels you to do that?

FARMER: It's just that I am a science fiction writer. I like to extrapolate, to pick up a certain premise or a certain person and develop that— figure out certain tendencies that may be present and what would result from them.

STARLOG: Once you chronicle Doc Savage's early days, would you then write a quintessential Doc novel, set in the '30s, without the psycho-sexual overtones of your Doc Caliban/Lord Grandrith pastiches like A Feast Unknown and The Mad Goblin/Lord of the Trees!

FARMER: Yeah, I would love to do it, but I don't know if I ever will, or if they'll allow me, as far as that goes. That would be fun. Even A Feast Unknown, which has been called pornographic — it's not; it's erotic — was a funny book. But none of the novels I wrote for Essex House turn people on. If anything, they might repulse people, shock 'em. A Feast Unknown actually was a funny book. I know some people, friends of mine, laughed when they read it. They knew I'd had my tongue in my cheek. And in The Image of the Beast, I was satirizing the Gothic novel, the horror novel and pornography itself. It stretched things out.

A Feast Unknown did allow me to extrapolate some of the harshness of if there had been a real Tarzan, what he would have gone through. For instance, during periods of famine when he couldn't find any food, he was reduced to eating animal excrement. He said elephant wasn't too bad, but lion was terrible because he was a meat-eater! I laughed when I wrote that, but it might have been actually what the real Tarzan did. He's not what we would call a noble savage. He wasn't even a savage. He was raised by these so-called Great Apes, and while he was born a human in his attitude — and [writer/creator Edgar Rice] Burroughs stresses this at times — he never would have been fully human. Tarzan would have looked at the world through the eyes of a higher animal, and would have done, in order to survive, things most people wouldn't be able to do. They would be repulsed.

STARLOG: What's the status of your next Doc Caliban novel, Some Unspeakable Threshold!

FARMER: Well, it would be better to use the word stasis instead of status. [Laughs.] It's an idea I had which I hope I'll live long enough to develop. Actually, it springs primarily from Up From Earth's Center, in which Doc Savage, we think — he wasn't sure either — met supernatural beings. He was at least in the suburbs of Hell for a while. So, since I wasn't allowed to write Doc Savage novels personally — that may change — in this pastiche, I was going to carry that idea out and have a sequel to it, but at the same time, it would be a development of the story that started in A Feast Unknown, with Doc Caliban disguised as an old man living in the skid row section of LA, still hiding from the Nine, and then have him go back to that place in New England.

STARLOG: If you get permission to write more Docs, would you consider turning Some Unspeakable Threshold into a Doc Savage novel?

FARMER: I really won't know unless I'm presented with it. This one Doc I want to write may be the only one, really. Although I'm bubbling over and fermenting with ideas and projects, time limits you. That might just be it, having accomplished my childhood fantasy.

STARLOG: Didn't you at one point write a Doc Savage screenplay?

FARMER: I was invited by George Pal to do a treatment, not a screenplay. I went out there and I met Ron Ely. I saw the movie before it was released. George Pal told me that the head of Warner Bros, at that time didn't like Doc Savage. I read the original script. It was much more complicated and costly than what he ended up with. One thing was the villain's yacht. He pressed the button, and it became a sailing vessel. You could disguise it. I had great hopes for the movie. Till I saw it! [Laughs.] Pal couldn't get anybody interested in a second one. So, the treatment went untreated!

STARLOG: Was it an original work, or an adaptation?

FARMER: You're going to have to excuse my memory. It was a story in which this new mechanism or death ray dissolves people, but their image is projected onto walls. I used that as the basis and used elements from other stories.

STARLOG: That was Murder Mirage. Why that one? It wasn't a Lester Dent novel. Laurence Donovan wrote it.

FARMER: It just happened to appeal to me. I don't care who it's by. It was a Doc Savage novel, a pretty typical one. It had some stimulating elements I could do something with. I wish they had made a movie out of it. Man, we had a great fight. Their laboratory headquarters was invaded. I thought up many devices that hadn't been in the Doc Savage books. It would have made a tremendous scene. I think the first movie destroyed all hopes. In essence, Pal treated as camp what was already camp.

STARLOG: If you do get around to writing a Tarzan novel, what kind of story would you do?

FARMER: I would take one of the undeveloped stories in the Burroughs Tarzan books. There's one where he is wandering across the desert and finds this skeleton still clad in 16th or 17th century armor with a parchment map. He went off in one direction, but I would have him going off another way. It would be sort of a compromise between Lord Grandrith in A Feast Unknown and Tarzan. Be pretty realistic. But if I do write it, and I probably never will because of lack of time, I would want to make this a definitive Tarzan novel.

STARLOG: Speaking of Tarzan, you started a series set in Burroughs' Opar some years ago, and promised two or three more novels. Will you ever do them?

FARMER: I'm determined to finish that sequel. It's a matter of getting to it. I got an Italian translation the other day with a magnificent cover. That renewed my desire to continue. It hadn't really gone away; it just stimulated me again. I had planned three more novels. I'm kind of superstitious. I think if you write a series, it should either be three or five or seven, odd numbers. It's well known that the best of Beethoven's symphonies are all odd numbers.

STARLOG: It has been speculated that one of the characters in your Opar books is the same as the unidentified hero of Time's Last Gift. Who is he?

FARMER: There's a mysterious character known as the God of Time and Bronze in my ancient Opar books. He taught them about fire and how to make bronze and all that. The curious thing— and I don't think I actually mentioned this— is that the use of the bow is taboo. It's against their religion. I got that because in Burroughs' Opar stories, the Oparians never had a bow. I figured it must have been some taboo. It's obvious to anybody who has read Time's Last Gift that this God is the time traveler who's back in that period because in Time's Last Gift, he went back to approximately 1200 BC and the Opar series takes place around 10,000 BC. He's supposed to have actually started the civilization. And that time traveler is Tarzan.

Next Issue: This apocalyptic interview continues as Philip Jose Farmer discusses the World of Tiers, "retiring" his novels and (yes) the scripts he wrote for Star Trek in 1966.


STARLOG #156 (July 1990)


Part Two

Philip José Farmer discussed in detail last issue his fascination with childhood heroes, pulp supermen like Tarzan and Doc Savage, what they mean to him, why they recur so often in his work, and how this fascination has led him to writing a new Doc Savage novel for Bantam Books.

In this concluding conversation, Farmer takes us on a tour of his "other" career as an important science fiction novelist from his troubled early days to his current plans to finish his many series, with brushes along the way with Star Trek, the film versions of Riverworld and Dayworld and the importance of dreaming creatively. And Farmer shares some surprising assessments of many of his most important novels.

STARLOG: What's your next project after the new Doc Savage novel Escape from Loki?

PHILIP JOSE FARMER: It's a novel called Red Orc's Rage, which I don't know if publishers will regard as mainstream or fantasy. I got a letter from a psychiatrist in Youngstown, Ohio. He treated a select group of troubled adolescents who suffered from low self-esteem and all sorts of emotional problems. He told them to take the five books from my World of Tiers series, read them, pick out a character to identify with and try to become these particular characters— acquire the good characteristics if they could. As the therapy proceeds, they were to try to come back to Earth in a sense, shed the particular character's bad characteristics and keep the good. He said he had an amazingly high success rate. Out of a group of 14, he had only two failures. This is very high for psychiatric care. He also had a small group of mild schizophrenics who did the same thing. When he told me, I thought, hey, that would be a great idea for a story. I can pick my own character — in the book — and put the stress on him. So, I wrote an outline and sent it out. The idea of an author writing a story based on real therapy which originated from his works intrigues me. There's that circular thing.

STARLOG: Why call it Red Orc's Rage!

FARMER: If you know the poet William Blake's works, one of the deities in it is Red Orc. That's the one my protagonist in this novel picks as a role. It's set up so you don't know if it was his vivid imagination or if he did go through these other Earths because these patients had various ways of getting through to the worlds. Now, one patient took all five books, taped them together and used them as his power pack. And then about two-thirds through the therapy, when starting to shed the characteristics, he would tear the covers off one day and a page here and there until finally it was all gone. But the curious thing about this therapy was once they had gotten through it, they didn't dare think about it because sometimes they would get flashbacks and they would be back at these imagined situations.

STARLOG: You were involved in the original Star Trek TV series, with a script called "The Shadow of Space," which you later turned into a short story.

FARMER: Yes. And one called "Sketches in the Ruins of My Mind." I was living in LA at the time. Gene Roddenberry was just starting Star Trek. It hadn't been broadcast on TV yet. I met him a number of times and talked, with him. I also did a 100-page guide for it, telling them what was feasible, what wasn't, what to avoid, and the potentialities. They paid me for it, but never used it. Wish I had a copy of it. Be a nice collector's item. Then, I presented two treatments. He said his criterion is what his little old maiden aunt in Iowa would understand, and he said, "She would not understand these." And they were too expensive. So, I went back to writing novels. I should have kept on sending other treatments because there were many other science fiction writers who did.

STARLOG: But for that, you might have become one of the major creative forces behind Star Trek.

FARMER: Well, looking back on it now, I can see that he was probably right— especially for TV. "Sketches in the Ruins of My Mind" originally involved a little idol that Captain Kirk had picked up in the ruins of a planet. It turns out to be a device that makes you lose memory two days in a row and you keep going backwards. Kirk wakes up and he thinks that it's two days before he woke up. He's completely confused and then his memory keeps dropping out day by day. So, every time he wakes up in the morning, it's two days [earlier], but eventually it's a year before, and he's in a new situation. I changed that when I turned it into a short story. I had this gigantic spaceship appear and the aliens were electromagnetically sucking out people's memories in order to store them for study. Everybody in the world woke up thinking it was the day before, and then you keep going back and back and back until your youth — and then back and back until you become a baby. The civilization had partly collapsed. They eventually blow this object up before they all become so young in mind that they're incapable of doing anything. It is a grim, horrible story.

And then the other one was basically "The Shadow of Space" except the crew was Star Trek. They said, "No, the audience wouldn't get it." I don't think they could put "Sketches" across in a full-length movie!

STARLOG: There has been talk of film and TV versions of Riverworld and Dayworld. Anything happening now?

FARMER: Actually, what they bought was the short story "The Sliced-Crosswise-Only-on-Tuesday World," which formed the basis of the Dayworld novels. But they have the rights to the novels. It was Castle Rock Productions. They were going to do Stephen King's Stand By Me then, so they put that[Dayworld] on the back burner. I thought the whole thing had died, but recently I heard that they had written a new script and were thinking of going ahead. I don't get excited about it because they might do it, and then again, they might not.

Now with Riverworld, it ended up they were going to do a TV mini-series. Two networks turned it down. The ABC president at that time took a look at the treatment presented and said OK. They did a script for the two-hour pilot. This was done by the same guy who wrote the script for Roots — I can't remember his name. I read it and it was pretty good, especially since it was written by somebody who didn't know science fiction. Except even then it seemed to me, if somebody came in at the middle, they wouldn't know what was going on. Not only that, one of the characters is named Peter Jairus Frigate — obviously based on myself— and they decided that had pornographic connotations, so they changed it to Quentin. They decided they wouldn't have any children resurrected because they were too difficult to deal with. And of course, being on TV, they weren't going to show them nude. They would all have towels. He did a really good job starting out, and I am curious how he would have finished it.

STARLOG: Is the project dead?

FARMER: Eventually, it just petered out. As far as I know, they still have the rights for a couple of years. But Riverworld would be extremely difficult to present on TV. I would rather see a motion picture made out of it, but even then, it would be difficult. Riverworld is such a big concept, I don't see how they can put it in a two-hour movie.

STARLOG: Have we seen the last of Riverworld?

FARMER: I originally planned only three, but I ended up with five novels. I might change my mind. But I doubt it. Too many things going on. Too many worlds in collision up inside my skull. I did actually plan a non-Riverworld story with the same people after they set out in a spaceship from the
Riverworld, but I'll never do it.

STARLOG: Are you getting a sense of time running out? You have many unfinished series and sequels you could write.

FARMER: Yes, I'm 71 now. I don't know how long I will live. I would like to go back and finish up some of the series I started earlier. I don't plan on starting any new series. I would like to finish the Doc Caliban/Lord Grandrith series. Actually, one time I counted them. Counting short story series, I have about 12 series going. Some of it I never did anything further. Too bad! [Laughs.]

STARLOG: How would you assess your writing career?

FARMER: I did the same thing in science fiction I had hoped to do when I became a mainstream writer. I was pretty naive. I was sending stories to The Saturday Evening Post and others with sexual content, now that I look back on it, that made it mandatory they reject it. I decided I wasn't getting anyplace. The trouble is when I started out writing mainstream, I really hadn't lived enough to be able to do it. Now I have and I want to write a novel set in the early '50s, after the GIs came back to college. Met the wildest group I ever met in my life— and I've worked in a lot of places— at Bradley University after the war was over. It's called Pearl Diving in Old Peoria. It's actually the story of a family, descended from the whiskey barons of Peoria that has fallen on bad times. At one time, Peoria had the biggest distillery in the world. The novel is much more involved than that.

STARLOG: If your eye doctor told you your sight was failing and you had only a year or two in which to write, which projects would you finish?

FARMER: I would write my mainstream novel, Pearl Diving in Old Peoria. Yeah. In a year, I would be lucky to get it done. It would take two years to write it! Really hard to decide what to do. I have many ideas. That Tarzan novel I was talking about [last issue]. Maybe! I don't like to be presented with these type of situations. Maybe I would launch into another science fiction novel. I had the germ of an idea for a novel that would include all the themes that are being used in science fiction now plus a couple of others that haven't been.

STARLOG: What do you think your impact upon science fiction has been?

FARMER: Originally, I think it was to open science fiction to a more mature treatment, a more realistic one. Since then, the impact has been on certain readers who reacted to my particular type. There are readers who don't like me, and there are others who are lukewarm, and there are others who are fanatic about it. I never really had a cult like Ray Bradbury or Frank Herbert did because I don't stick to one note. Bradbury, he had about three different themes, I think, and he repeats and repeats. But, of course, he's a great writer. I have done what I have wanted to for the moment and ranged all over the field, from adventure to deep psychology. I never made any effort to stick to one world or one set of characters. I wouldn't want a cult around me. I wouldn't have been happy. [It would have] been too confining.

STARLOG: Do the potentialities of SF still excite you as a writer?

FARMER: Oh, yeah. I get excited. I think nowadays many new ideas or new variations of old ideas are being written. I will continue to be excited because the human imagination, as far as I'm concerned, is basically boundless. If I don't get excited about a story, I don't want to write it.

STARLOG: If you had your life to live over again, how would you change the direction of your career?

FARMER: In the first place, I would have made a [much greater] effort to get a PhD in anthropology. I had a much-checkered college career, due to the Depression and the war. The furthest I got was halfway through a master's degree in English linguistics. But I would kind of like to be an archeologist or a layman.

STARLOG: You mean, you wouldn't write?

FARMER: Oh yeah, I would write. But I would have supported myself in other ways — working in a steel mill or in a dairy or as a tech writer. The idea is I would have a good profession, but at the same time, I would write just as I did when I worked in the steel mill. Evenings, weekdays and holidays, I was writing then.

If I had become a professor of anthropology, I probably would have worked on mainstream more. I have a natural tendency toward anthropology. I do an immense amount of reading on it. If I had gone in another direction, that's the direction. Strange customs and trying to reconstruct the past instead of the future.

STARLOG: That is the reverse of what you do. In Stations of Nightmare, you wrote, "People get the kind of science fiction writer they deserve." What did you mean and do you consider Philip José Farmer the kind of science fiction writer people deserve?

FARMER: I don't know. Maybe no one deserves that! [Laughs.] I had forgotten that quote. It was just one of these things I made up, didn't mean anything, except maybe to me. People's moods vary. Sometimes I'm pretty optimistic, sometimes pessimistic, even cynical. I recently read a book by Gary Wolfe, who's a teacher and one of the foremost science fiction literary critics. He pointed out something that I was probably subconsciously aware of, but didn't really know until he mentioned it. And that is the structuring effect that fans have on the science fiction writer because they expect certain types of science fiction. They reject anything outside that. That's probably the basis of that statement, which I made a long time before I ever read that and must have known unconsciously.

STARLOG: Do you still subscribe to that quote?

FARMER: Well, I think I broke free when I parted with Putnam's. At one point, my editors suggested it would be a good idea to dumb down my books. They were making the suggestion to other people. The present readers, they felt — they might not have been talking about the core fandom, but about the vast body of readers that we actually depend upon for a living — they felt they were illiterate and didn't catch the references to history or art. And I think that's true, too, because before they ever said that, if I made a literary reference, I would explain it. I really think that for the majority of my readers, it's necessary that I tell them what I'm talking about.

STARLOG: If they were going to burn every copy of your books, which ones would you rescue from the flames?

FARMER: I would stand there full of indecision and finally cast myself on the fire.

STARLOG: That's a great answer, but it doesn't satisfy the question.

FARMER: No, because it can't be satisfied. I just couldn't do it. I would burn myself up and solve the problem that way.

STARLOG: Well, let's turn the question around. Which ones would you happily burn?

FARMER: You mean my minor ones I might want to retire, which I'm actually trying to do right now? When they go out of print, I'm just going to keep them out.

STARLOG: Which ones are those? Why?

FARMER: Well, the ones that are not my best. They might be entertaining, like The Stone God Awakens and Cache From Outer Space, which I had entitled The Long Trail and [editor/publisher] Don Wollheim renamed Love Song, even though I still think that had some good psychological stuff in it. There are some others. I've written so many I can't remember them all. But I'm in the process, as they come out of print, of retiring them.

STARLOG: What's the point of that? If your readers want to read them, who are you to say that they aren't good books?

FARMER: Well, that's a good point. But I'm going to do it anyway! [Laughs.] I'll think about it.

STARLOG: Let's look back on some of your books. What do you think of them now? Let's start with Fire in the Night.

FARMER: On rereading it, I still think it was a good book. It was ahead of its time in regards to black-white relations. It was actually set in a steel mill based on the one I worked in Peoria. I've made a few proposals to get it reprinted, but now they say it has been done. But it hasn't. I have steeled myself to face the fact that it won't be reprinted.

STARLOG: Timestop?

FARMER: That's one of the books I was going to retire. Just didn't think it was up to my others. But like you say, who am I to judge? [Laughs.]


FARMER: I kind of liked that when I first wrote it, but I don't know. I might retire that, too. It needs a sequel, but I'm not going to write it. I like the idea. The development was crude. I haven't read it in years.

STARLOG: Is it strange rereading your old work?

FARMER: Yeah, I read my earlier books and wish I had written them a little differently, more polished, more smooth. I see things I missed that I could have done.

STARLOG: If you could rewrite one book, which would it be?

FARMER: I can think of a number of them. [Laughs.] I guess people still like The Green Odyssey. I was thinking of retiring that, but I don't think I could, because I had so much fun writing it. And [Astounding editor] John Campbell turned it down for one of his own idiosyncratic reasons. He said, "Well, you portrayed essentially medieval people as dirty, uncivilized and barbaric, but you don't give them any credit for what they did in architecture and art." Well, that wasn't the book's point. So, I sent it to Ballantine and they took it. I had the satisfaction of holding a copy of it and walking past Campbell once, but he probably didn't remember! [Laughs.] It was a fun book and I liked the concept of the ship on wheels.

STARLOG: Let's continue. Flesh!

FARMER: I had fun writing it. That was the only one of the Galaxy Beacon stories that [editor] H.L. Gold felt compelled to censor. He cut out some parts. I'm lazy. I never got around to putting them back in. Maybe because I lost them.

STARLOG: Traitor to the Living!

FARMER: I would retire that. It was wide open for a sequel, but I'll never do it. Our hero ended up in a woman's body. Since then, others have taken up that theme.

STARLOG: Wind Whales of Ishmael?

FARMER: Drop that, too.

STARLOG: Many of your readers will be very unhappy. What about Night of Light!

FARMER: I would keep that. That's one of my favorites, especially the early part. The first section originally appeared as a magazine story. That's another series I never finished. I left Father John Carmody hanging up there in outer space with an egg growing from his chest. Planned at least two more stories. I have the idea for the next one, but never got around to it.

STARLOG: Jesus on Mars!

FARMER: I would like to see that reprinted. As a matter of fact, I would like to see it get some distribution. I can't get the rights back because it's hung up in the bankruptcy case with Pinnacle [which published it].

STARLOG: Have you retired The Mad Goblin/Lord of the Trees?

FARMER: No. That's the publishing world. I didn't want to retire that. I loved writing it. I want to finish the series.

STARLOG: What about Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life!

FARMER: It's retired right now. I want to revise it and correct some mistakes. The timing is perfect. I'll propose it, then we'll see.

STARLOG: Venus on the Half-Shell?

FARMER: I definitely want to keep that in print. I wrote it in six weeks and never had so much fun in all my life, except for The Adventure of the Peerless Peer. There are philosophical implications in there that are quite serious. Again, it's because I had so much fun writing it.

STARLOG: Many people still don't know you wrote Venus on the Half-Shell, which appeared under Kilgore Trout's name.

FARMER: It's really a Farmerian book. If Kurt Vonnegut had refused to let me write it as Kilgore Trout, I would have written it anyway under my own name because it did not really depend on Kilgore Trout. I just wrote it as I thought Kilgore Trout would have — minus the bad grammar and spelling mistakes! [Laughs.]

STARLOG: What prompted you to pastiche a living writer like Vonnegut?

FARMER: At that time, I was a great admirer of Vonnegut's works— and I still am of his earlier stuff — but there was a scene in his God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, where the shyster is at this airport stand and he picks up one of Trout’s books, and it was the only one that didn’t explain the plot. It had a blurb on the back page from the text, a picture of the author and one passage, a couple of paragraphs. And I got to thinking, most people would think Trout is entirely fictional. Now wouldn’t it blow their minds if a novel by him appeared, one that was already named in one of Vonnegut’s books? It took me a year to convince Vonnegut, and then I wrote it. Then, he got pissed off because so many people thought he had written it. Some people said it was Vonnegut. Some people said it was Philip Dick. Some people thought it was Barry Malzberg because in the beginning, the hero and the girl friend are having sex and not enjoying it, and that’s typical of Marlzberg! [Laughs.] [Since this interview—prompted by interviewer Will Murray’s evident horror at Farmer’s plan to “retire” certain books—Farmer has changed his mind. He informed STARLOG shortly before presstime that he’s going to keep as many novels available as possible, letting readers decide if they’re as good as other Farmer books.]

STARLOG: If you were asked to make up a suggested Philip José Farmer reading list of, say, six titles, which would you select?

FARMER: Let me see. For humor, Venus on the Half-Shell. That represents one range. Lord Tyger. Let’s exclude the two biographies. You know, I’ve written 65 books! [Chuckles.] Of course, many of them are collections of short stories. The collection called Riverworld and Other Stories or The Book of Philip José Farmer. I don’t know. Or maybe The Grand Adventure from Byron Preiss. Probably The Unreasoning Mask, which didn’t seem to do well, even though many critics thought it was one of my best. It was one of my favorites. It's hard to think of a lot of them. Damn! Even I can't remember all of my books! [Chuckles.] Either one of the first two Riverworlds — probably To Your Scattered Bodies Go. It's too bad The Fabulous Riverboat wasn't printed with it in one volume, because I like that, too. I hate to eliminate any of the World of Tiers. I might, on reconsideration, change [the list].

STARLOG: What happened to your planned novelization of Fantastic Voyage II!

FARMER: That deal was the one that fell through and almost wrecked my career again. NAL was going to put up about a million bucks. Isaac Asimov didn't want to do it, so I was suggested. I thought it would be a great idea. I wrote the novel, did a vast amount of research in anatomy and physiology for it. The basic idea was provided by Jerome Bixby who wrote a treatment for a screenplay. I was supposed to more or less follow that. It became obvious after I had written it that NAL was getting cold feet. They still had me do a rewrite. I was halfway through that when I talked with the editor who was very cold and distant. I felt something was going on, but I had to finish it. And they rejected it. They didn't want anything more to do with the deal or anybody. So, I think they were sinking too much money into it. Anyway, the movie company was going to get another publisher. This went on for a long time and we went through some agonizing things. I would have made a lot of money on it. I did it as a writer for hire, not on my own. I took an initial advance, but that was it. And as far as I know, that novel may never be published. Doubleday and the movie company both have the rights and they're thinking about not publishing it, or using it for the movie's basis. Ike Asimov [who wrote another sequel Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain] read it and said, "Great. Go ahead and publish it." So, it's hung up.

STARLOG: There isn't some way you could rewrite it and salvage it?

FARMER: No. There are some ideas I would like to use as short stories, but my agent said, "No, don't do it," because legally, they have the rights to everything in it. I lost two years and went through a lot of spiritual and emotional agony. It plunged me into a depression and gave me a lack of confidence, even though logically, I know it shouldn't. Authors, writers, painters are funny people. Temperamentally unstable. This was so big and reminded me of that Korshak deal. They weren't trying to cheat me, they just wanted to cancel. I put a lot of time in there, writing and rewriting. It reminded me of the Korshak deal because he had me writing and rewriting a book that didn't need to be rewritten, wasn't supposed to be rewritten.

STARLOG: Korshak?

FARMER: This was the Shasta International Fantasy Award Contest, back in '52, right after The Lovers came out.

STARLOG: Oh, right. Your prototype Riverworld novel won and was going to be published by Shasta, except they went bankrupt. There was a sort of lost period in your career due to that debacle.

FARMER: I had become a fulltime writer and I couldn't write anything else because he had me rewriting this thing. I wasn't getting any money. Finally, when it all broke loose, I still continued to be a fulltime writer. But we were too far behind with debts. So, even though I wrote some stories before I went back to work, it wasn't enough.

STARLOG: That must have been tough, since you thought you had put the working world behind you.

FARMER: Yeah, especially after 13 years in the steel mill! [Laughs.] I worked as a common laborer in a milk dairy. Then, I was able to get a job as a tech writer up in Syracuse, New York, with GE. On the basis that I was a college graduate and I wrote science fiction, they assumed I knew a lot about electronics. I studied while I was working and kept one step ahead of the job. By the time I quit tech writing, I knew a lot!

STARLOG: You have one of the most boundless and unfettered imaginations in the field. Where does it come from?

FARMER: Well, it's difficult to explain. I think that some people are born with more extensive, wilder imaginations than others. I just happen to be born with it. None of my brothers or sisters have it.

STARLOG: I understand you get many of your ideas from dreams.

FARMER: Well, "Sail On! Sail On!" was originally from a dream I had in '52 in which I saw a caravel of Prince John the Navigator sailing along. On the poop deck was a radio shack with a man in a monk's robe with earphones. He had a crystal set, a gap transmitter, and he was tapping out a message. I got to thinking about that dream, and so I wrote "Sail On, Sail On!" only I changed it so that it was Columbus' fleet that was setting out and the radio operator was a monk of the order of St. Francis and he was transmitting a call for help. In the story, they actually sailed over the edge of the Earth because it was flat.

STARLOG: What other stories or novels derive from dreams?

FARMER: For Dayworld, the original of the short story that formed the series' basis is very funny. It didn't seem to have any connection to my ideas later. I was pushing through the mists — in many of my dreams, I start out in a mist or fog and emerge into the open— and I emerged into a jungle and there was a little native village there. And in the doorway of each of these round bamboo huts were these tall, thin, gaunt blue-skinned natives. They all looked like they were dead, but they were still moving. Then, I woke up. Somehow, my mind leaped to the idea for ''The Sliced-Crosswise-Only-on-Tuesday World" where population and pollution problems are solved by dividing the world into sevenths. On one day, say Monday, the population which had been in suspended animation, would come to life and live that day. Close to midnight they would go back, and Tuesday would take over. That was the basis for that idea, but it's hard to see the connection. Except they were standing in the doorway, which may correspond to the cylinders in the story, and they were dead but they could move.

STARLOG: Did the World of Tiers series come out of a dream?

FARMER: I'm glad you asked that. I thought of the original idea when I was still going to high school. Never did anything with it then. It was an artificial pocket universe in which there was one Babylonian-shaped planet. I don't know whether I thought it up and wrote it down or had a dream about it. Anyway, the hero, Kickaha, was originally an American Indian, and he was going along the edge of the world there. He had all sorts of adventures which I wrote down in a notebook, which I don't have anymore. But I never forgot the idea. So, many, many years later, I incorporated it into The Makers of Universes, only this time, Kickaha was an American youth who came back from World War II, a Hoosier, same initials as mine. Paul Janus Finnegan, or Kickaha, is what I would like to be, but am not. Riverworld's Peter Jairus Frigate is more like I am, although I'm somewhere between the two. More closer to Frigate than Finnegan, unfortunately. [Laughs.] The whole idea derives from something I had written in '35 or '36.

I finally decided I would write the story, and I did. It wasn't until the third novel, A Private Cosmos, that I got the idea of incorporating it into William Blake's didactic and symbolic work. I never said anything about the connection, but people who knew these works, and there aren't too many, could tell from the names of some of the Lords that they were derived from Blake. Then, I started shaping the connections between them, which will be revealed in the last World of Tiers series, which is also mentioned in Red Orc's Rage.

STARLOG: How many further World of Tiers novels are planned?

FARMER: In a sense, this mainstream novel, Red Orc's Rage, is a World of Tiers novel. But I plan one or two more. If I can finish it up in the next one, OK. If not, two more. I will tackle that first chance I get. I get more mail on the Worlds of Tiers series than on Riverworld.

STARLOG: What will the final World of Tiers novel be called?

FARMER: It originally was The Garden of Evil, though I may write one before that. I think the next one will be Kickaha's World, and then The Garden of Evil. Unless I decide to incorporate them and make one novel and just finish it.

STARLOG: Are you under contract to do either of those?

FARMER: No. I haven't proposed them yet. I'll probably have to write Red Orc's Rage if I get a contract for that. But I first have got to write the Doc Savage novel. Maybe I can finish something in my life! [Laughs.]