Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Down the river with Philip José Farmer and Tom Mix

In the 1970s I read a lot of science fiction, and Philip José Farmer was one of my favorite authors.

During that decade Farmer published 25 books, not to mention the stories published in science fiction magazines. He was prolific, and I felt that when he was at his best (the Riverworld series, or the World of Tiers books) no one could top him for his imagination.

But the Riverworld stories and books remain my favorite. I read “Riverworld,” the novelette that introduced the world to the series in a copy of the January, 1966 issue of Worlds of Tomorrow, which a friend gave me to read when it was new. I thought the story had a fascinating concept. It made me remember it when the first novel in the series, To Your Scattered Bodies Go, was published in 1972. I told my friends to read it, touting Farmer’s  talents with the same religious zeal as Mormon missionaries promoting their faith. (As with any missionary work, it was hit and miss as far as creating converts, but no one slammed the door in my face.)

First printing of the novel, with cover by Richard Powell.

“Riverworld” is about Tom Mix and his travels down the river that gives the world its name. In a nutshell, a catastrophe has ended life on Earth, and much later, every human who ever lived is resurrected on that gigantic planet. To Your Scattered Bodies Go has the British explorer, Sir Richard Francis Burton, as its protagonist. A hint of Burton’s future involvement in the book is given in a couple of paragraphs in the novelette.

Tom Mix, who was a man born in the 19th century, was a true 20th century man who made his fame from appearing in Western movies, most of them during the silent era. In 1940 he died in his fancy 1937 Cord when it overturned on an Arizona highway.

Mix was a cowboy born in Pennsylvania.

In an interesting turn of events, Mix “lived on” on after his death in a radio series, which was popular from the 1930s into the 1950s (Mix was never on the radio, because of his voice. He was portrayed by actors.) He was also star of a long-lived comic book published by Fawcett until 1953.

This is the story “Riverworld” in page scans I found on the Internet Archive from the issue of Worlds of Tomorrow.

Copyright © 1966 Galaxy Publishing Co.

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