Christopher Paul Carey
Was it your idea
or the publisher's to publish the omnibus The Other in the Mirror,
how did it came together?
thanks for your interest in The
Other in the Mirror. I think we have a unique omnibus here
that both longtime Philip José Farmer readers and those new
to his work will enjoy.
With regards to your question, Bill Schafer of Subterranean Press
wanted to do another Farmer collection, this one with three novels, so
he ran the idea by me, as well as Mike Croteau, Phil's webmaster and
publisher of Farmerphile:
The Magazine of Philip José Farmer. We were looking for
three novels that hadn't been available for a while but that were also
"quintessential Farmer" of high quality.
What was the idea of selecting these three very different books for the
omnibus? Why not an omnibus of three titles that belong together, like
the Dayworld series for instance? Or a combined edition of all the
Father Carmody stories (Night
of Light and Father
to the Stars)?
While Fire and the Night,
on Mars, and Night
of Light are
in fact quite different novels in many aspects, they are at the same
time strongly united in terms of theme. Oftentimes Phil's very artful
thematic explorations have been drowned out by oversimplified
perceptions of the pop culture references he frequently chose to work
with. For instance, everybody knows that Phil wrote pastiches of Tarzan
and Doc Savage, but few critics—with a couple notable
exceptions—have plumbed the subtle depths of the themes he
explored in those novels, which are really quite innovative and
relevant. The current omnibus, by focusing more on theme than series,
allowed for the opportunity to drive that point home, to
present to the science fiction readership in
general, and Farmer readers specifically, a venue
by which they could appreciate one of the larger themes that Philip José
Farmer, a Grand Master in science fiction and fantasy, chose to explore
in his over half a century of writing.
The theme of The Other unites all three novels in The Other in the Mirror.
Besides being an important topic in
philosophy and psychology, The Other is perhaps the single most
important theme in all of science fiction literature. And yet that
theme has rarely been associated with Farmer's
work, despite the tremendous amount of work he's done with it. In her
1975 essay "American SF and The Other," Ursula K. Le Guin pointed out
the ham-handed approach many authors took when engaging the theme and
yet Farmer was quite openly dealing with The Other in a sophisticated
manner since the beginning of his SF career in the early 1950s. This
omnibus points that out and addresses the critical oversight.
What has the Mirror in the title to do with The Other?
The "mirror" in the title refers to the two-way perception that
permeates any discussion of the theme of The Other, but in particular
in the three stories in the current omnibus. In general, this plays out
on at least a couple of levels. One, almost without fail, we perceive
ourselves in The Other. That is, we see ourselves mirrored back when we
try to get a glimpse of something that is different from ourselves. The
very act of perception is subjective. Two, only after we have gone
through the process of seeing ourselves in The Other—and
conversely, seeing The Other in ourselves—does the
opportunity open up for us to gain some sort of real understanding of
that something beyond ourselves. For instance, in Fire and the Night
this plays out with the protagonist, Danny Alliger. At first the
character believes himself to be free of race prejudice only to
discover later that he carries around much repressed guilt that is nigh
impossible to shake. His efforts to bridge the gap between himself and
The Other takes him to places he never expected to visit and brings him
much pain. But it also brings him understanding. And that's another
theme recurrent in Farmer's work: pain and understanding go hand in
The "mirror" also pops up in the final two novels in the omnibus. In Jesus on Mars,
the Martians turn out to be a mirror for the protagonist Richard Orme
and his crew, who come from Earth to investigate a space ship that an
automated probe has photographed on the surface of Mars. The whole
novel is an exploration of perception, of how Orme comes to question
who is more human, the Martians or the Earthlings. Farmer achieves this
by juxtaposing the Earthlings' modern religious attitudes and the
Martians' ultraorthodox Christianity. The novel reminds me a lot of
Transmigration of Timothy Archer,
and I think it's as good of a book, if not better. It certainly has as
many mind-bending twists as a Philip K. Dick novel.
Bob Eggleton, by
the way, captures the whole essence of Jesus on Mars
extremely well with his fantastic cover illustration for the omnibus.
The metallic exterior of the space ship, instead of merely reflecting
the red Martian surface, is also shot through with a very earthly pale
blue. It ties together the whole anthology in a way that's as subtle
and yet boldly imaginative as the manner with which Farmer conveys the
theme of The Other in these three books.
Of course, the "mirror" manifests in Night of Light as
well, this time
in the form of protagonist John Carmody's conscience. A strange solar
phenomenon affects the planet in the book, Dante's Joy, causing a
person's darkest nightmares to vomit forth as very real manifestations.
So Carmody's conscience acts as a mirror to reflect his own guilt, not
just psychologically, but also physically. And from the point of view
of the aliens, Carmody is The Other, and without his alien nature they
can't achieve their goal of birthing their god. Both sides need each
other to create a third thing. So, like in the first two novels in The
Other in the Mirror, Farmer plays three sides of a coin in
of Light. It's the Hegelian dialectic of thesis,
synthesis. That's how we learn things, and that's what Farmer is
illustrating in these three novels.
Eggleton's beautiful wrap around cover illustration.
(Used with permission from Bob.)
You have written a foreword for the omnibus. Will there be more
introductions by others, like the publisher announced about a year ago?
The idea of multiple introductions was floated but abandoned when it
became clear the overall introduction to the book would cover all three
novels and tie together their central theme. Three more introductions
would have brought about too much repetition.
You are the editor, so obviously you would recommend this book. But can
you tell us why the readers should buy this one?
First up, Fire and the
Night is rare! It's only seen one U.S. printing back in
1962, and a Portuguese language edition in 1995. Few Farmer fans have
had a chance to read it, and yet the novel is one of the author's most
literary, and his only example of novel-length mainstream fiction.
Obviously much has changed in American society since 1962, but Phil's
exploration of racial conflict is still pertinent today. Phil and Bette
Farmer have long wanted to see this novel back in print, and I was
happy to be a part of making that happen. Phil has had a long history
of standing up against prejudice, and I think the novel means a lot to
As far back as the classic "The Lovers," which introduced a mature
handling of sex to science fiction, Farmer has always had a unique way
of seeing things and of putting them together on the printed page. All
three novels in The
Other in the Mirror are superb examples of that mindset,
which can only be described as Farmerian. If the thought of reading
something daring and different doesn't grab you, there's not much else
I can do for you! But seriously, with the new omnibus, I believe both
Farmer's fans and the general reader will come away with an
appreciation for the author's knack for storytelling and his compelling
way of dealing with the deeper issues of what it means to be human. I'm
honored to help bring these lost classics back into the spotlight where
Thanks for your questions, Rias!
Thank you Chris, for the interview!
I always want to read Phil's novels and stories again sometime. Because
there is more to his writing than the outer layer often shows. His
stories are not only just another 'adventure', an 'erotic
or a 'humorous pastiche' for instance. Although you can read
enjoy them as such. With your perceptive description you have given me
even more reason to read these three novels again. And much sooner than
'sometime'. Thanks again!