Interview with Christopher Paul Carey
February 22, 2009

In the past few years Subterranean Press has published the following books by Phil Farmer: The Best of Philip José Farmer (2006), Pearls from Peoria (2006), Up from the Bottomless Pit and Other Stories (2007) and Venus on the Half-Shell and Others (2008).

These very successful books are followed up in June 2009 by a new omnibus, The Other in the Mirror, with three classic Farmer novels: Fire and the Night, Jesus on Mars and Night of Light.

Why these three novels?
According to the publisher's site: "All three are united by one of SF’s central tropes, that of The Other."
What "Other"?

Who better to ask these and other questions than the editor of this omnibus, Christopher Paul Carey.
Chris also edited the last two of the above listed books from Subterranean Press.

Q: Was it your idea or the publisher's to publish the omnibus The Other in the Mirror, how did it came together?

Chris: First off, 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.

Q: 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)?

Chris: While Fire and the Night, Jesus 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.

Q: What has the Mirror in the title to do with The Other?

Chris: 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 hand.

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 Dick's The 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 Night of Light. It's the Hegelian dialectic of thesis, antithesis, synthesis. That's how we learn things, and that's what Farmer is illustrating in these three novels.
Bob Eggleton's beautiful wrap around cover illustration.
(Used with permission from Bob.)
Q: You have written a foreword for the omnibus. Will there be more introductions by others, like the publisher announced about a year ago?

Chris: 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.

Q: You are the editor, so obviously you would recommend this book. But can you tell us why the readers should buy this one?

Chris: 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 him.

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 they belong.

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 story' or a 'humorous pastiche' for instance. Although you can read and 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!

© Zacharias L.A. Nuninga -- Page last updated: 09-06-2010