Philip Josť Farmer

Subterranean Press


588pp/$45/March 2009 

The Other in the Mirror
Cover by Bob Eggleton

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Philip Josť Farmer died at age 91 on February 25.  Recognized in 2000 with the SFWA Grand Master Award and the following year with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the World Fantasy Convention, Farmer was also the recipient of three Hugo Awards, including one in 1953 for Most Promising New Talent. Farmer was, perhaps, best known for his Riverworld series and his World of Tiers series, but he also wrote numerous tributes to the Victorian era adventure novels and the pulps which provided him with so much of his own leisure reading.  The Other in the Mirror collects two of his lesser known novels, the non-science fiction Fire in the Night and the science fiction Night of Light, with his better known Jesus on Mars.

The book's editor, Christopher Paul Carey, notes that "all three [novels] are united by one of sf's central tropes, that of The Other." In Fire in the Night, the Other is, theoretically, Vashti Virgil, the black woman who protagonist and narrator Danny Alliger finds himself working along side during World War II.  However, Danny is every bit as much the Other as Vashti.  While the majority of the workers at Helsget's Steel and Wire Company are African-Americans, Danny is Caucasian, a former university student specializing in marine biology who is only working in a civilian position because of the damage he did to himself when suffering from the bends during his all-too-short military career.

Fire in the Night plays on Dante's Divine Comedy, with Danny Alliger a stand in for Dante Alighieri and Vashti Virgil as his guide, although rather than a guided tour through the layers of Hell, Vashti leads Dante on an exploration of racial relations as Danny and Vashti begin to get to know each other and become more comfortable with each other.  At the same time, Danny's disregard for Vashti's strong religious beliefs form as much a barrier as the difference in their color or their education.

In Jesus on Mars, unmanned probes discover evidence of alien life on Mars and a manned mission is sent as a follow-up.  What the new mission discovers is the Krsh, a race that visited Earth at the time of Jesus.  Bringing a small population of humans with them, they settled on Mars and founded a society which followed Jewish practices, although they viewed Jesus as a Messiah, although not as divine.  Eventually, the human mission discovers that a man claiming to be Jesus lives among the Krsh.  As the crew handles their discovery in different ways, ranging from conversion to suicide, the Krsh plan on Jesus' return to Earth.  In this case, the Other turns out to be exactly, or almost exactly, what the human race claims it had been waiting for.

The third novel, Night of Light, also has links to the Divine Comedy, set on the planet "Dante's Joy," also called Kareen.  Religion also plays a major role in Night of Light with a trinity of mother (Boonta) and two sons (Yess and Algul), who represent good and evil.  John Carmody, an amoral psychopathic murder, arrives on the planet with the intent on killing Yess.  While Farmer does rely on many of the philosophical underpinnings that appear in his other works, there is a certain amount of potboiler thriller in Night of Light as Carmody's assassination plan progresses and Yess's intention to have all of Kareen undergo the Night of Light, which has the potential of wiping out more than 75% of the planet's population.

While the overarching theme of the Other in these three novels exists, it isn't the primary idea of any of the novels.  Religion figures prominently in all three, although in Fire in the Night the religion is quite a different factor than in either of the two science fiction novels with which it shares the volumes.  The primary link of these books is the fact that all three have been out of print and were written by Philip Josť Farmer.

Fire in the Night
Jesus on Mars
Night of Light

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