Tag Archives: philip jose farmer

Lockdown Stories No 20 – The Brasher Bat

This is number 20 of my lockdown stories: The Brasher Bat. Sorry this is a week late, but life intervened, and in any case it is twice as long as the usual stories.

This is a Wold Newton story. Author Phil Farmer extended the Game played by Sherlock Holmes scholars of pretending the stories and characters were real by adding dozens of other characters in popular fiction and claiming they are all members of an extended family. This has since been extended enormously by other authors – visit the Wold Newton website for more details or buy the classic reference books Crossovers, Cr ossovers expanded, Shadowmen and Myths for the Modern World.

MY starting point was the fact that P G Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler attended the same school – Dulwich College. Wodehouse left in 1900 and Chandler started the same year. Although there is no evidence they met, I’ve imagined Chandler starting early and Wodehouse staying on for a cricket tournament.

Knowing Wodehouse had written a story The Gold Bat based on Dulwich, which had characters called O’Hara (KIpling’s Kim’s surname) Moriarty, and Ruthven (the vampire in Polidori’s story) allowed me to add in lots of other fictional characters including and ancestor of Giles from Buffy, several people from the Holmes canon, and the cast of the Billy Bunter stories. I won’t say any more to take away the fun of finding the references yourself.

If you like this sort of story look at the Tales of the Shadowmen series published by Black Coat Press.

The Pataphysics of Philip Jose Farmer

When I was writing The Revolutionary Tapestry there were two key influences on the novel – ‘Pataphysics and Philip Jose Farmer.

The ‘Pataphysics influence is fairly obvious – Alfred Jarry is one of the main characters and those familiar with his work will notice lots of implicit and explicit references to it. One of the conceits is that things that happen in the book feed through into his later writing. While the character of Jarry is reasonably accurate (I hope) it changes because of the experiences he has in this alternate world.

The Farmer influence is primarily in a shared love for “pulp” or popular writing – in the case of the novel mainly French serials, novels and films with the odd nod to Britain. Not all of these were written during or before the time in which the novel is set but most of those that followed are either set in that period or follow the zeitgeist of that time of anarchy, experimental art, street gangs and furious scientific innovation.

What I didn’t try and do is to write a “Wold Newton” book. There is only one character taken directly from a novel of the time, and he is only mentioned in a single paragraph and doesn’t appear directly.

However, Farmer’s Wold Newton universe is itself a Pataphysical concept as it deals with a universe supernumerary to this one ruled by the science of exceptions.

The Wold Newton universe is one where the heroes and villains of popular fiction not only exist, but are generally all related. First explicitly detailed in Farmer’s Tarzan Alive it suggests several families – including a number of characters from popular fiction – were travelling by coach through the village of Wold Newton in Yorkshire in 1795 when a meteorite fell nearby and its radiation caused genetic mutations in their descendants which gave them extraordinary abilities. Farmer then proceeds in Tarzan Alive and his biography of Doc Savage to trace those family trees back and forward and shoehorn in hundreds of characters in popular fiction.

This is, of course, an extension of the methods of the Sherlockian Game where members of the Baker Street Irregulars and other fans of Doyle’s character use the methods of academia to try and reconcile the contradictions within the Holmes canon – which they treat as factual and written by Dr Watson with Conan Doyle as his literary agent. The best starting point for this is Baring-Gould’s Biography of Holmes: Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street.

After writing the two biographies Farmer proceeded to set stories featuring characters who were integrated into the Wold Newton family tree – some by other authors and some original. Other authors have since expanded both the family tree and the number of stories set in what Win Scott Eckert dubbed the Wold Newton Universe. Eckert himself and others have also written quasi academic articles. The four volumes of Crossovers by Eckert and Sean Lee Levin as well as Randy Marc Lofficier’s Shadowmen encyclopaedias detail a dizzying amount of links – most of which can be found via the Wold Newton website. They have swallowed up thousands of novels, TV shows, comics and films and incorporated them into this universe.

This approach seems to mirror the work of the College de ‘Pataphysique – founded in 1948 – and its various departments in exploring the work of Jarry and his antecedents and descendants in a way that is both rigorous and playful. Andrew Hugill’s ‘Pataphysics: a useless guide is probably the best overview for the Anglophone.

Both programmes have been extremely influential and the roll call of the societies and associated groups such as the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics includes a stellar list of names in literature and art.

Although Farmer never linked the two in his Wold Newton books he does feature Jarry as a character in his Riverworld series – where everyone who has ever lived on Earth is resurrected along the banks of a world long river. I was not entirely convinced by his portrayal of Jarry, but enjoyed the addition to the series in the stories Crossing the Dark River, Up the Bright River and Coda.


‘Pataphysics part two


So, as I’ve been inspired by ‘Pataphysics, have I ever tried to write ‘Pataphysical material? Yes and no is the answer.

I am not yet confident enough as a writer to move too far away from standard narrative, although I have tried a story that is purely dialogue and features a police interview of a suspect who is either a pathological liar or a sociopath. I tried very hard to write the character’s dialogue so that you could interpret it as either. The fact that it is a police interview means you have no other clues about events outside of the suspect’s version of the story.

What I did do was write some stories with a lot of ‘Pataphysical ideas. I chose the “club story” milieu as (a) I love that genre particularly the Englebrecht stories of Maurice Richardson and (b) it gave me the opportunity to include my fellow members of the London Institute of ‘Pataphysics as background characters (under assumed names of course). I was honoured to have the first one published as a Christmas edition of the LIP Bulletin.

The joy of the club story is that they generally have an unreliable narrator who you are not expected to believe. That is why some of my favourite PG Woodhouse stories feature Mr Mulliner who is a member of an angling club and is therefore prone to exaggeration naturally. This meant I could throw in lots of ideas as jokes without having to develop them logically. This is enormously liberating – you still need to have a plot or it isn’t a story anymore. The plot still needs to work but the details can be as crazy as you can manage to make them so that you and (hopefully) the reader has lots of fun.

The core characters came from an earlier idea about writing a series of bids to funding organisations from two rival scientists where the ideas were unworkable – to see how far they would get. Most funders have a two stage assessment process where the first part is a technical check to make sure you’ve filled it out properly and it hits the criteria identified in the bidding guidance. The second stage is an assessment of the merits of the project – normally by experts in the field. My hope was to get past the first checks. The bids (which would form a sort of narrative) and the correspondence from the funders would then be assembled together. However I bottled it as at the time I was submitting lots of real bids and I didn’t want to prejudice my chances for those.

The two scientists – Andrew Limbus and John Orpheus – were sort of  based on Andre Breton and Jean Cocteau who were both inspired by Guillame Apollinaire – a close friend and sponsor of Alfred Jarry. Both in their own ways carried on the experimental work of Apollinaire.

There are lots of other in jokes – Limbus has had a sort of Jekyll and Hyde accident where his unconscious has become a separate person – De Riyah. This mirrors Dr Faustroll and his pet Bosse de Nage (arse face) in Jarry’s posthumously published novel. It also references some of the physical characteristics of Sherlock Holmes and Doc Savage’s companion Monk Lewis as I wanted to include them in Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton family. I also threw in all sorts of fringe science including having the pre and post Einstein theories of the propagation of light being true simultaneously.

If you want to read the story – called Life as it is the first of three Non Trivial Pursuits with the others being Liberty and Happiness – click on the link “Life” at the top of this post. Enjoy.