Review: Time’s Last Gift by Phillip Jose Farmer
Review: Time’s Last Gift
When Phillip José Farmer passed away in 2009, science fiction lost one of its premier writers. Farmer’s imagination stretched into an epic scope, with series like Riverworld and the World of Tiers. Farmer’s gift was not only in the creation of these worlds-spanning series, but in his ability to reflect the human element in his stories. With a firm grasp of human nature and psychology, Farmer presented humans living and reacting in these strange and wonderful circumstances in an utterly believable way, making him one of the few writers to understand what science fiction should really be about, so much so that Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land was partially dedicated to him. It is therefore a great gift for Titan Books to issue a reprint of Farmer’s Time’s Last Gift, written in 1972. The novel provides an excellent introduction not only to Farmer’s works, but specifically to his Wold Newton Universe.
While not necessarily a series so much as a shared continuity, the Wold Newton stories follow the path of some of the greatest literary and film heroes of all time. Farmer brought together such heroes as Sherlock Holmes, John Carter, and Doc Savage, among many, many others, into a shared universe stemming from a single event, a meteor strike in 1795 that irradiated seven couples with a “nova of genetic splendor,” as Farmer describes it in the seminal novel, Tarzan Alive. If this sounds vaguely familiar, it should be noted that Alan Moore, in an interview with Newsarama.com in 2009, described Farmer’s work as a “seminal influence” on his own League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
The novel itself describes a group of time travelers sent back to study the development of mankind around 12000 BC. The novel is a bit slow to start, as Farmer feels the need to describe with some detail the mechanics of the time travelers’ mode of transportation, some of which feels unnecessary to the story. Once the story gets rolling, though, we get to follow the reactions and feelings of the protagonists as they learn of the time they’ve landed in, the people they’re among, and one of their own, the mysterious grey-eyed John Gribardsun, who fits in a little too well with the prehistoric cultures they study.
Titan’s edition also includes new afterword, an essay by Farmer co-author Christopher Paul Carey on the Wold Newton Universe and how this particular novel fits in, and a timeline of events that occur both within this novel and in other source material from the same literary universe, written by Win Scott Eckert and Dennis E. Power. Both of these additions may well help anyone using this book as an entry into Farmer’s works find other books that interest them, as well as provide old fans with some new thoughts and ideas to savor.
As an introduction to Farmer’s works in general, I would recommend starting with his Riverworld books, beginning with To Your Scattered Bodies Go, but if following the continuing adventures of your favorite larger-than-life pulp heroes is more your style, check out the Wold Newton books, beginning with this new reprint of Time’s Last Gift.
The book is available in paperback, as well as in e-reader format for the Amazon Kindle and Barnes and Noble Nook.
About Phillip Jose Farmer:
Philip José Farmer was an American author, principally known for his award-winning science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories. Farmer is best known for his sequences of novels, especially the World of Tiers and Riverworld series.