Novel November

The Maker of Universes

by Philip José Farmer


Reading Review by Michael Channing

The Maker of Universes by Philip Jose Farmer

This book is the first novel in Farmer's other, lesser known, science fiction series. The World of Tiers series, as it is known, takes place on a manufactured planet that consists of four enormous, nearly cylindrical mountains stacked on top of each other, each narrower than the one below. What you get is four levels of land separated by sheer, vertical cliffs. Each level has its own unique geography and cultures. The world was created thousands of years ago by a being known to the planet's inhabitants as The Lord. The Lord also created the people of the planet, stealing people from different epochs of Earth's history and often putting their brains into the bodies of creatures resembling centaurs, harpies, and apes. Everyone there is eternally youthful and strong, able to live forever if they can avoid death by attack or accident.

This type of setup is what Farmer does best. He's a master of the Big Idea. While the world here seems grand and daunting, what it really comes down to is a way to stage a series of adventures and chases through a string of different backdrops. We start on present day, boring old Earth, move to a Garden of Eden setting, then climb ever higher through the pre-white-man American wilderness, medieval England, ancient Prussia, and finally into a futuristic computerized stronghold. The pacing picks up quickly and doesn't let quit till the end, and I mean the very last sentence.

The story begins with our hero, William Wolff, house shopping with his wife. He opens a closet in a prospective house and finds an open portal to another world. Within that world is a man being threatened by monsters. The man calls to Wolff and tosses a horn between the worlds and invites Wolff to use it to join him. After a day of internal struggle, Wolff realizes he's unhappy in his life and with his wife and returns to the portal and plunges through. Wolff goes in search of a better, more exciting life, and he finds it. He falls in love, but his love is kidnapped and the horn stolen, and Wolff quests after their return. Along the way he makes solid friends and lifelong enemies. Once the chase begins, there's never a placid moment. As I said, Farmer uses his hodgepodge world as way to keep the adventure setting constantly changing. We get jousts and dragons, night raids and escapes, horse chases, eagles chases, wresting, mountain climbing, all manner of feats of strength. Farmer's two biggest talents are on full display: action writing and world building. In the break-neck romp through the multiple levels, we only see brief glimpses of the cultures scattered throughout, but Farmer supplies enough details to make us believe in this world and its people. It feels like a lived-in place. The cultures feel deep. There are questions that aren't addressed till the very end and more that go unanswered, but the action never slows down long enough for us to ponder them.

This is the only book in the series I've read, so maybe it's too early for me to say, but I don't think it's as good a series as the Riverworld books. Riverworld took time to let characters develop. In that series, Sam Clemens (yep, Mark Twain) is a fascinating, complex character. Here, our hero and his best friend are pretty flat. The female mcguffin has almost nothing to her personality beyond being devoted to Wolff. But perhaps the World of Tiers books were never meant to rise all that far above the pulpy, fantasy action genre. It's a thrilling read with a constantly shifting stage, and there is a big reveal at the end that says perhaps the books to come will allow for greater character evolution.

About that secret: I accidentally stumbled over it on Wikipedia while looking up the history of this series and the other books in it. So don't go looking if you plan to read this book. I definitely recommend it, as I would any of Farmer's books, so once you find a copy, just settle back and enjoy the rush. Sometimes it's best not to think too far ahead.

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Vestigial
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Vestigial by Michael Channing