The World of Tiers - Philip José Farmer (1965,1966,1968,1970,1977)

Farmer is one of the great names of sixties and seventies sci-fi. He is the archetype of that very specific type of writer, like Jack Chalker and Piers Anthony, who overflow with imagination. His settings are rich and varied, the worlds he creates are well-thought out and fantastic, in both senses of the word. Many times, this means that plot and character are secondary to the vivid backdrops against which they are placed.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the five World of Tiers novels: The Maker of Universes(1965), The Gates of Creation(1966), A Private Cosmos (1968), Behind the Walls of Terra (1970), and The Lavalite World(1977). Each of them, with the partial exception of Behind the Walls of Terra, is little more than a travelogue of a journey through an interesting and exciting new world.

And each is great fun.

The general idea is that an extremely advanced race has created a bunch of pocket universes that one can travel between via gates. These "Lords" are nearly immortal, and, to fight the ennui, spend a lot of time trying to kill each other in baroque and complicated ways. Usually they involve kidnapping their foe and putting them into some sort of deathtrap world through which they must adventure until they reach a trap-laden palace, at which point, if the victim has survived and can beat the traps, there's a big fight. The good guys win, of course, but not always without cost.

In the mix, Farmer does manage to add some interesting meditations on immortality, and some of the problems attendant upon it, as well as on racism (the Lords are the ultimate racists, looking down on any and all non-Lords) and love and its healing power.

Farmer is an excellent writer, his style is bold and compelling, and the characters are drawn in the same strokes. If this means that some subtlety and nuance is lost, it is in some measure compenstated for by the splendor and size of the picture.

Make no mistake, though, these are action novels, and action there is aplenty. Fights, flights and explosions abound. They are all short novels and quick reads, and a heckuva way to escape this world for a few hours.

Overall Grade: B

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