First 200 Words (part 7)
In 1968 Philip José Farmer wondered, what if William S. Burroughs had written Tarzan instead of Edgar Rice Burroughs? His short story, “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod” gave us a short glimpse of what that might have read like. Ed Morris had the same idea, but he took it in a totally different direction. Instead he showed us a world in which this could have happened, a world where a young Phil Farmer meets WSB just as he begins to write about the jungle lord.
by Edward Morris
We sat together at the morning’s end, my earnest young friend and I, and talked of science fiction while we barred the door and waited for the bombs to start falling.
Outside my wide, white suite, chaos reigned supreme throughout the sordid rooms of the Chelsea Hotel. I was tempted to go out and fire my .38 into the ceiling as a warning shot, but on further thought I determined that might not be so good. I have no love for flatfeet, especially in hysterical times when it’s every crumb for himself. Today met and far exceeded the latter conditions.
Early this morning, just after my new friend had come to call, two explosions had rocked the Five Boros. There was dust falling in the streets like snow. My fellow New Yorkers and I had witnessed scenes such as we had believed were never enacted outside the covers of pulp magazines.
Two mere office buildings, whose destruction threw the country into mortal terror. One ludicrous instant accentuated the brutality at home and abroad forever, stole the ground from beneath unborn feet forever and made widows and widowers. Forever. The whole thing could have been avoided. But now there was no …
(Copyright © 2010 by Edward Morris)
The rest of the “Infamy” can be found in The Worlds of Philip José Farmer 1: Protean Dimensions. Keep watching this space for more 200 word excerpts.
This one was an utter beast to sell.A lot of editors… whose names I will not mention, because I respect every one of them… refused to see past the idea that Phil had done this one before.
“The Jungle Rot Kid On The Nod”, however, was Phil’s fine jazz riff on a few key Edgar Rice Burroughs concepts using William S.Burroughs’ wild hashish-laced word-bebop style, the NOVA EXPRESS-era Burroughs, to be precise. What would a Tarzan story look like written by our world’s Grandpa Bill, in other words.
“Infamy” was a more traditionally structured alternate history story. The point of departure was the Burroughs Adding Machine. Adding Edgar Rice Burroughs to the ailing family business (ERB claimed ‘cousin’ to get a job; this may or may not be historically supported) created an unknown variable whereby some very Deco-Punk technology found its way into the common cause, and 1930’s America looked very slightly altered.
But my main point of departure was to make William S.Burroughs fall into the literary gap created when ERB became a computing magnate and politician instead of an author. Love him or hate him, ERB left some pretty big steel-toed boots to fill.
And many people, from Norman Mailer to William Gibson, have put forth the proposition that if William Burroughs hadn’t been a heroin addict, his prose could well have been Science Fiction, of a type that would blow the doors off the entire field.
So I put William in Edgar’s shoes, in his own way. Didn’t change too many other things. This one was fun, and Philip Jose Farmer provided the perfect too-wise-for-his-own-good young fanboy to poke holes in William’s pre- curmudgeonliness and laud him at the same time.
I had to get Phil’s permission to sell this. He suggested I write a preface, which I did. It originally sold to Richard Freeborn’s webzine OCEANS OF THE MIND, in the summer of ’06. It was an honor to get this done the way I/we did, and Michael Croteau is a gentleman and a scholar for rounding up the antho, and keeping the Farmer torch burning brightly.
Phil’s champions are many, and we are loud. I just had the inestimable pleasure of reading Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Steam Man Of The Prairie & The Dark Rider Get Down: A Dime Novel”, and didn’t fail to note the dedication to Phil. It fits.His formative fingerprints are all over so many of our minds, and we will never wash them off.
*Additional note: The person who suggested that I contact Phil in the first place to settle the editors’ hash was alternate-history guru Paul Di Filippo, who read and marked up quite a few of my stories that year with his enthusiastic green pen. Paul got what I was trying to do with this one, but showed me two or three ways to shore it up in our time-track and theirs. As I’ve said before, giants do not let you ride on their shoulders. A true giant reminds you of your own size.