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The Lovers by Philip José Farmer

The Lovers (1961)

by Philip José Farmer

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English (5)  French (2)  Italian (1)  All languages (8)
Showing 5 of 5
My first PJF book may be my last. We'll see...

The Lovers is a novella from 1952 about a human male who falls in love with a humanoid female on a distant planet. While the story may have been fresh at the time it was published, it has not aged well. The sci-fi elements and the romance elements are ridiculous unless you appreciate the finer points of a space rocket with lots of paper files (in triplicate!) or a female protagonist who will do anything to please her man as long as he keeps her supplied with booze. Sometimes ridiculous can be good, but not here.

To be fair, I thought The Lovers was interesting as a meta-read; there are books on my shelf that are only there because of when they were published, allowing me a chance to triangulate the cultural distances between historical eras. ( )
  ReneEldaBard | Oct 15, 2018 |
Hal Yarrow is a linguist sent to the newly discovered planet Ozgan, where another sentient species lives. He has led a repressed and unhappy life. But on Ozgan, he realizes that his tyranical religion and way of life are illogical, and breaks free to find love amongst the natives.

The writing is lazy. There are countless instances of Farmer forgetting what came mere pages ago. For example, on the first page, Yarrow tells a fellow passanger what a "joat" (jack-of-all-trades) is. Not five pages later, the book tells us what a joat is--using the exact same explanation, almost verbatim! Or, on page 147, the book tells us "[Yarrow] had had no intention of saying he loved her. He'd never told any woman he loved her, not even Mary. Nor had any woman ever told him." What pathos--except that a hundred pages earlier, Yarrow was whining that Mary constantly told him that she loved him, and demanding he tell her that he loved her. It took me all of three seconds to find textual evidence: page 14, during a fight with Mary, "'But I do love you,' [Yarrow] said for what seemed like the thousandth time since they had married." C'mon, Farmer! The book is only 219 pages long--surely it wouldn't have killed him to keep his main character's motivations straight!

Another thing that killed me was the language. Yarrow is a linguist, on the planet to learn the natives' languages. And so initially, we get whole paragraphs like this: "Cnosider the tense system. Instead of inflecting a verb or using an unattached particle to indicate the past or future, Siddo used an entirely different word. Thus, the masculine animate infinitive dabhumaksanigalu'ahai, meaning to live, was, in the perfect tense, ksu'u'peli'afo, and, in the future, mai'teipa. the same use of an entirely different word applied for all the other tenses. Plus the fact that Siddo not only had the normal (to Earthmen) three genders of masculine, feminine, and neuter, but the two extra of inanimate and spiritual..." Except as soon as he's on the planet, everyone communicates without problem! There are no mistranslations, or problems of a concept not existing in one language. No one needs Yarrow's help translating anything--they all just know each other's language. And the aliens and humans not only speak each others' languages with colloquial ease, but the aliens use expressions like "in the arms of Morpheus" to say they're going to bed. After only a few months of knowing humanity? I really doubt it!

The alien planet is hardly alien--they have apartments, automobiles, bars that are just like 20th century Earth bars. Farmer put no effort into the world building at all! Nor did he put much effort into the science of his science-fiction. Despite pages upon pages of infodumps, all of it is just completely made-up and arbitrary. His infodumps are particularly impressively out of place--in a single scene Yarrow is discovered to be a heretic, told he's going to be tortured and killed, then watches as all the humans on the planet are killed, then told his love Jeanette is actually a parasitic insect, and then told that she's dying because she's bearing his young. Then there's a 15 page monologue by Fobo about how Jeanette's biology works (all of which is totally nonsensical), to which Yarrow's response is simply to ask what would happen if she had multiple lovers. Then they talk about what would biologically happen when her kind is gang-raped! WTF? That's the worst example, but far from the only one.

All that said, the idea underpinning the novel-- that of a parastic race that survives by latching on to humans and making them love them isn't terrible, though the sexism (of so noticably the kind popular in the 20th century Western Europe&America) in the assumptions of how it works kinda ruins it a little. And Yarrow's emotional life is well written; Farmer is on firm ground there. But when it comes to plot, or sf elements, it's all very unstable and poorly done. ( )
1 vote wealhtheowwylfing | Feb 29, 2016 |
Really liked it when I read it as a kid. Have to read it again to comment though. ( )
  velvetink | Mar 31, 2013 |
At the time of its publication in 1961, this book was considered shocking by some, and a landmark by others, for its treatment of sex and sexuality in science fiction. Reading it now almost 50 years later, one is struck not only by the diminution of shock value (hardly surprising) but by the thought that the book's main theme isn't sexual at all. In fact, it's difficult for me to determine exactly what the author's targets were, perhaps because it seems there are so many.

The story opens by describing the last stages of a journey home from a field trip by the protagonist, Hal Yarrow. Certain facts about Yarrow's world (a future, post-apocalyptic Earth) and his own life rapidly become apparent. He lives in a densely-populated city, as do almost all of humanity. His field trip has taken him to something like a reserve in Hudson Bay, where he has investigated the remaining handful of French speakers on Earth and marvelled at the space and natural beauty of the park. He lives in a controlling religious dictatorship, full of hierarchy, bizarre rules and a complete lack of privacy, and he is in a joyless marriage. He is ever-fearful that his failure to conform will lead to loss of status or even worse punishment. And he is a linguist, of sorts, in an incredibly over-specialised society.

Then events rapidly give him a chance to escape all this and join an expedition to a habitable planet on another star system which contains - or contained - at least two species of intelligent life. One, the dominant one by the time they arrive, is insectoid and the other humanoid. Through his investigations of the natives and his growing friendship with one of their number, Hal grows to throw off the constraints of his religious upbringing, discovering the joys of alcohol, shared meals and sex with one of the few remaining humanoids. Meanwhile, his colleagues are preparing to extermine every living thing on the planet to make way for colonisation by Earth. But not all is as it seems, and the twists only become apparent in the final pages.

So yes, Yarrow has sex with aliens, and the cautious way in which he approaches this, given his strong religious conditioning against it, was undoubtedly different for 1961. Also different was the way in which the sense of his joyless marriage was described. This part of the book is a sparse but well-realised description of the destructive, low-level bickering that characterises a relationship in which people are trapped, and its certainly unusually mature for science fiction of the time.

But religion, and its relationship to the state, seems to be the dominant theme, and Farmer hints at its presence or absence in some of the few other great powers now on Earth - at least one of which is Jewish and another of which is Islamic. And he also seems to be trying to draw parallels with racial and gender issues in his portrayal of the insect society and the way it interacts with the human explorers. And there are other ideas which are thrown in - such as intense over-specialisation of trades, and how it leads to a society in which no one can keep pace with knowledge in any field. This idea and others never really seem to be followed through, and it isn't clear whether they are simply plot devices, providing an excuse for our protagonist to be one of the few people capable of joining the expedition, or background.

It's almost as if Farmer had too many ideas to explore in this one novel, which is now interesting but flawed. The writing often seems typical of the pulps, with dialogue which is sometimes stilted, and yet the characterisations and richness of ideas lift it above much typical science fiction of the age. An interesting read, but one which hasn't fully stood the test of time for me. ( )
1 vote kevinashley | Apr 14, 2009 |
Philip José Farmer's highly under-appreciated "The Lovers" was the first published novel exploring the idea of sexual relations between humans and extraterrestrials. Farmer wrote this novel to explore human needs, human desires, and human frailties and strengths in the harsh light of intolerance and oppression to sexual expression. I re-read this book every few years. ( )
1 vote psybre | Apr 24, 2008 |
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» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Philip José Farmerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Powers, RichardCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Sam Mines, who saw deeper than the others.
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"I've got to get out", Hal Yarrow could hear someone murmuring from a great distance.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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(From fantasticfiction.co.uk)
One of the most controversial and groundbreaking novels in science fiction. Sent by the religious tyranny of a future Earth to the planet Ozagen, Hal Yarrow met Jeanette, an apparently human fugitive, hiding in ancient ruins built by a long-vanished race. Unconsecrated contact with any female was forbidden to Yarrow-and love for an alien female was an unspeakable sin. But Yarrow's lifelong conditioning was no match for his strange attraction to Jeanette."
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