Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Wind Whales Of Ishamael!

Philip Jose Farmer's briskly paced novel The Wind Whales of Ishmael speculates what might have happened had Herman Melville's orphaned hero Ishmael been picked up by The Rachel only to be whisked into the far future of Earth's final ages when the oceans have disappeared under the slowly rolling glare of a enormous red sun and mankind scratches out an existence by tracking and killing the enormous creatures which have developed all sorts of means to fly and float in the skies. The means of transportation have something to do weirdly with the Queequeg's coffin festooned with all manner of odd symbols. It's an oddly fascinating and curious notion. And Farmer does some justice by it.

Melville's Moby-Dick is arguably the finest novel in the American canon. I personally rate Huckleberry Finn somewhat more significant socially, but the weight and heft of Moby-Dick is undeniable and enduring. That Farmer would attempt to extend Melville's narrative in this most curious way is intriguing. It's a, pardon the pun, "whale of a tale" Farmer attempts to tell, and it hurtles along without the benefit of any chapter breaks. I almost scan it as a lost chapter of the Melville epic tale, a coda ending of sorts.

The story though is not completely successful in my eyes because of Farmer's tendency to bog down sometimes in the details of a particular process. It's clear he has deeply imagined the future Earth Ishamel visits and the details of how the people use the flora and particularly the fauna of the brave new world to elevate and navigate the dangerous skies are presented with some vigor and relentless detail. Not all of it makes sense to me, though I rest comfortable that it does somehow make sense. I don't want to stop to clarify, but I trust Farmer and move ahead.

Like its inspiration, there is some heavy philosophy beneath the skin of this adventure, and reflections on the very nature of time are truly serious and provoking. But Farmer is careful not to allow these aspects of the narrative to weigh down the story. a story which is pretty compelling.

I recommend this one if you like Moby-Dick and want to experience a hoot of a sequel, or if you want some Philip Farmer and trust him to deliver. He pretty much does.

Here are some earlier coves for this book originally published in 1971. I read the recent Titan Books edition.

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