Review: The Wind Whales of Ishmael by Philip Jose Farmer

Review by: Prof. Jenn


Philip Jose Farmer is well-known for writing science fiction that in essence is a gate to mainstream classics. His Wold Newton series in particular does this artful remix thing that you readers have heard me wax rhapsodic about so often. The Wind Whales of Ishmael isn’t technically one of the Wold Newtons, but it very well could be, in that it takes a famous character from classic literature and plops him in a science fiction scenario.

Titan books has re-released several Farmer classics, with intros and outros by experts and colleagues of the legendary writer, which gives anyone not familiar with Farmer’s work a good background and inspiration to try further readings, and those fans a richness to their continued collection.

The Wind Whales of Ishmael is fantastically entertaining, taking place just after the events of Moby Dick, where Ishmael is floating alone in the ocean on Queequeg’s coffin (remember?). Then, just as the Rachel rescues him, he finds himself and the ship plunging through a rip in the fabric of time, landing as the sole survivor on a future Earth where sharks and whales have evolved to live in the air, and the seas have all pretty much dried up. Oh, and there’s plants that provide water, but that drink your blood. And there’s air ships that are whalers. And a pretty princess.

It’s written in a quick, clipped, concise style, with Ishmael as a character just as enigmatic and intellectual as he was in Melville. The action starts right away and doesn’t quit, ever, ending with one of the best dungeon crawl scenes in genre fiction. The descriptions of the future world and its machinations are exhaustive and vivid, but at no time do they slow down the action.

Bottom line: I highly recommend The Wind Whales of Ishmael. It’s a classic, and a great read.   ~Prof. Jenn