The Stone God Awakens, by Philip Jose Farmer – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
“He awoke and did not know where he was.
Flames were crackling fifty feet away. Woodsmoke stung his nose and brought tears. Somewhere, men were shouting and screaming. […]
He was in one end of a large building of gigantic logs, wooden pillars, and large overhead beams. Flames leaped along the wall toward him. The roof at the other end had just caved in, and the smoke was carried away by a vagary of the wind. He could see the sky outside. It was black, and then, far off, lightning flashed. About fifty yards away, lit by the flames, was a hill. On top of the hill were the silhouettes of trees. Fully leaved trees.
A moment ago, it had been winter. The deep snows had been piled around the buildings of the research center outside Syracuse, New York.” (p. 5)
The protagonist is Ulysses Singing Bear, a young scientist of native American descent in 1985 (fifteen years in the future when this book was published). He discovers that the fighting going on around him does not involve humans.
“The flames from the burning hall and from other buildings combined to illuminate the scene. Furry legs and tails, white and black and brown, danced around. The legs were human and yet not human. They bent queerly; they looked like the hind legs of four-footed animals that had decided to stand upright, like men, and so had evolved half-human, half-beast legs.
The owner of a pair of legs fell flat on his back, a spear stuck in his belly. The man became even more confused and shocked. The creature looked like a cross between a human being and a sealpoint Siamese cat. The body fur was white; the face below the forehead was black; the lower part of the arms, legs and the tail were black. The face was as flat as any human’s, but the nose was round and black, like a cat’s, and the ears were black and pointed. The mouth, open in death, revealed sharp feline teeth.” (p. 6)
Their opponents, described in equal detail, appear to be evolved raccoons. What the human scientist eventually puzzles out is that his research into molecular stability somehow went wrong and “petrified” him into stone. Millions of years later, “the stone god” is rediscovered by the Wufea, the cat people, and is worshipped as the god Wuwiso by both them and their enemies, the raccoon people, the Wagarondit. The Wagarondit launch a raid during a nighttime thunderstorm to steal him for their tribe. The burning of his temple around him allows a lightning bolt to strike him directly, unpetrifying him.
“That night, Ulysses went outside his new quarters in the temple. He looked up at the sky and wondered if he could be on Earth. He did not know how he could be elsewhere. But if he was on Earth, what was the year?
The stars formed unfamiliar constellations, and the moon seemed to be larger, as if it were nearer to Earth. Nor was it the naked, silver body he had known in 1985. It was blue and green with white masses drifting over it. In fact, it looked much like Earth as seen from a satellite. If it were the Moon, it had been terrified. Its rocks had been treated to give it air, form soil and yield water. In history, there had been articles speculating on the possibility of terrafication, but the chances for even beginning the process would not occur until several centuries from then.
If he was certain of one thing, other than that he was alive, it was that far more than a few centuries, or a few millennia, had passed since 1985.” (p. 15)
Over months, Ulysses learns the Wufea language, as the house-guest of Aytheera, the Wufea chief priest, and his daughter Awina. (Yes, she is as sexy a cat-girl as you could want. “Awina was seventeen years old and should have been married a year ago.” (p. 19) She was the stone god’s handmaiden, and when he is restored to life she becomes his tutor.) Ulysses learns much, and starts trading on his authority as a god to get the Wufea to change some of their primitive practices. The most important is to stop the warfare between the Wufea and the Wagarondit and get them to unite. This is easy because he can manufacture a common enemy, which as the stone god, he has been prophesized for centuries to destroy anyway: Wurutana, the Great Devourer, a massive tree that has been growing larger and spreading out for as long as anyone can remember, engulfing villages and threatening to cover the whole continent. To stop the warfare between the cat-people and the raccoon-people (who eventually turn out to be another cat-men tribe with raccoonlike markings), Ulysses orders them to form a joint army of their best warriors that he will lead against Wurutana.
During their march, Ulysses sees many other evolved creatures of this far-future Earth. Important to the plot are the Thululiki, flying bat-men (shown on the cover). “Halfway down the hill, Awina said ‘Lord!’ and pointed toward the sky. The great-winged bat-like creature was gliding toward them. Ulysses watched him as he wheeled before them. Awina had not lied or exaggerated. He was a winged human or near-human. His body was about the size of a four-year-old child. The torso was quite human except for the enormous chest. The breastbone had to be very large for attachment of the great wing muscles. The back was also hunched; the mound looked like solid muscle. His arms were very skinny, and the hands had very long fingers with long nails. The legs were short, frail, and bowed. The feet were splayed out, and the big toe was almost at right angles to the feet.” (pgs. 28-29) The bat-man is Ghlikh, an emissary from the Wagarondit who joins Ulysses’ military expedition. Ghlikh has much knowledge of the countryside, but he is sly and Ulysses does not trust him. (Rightly; but you can guess this from Josh Kirby’s cover.)
Among the distant peoples who live on the other side of Wurutana are some whose description matches Ulysses’. He is excited by the possibility that there may still be other humans on Earth. Awina is jealous.
They finally reach Wurutana. “Wurutana was a tree, the mightiest tree that had ever existed. Ulysses, thinking of Yggdrasil, the world tree of Norse religion, thought that here was one to match it. It was a world tree if he were to believe Ghlikh’s and Ghuakh’s description. It was like a banyan tree ten thousand feet high in many places and spreading out for thousands of square miles. It extended branches which eventually dropped to the earth, dived into the earth, and reemerged as new trunks and new branches. It was a solid mass, all continuity. Somewhere in that vast octopus of tree the original trunk and branches were still living.
‘Look!” Awina said, pointing. ‘There are trees growing on
Dirt had collected in many of the deep fissures, and seeds had
blown or been dropped by birds, and trees had taken root in the earth in the fissures. Some of them were over a hundred feet tall.” (p. 51)
They climb The Tree, and encounter many wonders. “They rode for a half-mile until they came to the next branch – or root – entering the earth. Water flowed down a channel, a deep groove, on its back and into a creek bed. Ghlikh had said that there were many springs, creeks and even small rivers in the grooves on the tops of the branches. Now Ulysses could believe it. What a mighty pump this tree was! It must send its roots deep into the earth, driving through stone, and it sucked up the water contained in the rock and tapped domes of water far underground. It might even tap the ocean and turn its water into fresh liquid, rejecting the salts. Then it exuded the water at various places, and springs, creeks and rivulets ran.” (p. 52) There are more colorful animals and animal-men species that Furry fans will enjoy meeting. The big dilemma that Ulysses has to solve is whether the bat-men’s claim to speak for the tree-god is just a myth to increase their own authority, or whether Wurutana is truly sentient and giving them orders.
Ulysses and his furry troops spend months in The Tree, finally descending on the other side, which is the opposite coast of the continent. Here they meet more animal-peoples, including dog-men and elephant-men. Ulysses and the remainder of his cat-men troops get involved in their politics. It all ends in a terrific aerial battle in the heights of Wurutana between the bat-men and a fleet of dirigibles. The Stone God Awakens takes place in a unique Furry setting. Fans can regret that Philip José Farmer (1918-2009) never wrote a sequel.
The cover by Josh Kirby is certainly striking, but the bat-men are remarkably ugly. Stephen Hickman’s cover of the April 1980 reprint, showcasing Awina, is much more attractive. (Hickman has said that when he painted covers for Ace Books, their art director never let him read the stories; she just gave him a brief description over the telephone of what to paint. Presumably her description of this cover was just to show “a reclining cat-girl” without mentioning that she should have white-&-black Siamese cat markings.)