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Farmer, Nancy

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1941-    ) US author, initially in South Africa, but mainly Zimbabwe from 1971 to 1988, where she began to write around 1981, publishing her first work of genre interest, "The Mirror", which won the 1987 Gold Award presented by L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future, in L Ron Hubbard Presents Writers of the Future Vol 4 (anth 1989) edited by Algis Budrys. This was soon followed by her first (and best-known) novel, The Eye, the Ear and the Arm (1989; much rev vt The Ear, the Eye and the Arm 1994). The first version was published in Zimbabwe; the full version won several awards for Young Adult authors. Set in Zimbabwe near the beginning of the twenty-third century, and incorporating motifs from Shona mythology dominant in the traditional culture of Zimbabwe, it complexly recounts a search by the three Mutant detectives referred to in the title for the three children of the Zimbabwean security chief. The Warm Place (1995) and A Girl Named Disaster (1996), the latter set in Zimbabwe a century or so hence, were eventually followed by the Sea of Trolls sequence, comprising The Sea of Trolls (2004), The Land of the Silver Apples (2007) and The Islands of the Blessed (2009), which are fantasy.

Farmer may now be best known, however, for the intervening House of the Scorpion sf sequence comprising The House of the Scorpion (2002), which also won several awards for young adult books, and The Lord of Opium (2013), both novels set in a remarkably dark-hued distant Near Future Dystopian world, most of it devastated by Climate Change and Ecological disasters; the series is extremely unremitting in its implications for a tale designed for young readers. Matteo Alacrán (the surname means scorpion), the recently decanted Clone of a drug warlord named El Patron, is raised in his brother's estate at the heart of the Land of Opium, an effectively independent territory between Mexico and the USA, occupying southern Arizona and a strip of northern Mexico, where Drugs are grown at great costs to slave labourers known as eejits (see Zombies). Here he must attempt to cope with the denial culture, which treats him as an animal, by identifying himself with a wide range of compatible beasts, mainly Peter Rabbit. At the age of fourteen, discovering that he has been given birth in order to provide body parts (see Organlegging) for El Patron, who is the lord of the Land of Opium, he is forced to assume his dead master's mantle, and escapes into the full savagery of a world in the grip of perhaps insoluble crises. For a writer who does not disguise a pervading, well-argued sense of planetary crisis, Farmer has become remarkably popular.

A later singleton, A New Year's Tale (2013), intensifies Farmer's take on the Near Future of the planet, in this case focusing on an America so impoverished at the government level, and so obsessed with "liberty" at the level of individual actions, that the penalty for killing of anyone over 80 is community service for a week or so. Equipoisally, indignant elder gods assign the task of upending this world to a cadre of fit seniors. The ending is, almost unduly, hopeful. [JC]

Nancy Forsythe Farmer

born Phoenix, Arizona: 9 July 1941

works (selected)


Sea of Trolls

House of the Scorpion

  • The House of the Scorpion (New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2002) [House of the Scorpion: hb/Russell Gordon]
  • The Lord of Opium (New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013) [House of the Scorpion: hb/Russell Gordon]

individual titles


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