Riders of the Purple Wage

Last updated
"Riders of the Purple Wage"
Tor, 1992 first printing
Author Philip José Farmer
Language English
Genre(s) Science fiction
Published in Dangerous Visions
Publication type Anthology
Publisher Doubleday
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
Publication date1967

Riders of the Purple Wage is a science fiction novella by American writer Philip José Farmer. It appeared in Dangerous Visions , the New Wave science fiction anthology compiled by Harlan Ellison, in 1967, and won the Hugo Award for best novella in 1968, jointly with Weyr Search by Anne McCaffrey.

Science fiction genre of fiction

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas".

Novella written, fictional, prose narrative normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel

A novella is a text of written, fictional, narrative prose normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words.

Philip José Farmer was an American author known for his science fiction and fantasy novels and short stories.


The title of the story is a take-off on Riders of the Purple Sage , a Western by the American author Zane Grey.

<i>Riders of the Purple Sage</i> novel by Zane Grey

Riders of the Purple Sage is a Western novel by Zane Grey, first published by Harper & Brothers in 1912. Considered by many critics to have played a significant role in shaping the formula of the popular Western genre, the novel has been called "the most popular western novel of all time."

Zane Grey American novelist

Pearl Zane Grey was an American author and dentist best known for his popular adventure novels and stories associated with the Western genre in literature and the arts; he idealized the American frontier. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) was his best-selling book.

Plot introduction

Riders of the Purple Wage is an extrapolation of the mid-twentieth century's tendency towards state supervision and consumer-oriented economic planning. In the story, all citizens receive a basic income (the purple wage) from the government, to which everyone is entitled just by being born. The population is self-segregated into relatively small communities, with a controlled environment, and keeps in contact with the rest of the world through the Fido, a combination television and videophone. The typical dwelling is an egg-shaped house, outside of which is a realistic simulation of an open environment with sky, sun and moon. In reality each community is on one level of a multi-level arcology. For those who dislike this lifestyle, there are wildlife reserves where they can join "tribes" of Native Americans and like-minded Anglos living closer to nature for a while. Some choose this lifestyle permanently.

Basic income system of social security in which all citizens or residents of a country regularly receive an unconditional sum of money, either from a government or some other public institution, in addition to any income received from elsewhere

A Basic Income, also called Universal Basic Income (UBI), Citizen's Income (CI), Citizen's Basic Income (CBI), Basic Income Guarantee (BIG), or Universal Demogrant, is a periodic cash payment delivered to all on an individual basis, without means test or work requirement. The incomes would be:

Television telecommunication medium for transmitting and receiving moving images

Television (TV), sometimes shortened to tele or telly, is a telecommunication medium used for transmitting moving images in monochrome, or in colour, and in two or three dimensions and sound. The term can refer to a television set, a television program, or the medium of television transmission. Television is a mass medium for advertising, entertainment and news.


Arcology, a portmanteau of "architecture" and "ecology", is a field of creating architectural design principles for very densely populated, ecologically low-impact human habitats.

Art (and art appreciation) are prominently displayed in this society; artists receive press coverage comparable to that of today's movie stars. Hardly less glamorous are the art critics, each of whom has a pet theory about art. A critic also acts as an agent or manager, promoting the work of one or more artists, especially if their work seems to support his ideas. The story revolves around one of these pampered artists, who sometimes find themselves uninspired, due to the lack of major conflicts in society.

Art diverse range of human activities

Art is a diverse range of human activities in creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author's imaginative, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power. In their most general form these activities include the production of works of art, the criticism of art, the study of the history of art, and the aesthetic dissemination of art.

Sexual relations and sexual orientation are portrayed as absolutely free from prejudice. The main character is bisexual, and it is implied that most of his acquaintances have had at least experimental relations with members of both sexes. Several forms of birth control are also commonplace, encouraged by the government and freely discussed.

Sexual orientation is an enduring pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to persons of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or to both sexes or more than one gender. These attractions are generally subsumed under heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality, while asexuality is sometimes identified as the fourth category.

Birth control method of preventing human pregnancy or birth

Birth control, also known as contraception and fertility control, is a method or device used to prevent pregnancy. Birth control has been used since ancient times, but effective and safe methods of birth control only became available in the 20th century. Planning, making available, and using birth control is called family planning. Some cultures limit or discourage access to birth control because they consider it to be morally, religiously, or politically undesirable.

For people who do not want to bother with social interaction, there is the fornixator, a device that supplies sexual pleasure on demand by direct stimulation of the brain's pleasure centers. The fornixator is technically illegal, but tolerated by the government because its users are happy, do not demand anything else, and usually do not procreate.

Brain organ that serves as the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals

The brain is an organ that serves as the center of the nervous system in all vertebrate and most invertebrate animals. The brain is located in the head, usually close to the sensory organs for senses such as vision. The brain is the most complex organ in a vertebrate's body. In a human, the cerebral cortex contains approximately 14–16 billion neurons, and the estimated number of neurons in the cerebellum is 55–70 billion. Each neuron is connected by synapses to several thousand other neurons. These neurons communicate with one another by means of long protoplasmic fibers called axons, which carry trains of signal pulses called action potentials to distant parts of the brain or body targeting specific recipient cells.

Two new sets of customs have arisen which profoundly influence the story. By tradition, everyone has a Naming Day when they are grown, at which point they select a name which reflects their outlook on life, their chosen profession, or the way they want others to see them. The second change derives from the so-called "Panamorite" religion, which features total sexual freedom including oral sex between parents and their children. One source of frustration for the main character is his mother's decision to "cut him off" from intimate physical contact, a situation made worse by her becoming morbidly obese, which is not unusual in this society.

Plot summary

The story revolves around the relationship between a young artist, who has taken the name Chibiabos Elgreco Winnegan, and the man he calls "Grandpa Winnegan" (actually his mother's great-great-grandfather), who hides inside the apartments that "Chib" shares with his mother in the community of Ellay. Grandpa is in hiding from the government, and most people think of him as having pulled off some huge swindle in the past. In fact, he was a successful businessman whose workers were highly paid and very content, much more so than the average recipient of the "purple wage". The resentment which this caused motivated the "gummint" to close down his business, whereupon he managed to steal twenty billion dollars, which has never been found, and (apparently) died. A Federal Agent calling himself "Falco Accipiter" has resolved to hunt down the money at all costs, and is harassing Chib.

Throughout the narrative we are treated to extracts from Grandpa's unpublished manuscript, Private Ejaculations. In these writings, he describes society and muses on human foibles. He seems particularly fond of James Joyce, and this is a clue to the story's resolution.

Chib is preparing for a new art show. He needs to win a grant to continue painting, otherwise he will have to take forced migration and live in another society, a practice by governments to prevent populations from becoming insular. Chib's own community is host to forcibly migrated Arabs, who belong to the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam. Chib wants to woo the daughter of one of these families, much to the disgust of her relatives.

Standing between Chib and the grant is the one-eyed critic Rex Luscus, who took his name from "Inter caecos regnat luscus", better known as "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King". The price of Rex's approval, which will make Chib famous, is sexual favors. Chib's art is controversial. He depicts religious scenes using a three-dimensional technique which presents different views, some of which are blasphemous comments on religion and humanity.

Like most young people, Chib and his friends enjoy rebellion for its own sake. They pretend to plot terrorist attacks when they know they are under surveillance. Such talk is so common that the listening authorities treat it with contempt. The police are laughable by 20th century standards. Dressed in fur-like characters from The Wizard of Oz they use electric tricycles no faster than golf carts, which nonetheless are equipped with sirens "to warn the bad guys they are coming". They have shock-sticks and guns which fire "choke-gas pellets".

Chib's exhibition dissolves into violence as his friend Omar Runic declaims an improvised poem in tribute to Chib's latest work. This is also common, particularly as the "fido" reporters are always keen to stir up trouble, and the artists hate the critics. One artist, a science fiction writer named Huga Wells-Erb Hein stur bury, starts the riot by attacking a reporter from Time magazine, now a government-run news agency which has kept the attitudes of the original corporation, including a deep hatred of science fiction. Chib smashes his painting, a blasphemous Nativity scene, into Rex Luscus's stomach. Suddenly he receives a message from Grandpa. Falco Accipiter has broken into the apartment and found his hiding place.

Grandpa is dead by the time Chib reaches home. He apparently died of shock. In his hand is the last of his "Private Ejaculations". A devout Catholic himself, according to this last note he comforts himself in an atheist world with the thought that profound hatred of religion means that people still believe God exists, otherwise they would not hate him so.

Chib and his mother attend a reverse funeral, where the coffin which supposedly contained Grandpa's body is dug up. As it is opened, there is an explosion, which scatters the stolen billions into the air and sends up a banner announcing "Winnegan's Fake!". Grandpa has cocked a final snook at the "gummint" from beyond the grave.

Chib is handed a note by a man acting for Grandpa's estate. The note simply says that Chib must abandon Ellay, leave his mother, and break free so he can paint from love, not out of hatred.



In his afterword to the story, Farmer mentions the Triple Revolution memo, a document sent to United States President Lyndon Johnson in 1964, with policy suggestions for the future of the nation in the face of "three separate and mutually reinforcing revolutions." These were identified as "The Cybernation Revolution," (massive automatic production, requiring progressively less human labor), "The Weaponry Revolution" (the development of new forms of weaponry which can obliterate civilization), and "The Human Rights Revolution" (a universal demand for human rights).

The source of Rex Luscus' name is described in the story as the quote, "In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is King". The original phrase is "In regione caecorum, rex est luscus," from Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus' Collecteana Adagiorum. This is likely to also be a reference to the early SF writer H. G. Wells' story, "The Country of the Blind" in which a sighted man finds himself in a literal country of the blind, plots to use his advantage to rule them, but fails because his ability is not appreciated by the population.


Algis Budrys said that "Riders of the Purple Wage" shows how to "write more and more about less and less. Farmer can show you how to pile it higher and higher ... [an] exercise in self-indulgence". [1]

A short story called "The Oögenesis of Bird City" (1971) describes an earlier time when the arcologies and the egg-houses were being introduced to society. Of particular interest is a mention in the story that "integration" of communities was a failure and the technology could be used to allow people to dwell "among their own kind".

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  1. Budrys, Algis (April 1968). "Galaxy Bookshelf". Galaxy Science Fiction. pp. 155–163.