Riders of the Purple Wage was a science fiction novella by Philip José Farmer. It appeared in Dangerous Visions, the famous 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.
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.
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. See also: sex in science fiction.
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.
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.
Throughout the narrative we are treated to extracts from Grandpa's "unpublished manuscript", "Private Ejaculations".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. Governments practice this to prevent populations becoming insular. Chib's own community is host to forcibly migrated Arabs, who belong to the strict Wahabi 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 Heinsturbury, 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.