Complete Your Summer Reading with this Sci-Fi Classic
My friend Ron was halfway through a Kurt Vonnegut novel when he decided to reach out via Facebook for assurance that his particular book would get better. I replied, "It doesn't." A while later he replied saying that I was right. The subject of Vonnegut reminded me of one of his recurring characters, Kilgore Trout. Trout was himself a science fiction writer who could only achieve publication as filler for pornographic books and magazines (no internet in the 70's). Kilgore Trout, in turn, reminded me of a hilarious, wildly imaginative, and sometimes disturbing 1975 novel Venus on the Half-shell, by Phillip Jose' Farmer, originally published under the pen name "Kilgore Trout".
If you have yet to read it, Venus on the Half-shell makes for an absorbing, fast paced, escape from our crazy times. I told Ron as much.
Most authors will start a novel by painting a picture of the setting, then begin the introduction of the characters. Farmer starts Venus with the protagonist, Simon Wagstaff, having sex atop the Great Pyramid of Giza. Next came the great flood, literally. An alien race called the Hoonhor traveled from planet to planet checking out the state of evolution. If the state was not well, they cleansed it. Earth was one of these. The Hoonhor caused all the water vapor in the atmosphere to precipitate at once, washing the planet, and giving evolution another shot.
Our hero, Simon Wagstaff, managed to float around long enough to float by an abandoned Chinese spacecraft which he boarded shortly before running aground on, where else, Mount Ararat. After learning how to fly the craft, Simon left Earth and traveled the galaxy far and wide to find the answers to unanswerable questions, like, "Why are we created only to suffer and die?"
The novel starts out with a bang, but that is only the first in a number of sexual adventures. There was, for example, the planet Dokal where all the people were identical to humans with the exception of possessing a five to six foot long prehensile tail, naked, save for a tuft of fur at the end. The Dokals insisted on fixing his lack of tail problem, and after the installation, he found it to be quite useful. Useful, he found, in ways he had not imagined, like when the King's young daughter named Tunc (an anagram) seduced him and... well, I'll leave it there.
Occasionally the humor could be a bit disturbing. As it turned out, faster-than-light travel was made possible by sucking energy from a parallel universe to feed the engine. Unfortunately, the globs of energy were actually living beings. They died in the process. The engine, in fact, transmitted the sound of their wailing death cries - the faster he went, the louder they became. Simon found it terribly unnerving.
Farmer was a great admirer of Vonnegut, and through the persona of Kilgore Trout he was able to take the Vonnegut style to far higher level of humor and creativity. Writing Venus was a joy for Farmer, and it shows in the writing. He speaks of laughing out loud while typing it, and concluded, "What a blast it was!"
Venus is a great escape novel for the science fiction buff, and the joy of the author in its creation touches you. Finish your summer reading with this!
Oh yeah, Ron's book that did not get better was Slaughterhouse Five.
Venus on the Half-shell
Philip Jose' Farmer