This last year Titan Books has re-released Philip José Farmer’s 1974 novel; Venus on the Half-Shell. Farmer, a world renowned science fiction author, wrote as if this were a Kilgore Trout novel. A name recognized by many Kurt Vonnegut fans as the anti-social, and eccentric, science fiction writer from Vonnegut novels like Slaughter House Five and Breakfast of Champions. Writing as the non-existant author, Farmer explored what a Kilgore Trout novel may have been like as part of a writing experiment where he (Farmer) and several other writers conspired to bring the fictional works of like wise fictional characters to real life. In Venus on the Half-Shell, Farmer writes the story of the last human to survive a global holocaust and subsequent quest to answer a philosophical question; Why are we born if only to suffer? Here’s the synopsis:
Simon Wagstaff narrowly escapes the Deluge that destroys Earth when he happens upon an abandoned spaceship. A man without a planet, he gains immortality from an elixir drunk during an interlude with a cat-like alien queen. Now Simon must chart a 3,000-year course to the most distant corners of the multiverse, to seek out the answers to the questions no one can seem to answer.
A big part of our site (Atomic Moo) is celebrating Fandom through some sort of creative expression. There are fantastic stories out there that just stuck with us and instilled a sense of nostalgia, or sparked enough inspiration, to make us want to do something to be a part of that fictional world that was thought up by somebody else. So, it’s from a Fanboy perspective that I can appreciate Venus on the Half-shell. There shouldn’t be any question that this Farmer’s tribute to Vonnegut. Though the book states in the forward (pg. 16) that Farmer and Vonnegut had a falling out over Venus, the story is similar in prose to many of Vonnegut’s actual novels. It is satirical, absurd, and (in a Slaughterhouse Five/ Billy Pilgrim sort of way) a little naive. The protagonist (Wagstaff) is a philosopher. He rockets around the galaxy in a phallic shaped spaceship, relying on the lives of 5th dimensional suns for fuel, all in a quest to answer one grand question. During his quest his life is often in jeopardy and he has a massive amount of sex with all sorts of odd creatures who’s civilizations seem to satirize many human behaviors. It is the sort of “smart ass” story that would fit in nicely with any of Vonnegut’s true works.
However, maybe you’re a purist and you don’t think a Kilgore Trout novel should ever exist. Even if that were the case, this is still a funny satire that can stand on it’s own. Take away the name Kilgore Trout and appropriately attribute this novel to Philip J. Farmer and it’s still a fun book to read. I don’t think it is ever possible for any one to say what a Kilgore Trout novel should be. After all: Vonnegut is dead, and Trout (despite his best efforts) never actually existed, but Farmer’s Venus in a Half-Shell is about as close to the real thing as we’re likely to ever get.
Venus on the Half-Shell can be found in all major books stores or you can get you’re copy online at Titanbooks.com