Sunday, February 12, 2012
VENUS ON THE HALF-SHELL
It’s been well over 30 years since I’ve read this book. Found it while in my Army School in Fort Sam Houston in the summer of 1979.
I didn’t get the joke about this book at the time I found it. For all I knew, Kilgore Trout was a real person and this was some long-lost underground classic in a newly published form. There was a list of books mentioned in the first few pages that were supposedly written by the reclusive Trout. I bought it hook, line and sinker because I didn’t know any better. Such was the innocence of my youth.
Well, at the risk of shattering all YOUR illusions about this – in case you’re a young ‘un who has no clue – “Kilgore Trout” is the name of the main character in Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Breakfast of Champions”. He was never a real person and the author’s photograph is of someone else wearing a false beard. I actually thought it was a picture of a dog wearing a hat and glasses.
VENUS ON THE HALF-SHELL was actually written by the legendary Philip Jose Farmer. It was intended to launch a number of books, under the Trout name, but I understand that there was a falling out between Farmer and Vonnegut and the joke that started with this novel also ended with it.
This is one I will have to re-visit at some point. I think it was a space comedy, but do not recall it being “fall-down funny” like, say, Douglas Adams’ THE HITCH-HIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY. To me, HITCH-HIKER’S is the gold standard of galactic humor books. VENUS ON THE HALF-SHELL, at most, is the forgotten uncle of this genre.
Like HITCH-HIKER’S, VENUS ON THE HALF-SHELL deals with the answer to a question that has mystified mankind almost since its inception. When you discover the answer to the question in question (ha!), you will either laugh about it or be pissed off. But at least you will feel SOMETHING. Trout/Farmer can certainly push one’s buttons within the context of the storyline. It’s up to you whether you think this was an overlooked masterpiece or a waste of your time. I tend to lean toward the masterpiece theory.