Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror: Venus on the Half-Shell and Others

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farmer04_b.jpgBack in the mid-1970's, author Philip Jose Farmer became such a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s fictional writer character Kilgore Trout that he actually wrote a novel using the Trout byline.  The novel, Venus on the Half-Shell (referred to in Vonnegut's 1965 work, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater), was published in 1975, but due to a falling-out between Farmer and Vonnegut, plans for further novels by Farmer using the Trout pseudonym were aborted. Furthermore, all reprintings of Venus had to credit Farmer as the sole author.

Farmer went on to write other novels and short stories as a "fictional author", often writing in the style of actual famous authors and/or as these authors' fictional characters.  For example, Farmer's 1976 novel The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, a fictional team-up of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan of the Apes, set during the early days of World War One, is written (also tongue-in-cheek) in Conan Doyle's style (and credited, like Conan Doyle's Holmes stories, to Holmes' faithful partner "John H. Watson, M.D.", and "edited" by Farmer), while remaining essentially faithful to the established continuities of both fictional characters.  

But Farmer again ran into conflict, this time with the Burroughs estate. Peer was withdrawn after the first printing. 

Apparently, all conflicts were eventually resolved.  Last year Subterranean Press reprinted both Venus and Peer, along with other stories, in a terrific collection of Farmer's "fictional author" works, Venus on the Half-Shell and Others, which the library now carries.  (Go here to reserve the title.)  In addition to these two novels, VOTHSAO also includes such gems as "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod" (a Tarzan story written in the style of William S. Burroughs),  "The Volcano" (written by "Paul Chapin", the antagonist of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mystery, The League of Frightened Men), and "The Last Rites of Nick Adams" , whose title character may or may not be related to Ernest Hemingway's frequent protagonist. 

The entire collection is mostly entertaining, if a bit hit and miss (Peer features the first-ever bout of airsickness by Holmes and Watson, but the sequence just jerks the story to a halt rather than providing the intended laughs).  Also, despite informative introductions to the stories by (actual) editor Christopher Paul Carey, the reader may want to brush up on their knowledge of literary and popular culture to catch the various "in" jokes and references.  (A great source to check out would be The Wold Newton Universe site, overseen by Win Scott Eckert, which cross references, and even provides family trees for, several fictional characters from various literary genres.) 

Overall though, it's great to have these witty and imagnitive novels and stories available again.  -Ed

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Ed published on January 15, 2009 9:49 AM.

For Persons With Disabilities: Voluntary Services for the Blind of Fairfield County was the previous entry in this blog.

Classic & Cult Television: The Prisoner is the next entry in this blog.

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