Venus on the Half-Shell, p.1Philip José Farmer
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ON THE HALF-SHELL
VENUS ON THE HALF-SHELL
Print edition ISBN: 9781781163061
E-book edition ISBN: 9781781163078
Published by Titan Books
A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd
144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP
First edition: December 2013
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 1974, 2013 by the Philip J. Farmer Family Trust. All rights reserved.
“Why and How I Became Kilgore Trout” copyright © 1988, 2013 by the Philip J. Farmer Family Trust. All rights reserved.
“The Obscure Life and Hard Times of Kilgore Trout” copyright © 1973, 2013 by the Philip J. Farmer Family Trust. All rights reserved.
“Jonathan Swift Somers III: Cosmic Traveller in a Wheelchair” copyright © 1977, 2013 by the Philip J. Farmer Family Trust. All rights reserved.
“Trout Masque Rectifier” copyright © 2012 by Jonathan Swift Somers III. All rights reserved.
“More Real Than Life Itself: Philip José Farmer’s Fictional-Author Period” copyright © 2008, 2013 by Christopher Paul Carey. All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.
ON THE HALF-SHELL
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Why and How I Became Kilgore Trout
By Philip José Farmer
The Obscure Life and Hard Times of Kilgore Trout
A Skirmish in Biography
By Philip José Farmer
The Legend of the Space Wanderer
It Always Rains on Picnics
The Hwang Ho
What’s the Score?
The Boojum of Space
Shaltoon, the Equal-Time Planet
The No Smoking Planet
Trouble on Giffard
Elder Sister Plum
The Planet Dokal
Off to See the Wizard
Who Pulls the Strings?
The Moment of Truth
The Family Tree is Known by its Fruits
Light in the Tavern
The Prison Planet
Out of the Frying Pan
The End of The Line
Jonathan Swift Somers III: Cosmic Traveller in a Wheelchair
A Short Biography by Philip José Farmer (Honorary Chief Kennel Keeper)
Trout Masque Rectifier
Now it can be Told Differently—The Truth About Trout
By Jonathan Swift Somers III
More Real Than Life Itself: Philip José Farmer’s Fictional-Author Period
By Christopher Paul Carey
Dedicated to the beasts and the stars.
They don’t worry about free will and immortality.
WHY AND HOW I BECAME KILGORE TROUT
BY PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER
Not until I reread Venus on the Half-Shell in preparation for this foreword, and read the reviews and letters resulting from it, did I remember how much fun I had had with it.
When I sat down to the typewriter to begin it, I was Kilgore Trout, not Philip José Farmer. The ideas, characters, plot, and situations rushed in, crowding at my brain’s front door. When they surged in, they swirled around, hand-in-hand, like super barn dancers or well-orchestrated members of the lobster quadrille. What a blast it was!
Six weeks later, the novel was done, but, all that while, the music was from Kant, Schopenhauer, and Voltaire. The caller was Epistemology, who looked a lot like Lewis Carroll. My wife knew I was having a good time because she could hear my laughter coming up the basement stairs to the kitchen.
I had been having a moderate writer’s block with the thencurrently scheduled novel. I was making slow and often halting progress. But, once I put that novel aside for the time being and adopted the persona of Kilgore Trout, sad-sack science fiction author, I wrote as if possessed by a degenerate angel. Which is what poor old Trout was, in fact.
The beginning of this project was in the early 1970s when I vastly admired and was wildly enthusiastic about the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. I was especially intrigued by Kilgore Trout, who had appeared in Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater and Slaughterhouse-Five. Trout was to appear in Breakfast of Champions, but that had not been published then.
While rereading Rosewater (in 1972, I believe) for the fifth time, I came across the part where Fred Rosewater picks up one of Trout’s books in the pornography section of a bookstore. It’s a paperback (none of Trout’s works ever made hardcovers) titled Venus on the Half-Shell. On the back cover is a photograph of the author, an old bearded man looking “like a frightened, aging Jesus”, and below it is an abridged version of “a red-hot scene” in the book.
The section regarding Venus differs from others, which describe the plots of Trout’s stories. Thus, Vonnegut, via Trout, makes his satirical or ironic points about our Terrestrial society and the nature of the Universe. Venus has no descriptions of the plot, and the hero is known only as the Space Wanderer. Aside from the abridged text on the back cover, there is no inkling of what the book is about.
At that moment, rereading this part, a pitchfork rose from my subconscious and goosed my neural ganglia. In short, I was inspired. Lights went on; bells clanged.
“Hey!” I thought. “Vonnegut’s readers think that Trout is only a fictional character! What if one of his books actually appeared on the stands? Wouldn’t that blow the minds of Vonnegut’s readers?”
Not to mention mine.
And, I thought, who more fitted to write Venus than I, a sad-sack science fiction writer whose early career paralleled Trout’s? I’d been ripped off by publishers, had to work
My heart fired up like a nova, I wrote to David Harris, science fiction editor of Dell (Vonnegut’s publisher), proposing to write Venus as if by Kilgore Trout. He replied that he thought the idea was great, and he gave me Vonnegut’s address so that I could write him to ask for permission to carry out the project. I did not hesitate. After all, Venus would be my tribute to the esteemed Vonnegut. I sent him a letter outlining my proposal. Many months passed. No reply. I sent another letter, but many more months passed before I decided that I’d have to phone Vonnegut. David Harris gave me Vonnegut’s number.
I had to nerve myself up to phone Vonnegut. He was a very big author, and I was a member of a group, science fiction writers, for whom he had expressed a certain amount of disdain. But, when I did call him, he was very pleasant and not at all patronizing. He said that he did remember my letters, though he did not explain why he had not replied. I re-outlined my ideas, and, in arguing against his resistance to them, said that I strongly identified with Trout. He replied that he, too, identified with him. And he was afraid that people would think that the book was a hoax.
That flabbergasted me. Of course, it was a hoax, and people would know it. But I rallied, and I argued some more. Finally, he relented and gave me permission to write Venus as Trout. I offered to split the royalties with him, but he magnanimously refused to accept them. However, he did stress that no reference to his name or his works should appear in or on Venus.
I thanked him, and, elated, started to write. I was Kilgore Trout, in a sense, and I was writing the sort of book that I imagined Trout would write. But I tried to give the prose, characters, plot, and philosophy of Venus a Vonnegutian flavor. After all, Vonnegut had admitted that he was also, in a sense, Trout. I was only restricted in writing Venus by having to make the protagonist the Space Wanderer and by including my expansion of the abridged “red-hot scene” as described in Rosewater. I did not entirely emulate Vonnegut in the use of short words and a sort of See-Dick-See-Jane-See-Spot prose. But I did try to keep the text from becoming anything resembling William Faulkner’s. Vonnegut wrote a very simple prose because he had a low opinion of the attention-span and general literary and lexical knowledge of the 1970s’ college students, who formed a large percentage of his readers.
It’s worth noting that such science fiction writers as Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert did not avoid complicated ideas and plots and long sentences and words, and they did very well among the college students and general reading public.
The protagonist of Venus was named Simon Wagstaff. Simon because he was a sort of Simple Simon of the nursery rhyme. And Wagstaff because he certainly “wagged” (and waved) his sexual “staff” around during various sexual encounters. I also, unlike Vonnegut, put in a lot of references to literature and fictional authors. It would not matter that the average reader would not understand these, and it would amuse the academics. Or so I thought. I was too obscure for even the supposedly overeducated academics.
How many knew that Silas T. Comberbacke, the baseballfan spaceman (sort of an Ancient Mariner) in Venus was the pseudonym of Samuel T. Coleridge, the great British poet, during his brief stay in the English army? Or that Bruga, Trout’s favorite poet, was taken (with permission) from a novel by Ben Hecht, Count Bruga? And that Bruga, the wild Jewish Bukowski-like Chicago poet, was based on Hecht’s friend, Maxwell E. Bodenheim, the Greenwich Village poet and wino of the 1930s? Or that there were many similar references to other fictional writers? Who cared except me?
Most of the alien names in Venus were formed by transposing the letters of English or non-English words. Thus, Chworktap comes from patchwork. Dokal comes from caudal, which means having a tail. The planet Zelpst is a phonetic rendering of the German selbst, meaning self. The planet Raproshma is a rendering of the French rapprochement. The planet Clerun-Gowph derives from the German Aufklärung, enlightenment. And so on. Most readers sensibly do not concern themselves with such games, but I had fun with them. And I imagine that Trout, though he had only a high school education, read widely, and he would have played the same game.
The philosophical basis of Venus dealt with free will and immortality. Trout, in Breakfast of Champions, longs to be young again. And predeterminism is certainly a theme that runs through many of Vonnegut’s works. Vonnegut is like Mark Twain in that he believes (or writes as if he believes) that everything is predetermined. Twain thought that all physical things and our thoughts and behavior were mechanically fixed from the moment the first atom in the beginning of this universe bumped into the second atom and the second atom into the third. And so on. Vonnegut apparently believes that our troubling and violent lives and irrational behavior are the result of “bad chemicals.”
This interests me because I have been interested in the problem of free will versus predeterminism for about fifty-eight years. But I believe that humans do have free will, though few, however, exercise that faculty. Perhaps I believe this because I am predetermined to do so. But, as Trout, I wrote as if Twain and Vonnegut were correct in their belief in predeterminism.
In any event, Vonnegut is a thorough predeterminist in that his works have no villains or heroes. No blame is put upon anybody for even the vilest deeds and most colossal selfishness, savagery, stupidity, and greed. That’s the way things are, and they can be no other. Only God the Utterly Indifferent is responsible and perhaps not even He. Trout has the same attitude.
Just as Eliot Rosewater, the multimillionaire in Rosewater, Slaughterhouse-Five, and Breakfast, thinks that Trout is the greatest writer that ever lived, so Trout, in his Venus, has Simon Wagstaff, his hero, believe that Jonathan Swift Somers III is the greatest writer that ever existed. Wagstaff also has his favorite poet, Bruga. Some of Somers’ stories are outlined, and some of Bruga’s poems are printed in Venus.
Somers III is my creation, but he is the grandson of Judge Somers and the son of Jonathan Swift Somers II. Those familiar with Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology will recognize the latter two. (Mentioned with the permission of the Masters’ estate.)
One of Somers III’s protagonists is Ralph von Wau Wau (Wau Wau is German for Bow! Wow!). He is a German Shepherd dog whose intelligence has been raised to human-genius level by a scientist. Ralph is also a writer, and I had planned to write a story as by him titled Some Humans Don’t Stink. That story’s main character would be Shorter Vondergut, a writer. (Shorter from kurt, German for short, and Vondergut from the German von der Gut, meaning of the [River] Gut.) Thus, the cycle of fictional authors would be complete. In fact, I did write two stories under Somers’ name about Ralph. These were published, but I doubt I’ll ever write the whole cycle. I have passed through this particular phase. It was fun while it lasted.
The Venus manuscript went to Dell with some photographs of me as Trout (wearing a big false beard), a selected bibliography of Trout’s works, and a biographical sketch of him. All done with tongue in cheek or wherever. The furor on its publication both amused and gratified me. There were even questions about the true identity of Trout in the New York Times. An article in the National Enquirer “proved” that Vonnegut wrote Venus because of its plots, characters, philosophy, and style.
Meanwhile, Mr. Vonnegut was neither amused nor gratified. He was, as I understand, flooded with letters asking if he had written Venus. Some of these said it was the worst book he had ever written; some, the best. The main cause of unhappiness, however, was that he mis
Whatever was said, Mr. Vonnegut became angry. Consequently, he forbade me to write another Trout novel I’d planned, The Son of Jimmy Valentine. That would have been my last novel as by Trout, but it was not to be. Vonnegut had the right, of course, to refuse permission for me to write it.
Legally, I had the right to sell Venus to the movies. And, when a producer made a proposal to make an animated movie of it with The Grateful Dead providing the music, I was elated. But Mr. Vonnegut phoned me and expressed his regrets that his lawyer would sue the producer if a movie was made. Vonnegut told me he was sorry about this, but I was very prolific and so would not miss any money I might get from the deal. Again, he had the moral right to scotch this proposal. Also, I doubt that anything would have come from the proposal. I’ve had over forty of my works optioned for Hollywood, and nothing has come of any of these.
The fun continued. Many letters addressed to Trout were sent on by my agent or the publisher. One letter purported to be from another Vonnegut character, Harrison Bergeron. Trout was invited to be the artist-in-residence during the 1975 Bicentennial Literary Explosion in Frankfort, Kentucky. The editor of Contemporary Authors sent a letter inquiring about including Trout in the book for 1976. She complained that Trout was supposed to have written 117 novels, but she could find only a reference to Venus on the Half-Shell. “It would seem,” she wrote, “that Kilgore Trout is a pseudonym. Would your agent furnish the real name of the author?”
Venus on the Half-Shell by Philip José Farmer / Science Fiction / Humor have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes