Imagine a planet dominated by a life form that maintains the soul of all past generations, allowing one day for each past life to control both body and mind. Then since thousands of generations have lived on this planet, each would only regain control—sentient life—for a single day in hundreds and thousands of years. Now imagine a dominant life-form that arose, not from apes, but from cats. Oh, they look basically human but with strange eyes and in perpetual heat. Also, unlike cats who only have nine lives, these civilized felines have thousands of lives.
Let’s make it tougher. Imagine a world dominated by a species where the male and the female forms are very different. The females are shaped like large pyramids with many short legs and move around all day eating the grass through their underside mouths and awaiting the return of the shiftless males each night. The males are shaped like huge dirigibles (zeppelins) and spend the day floating and cavorting in the air, propelled by powerful flatulence. At night the males moor themselves to the top of the pyramid-like females where they find not only a convenient mooring post but also a feeding tube (what! cud again tonight?) and even the appropriate female organ to enjoy some sexy-time with as they eat and recuperate from a tough day chasing clouds.
Oh, and on this planet, Hell was up in the sky and Heaven existed inside the hollow planet. At least that was the religious myth. Metaphorically this associates UP with BAD and DOWN with GOOD, something George Lakoff would find impossible to accept.
What is this book?
Well, it’s a great Science Fiction story written by Kilgore Trout. Actually, Kilgore Trout is a fictional character from the mind of Kurt Vonnegut: Venus On the Half-Shell was actually written by one of my favorite storytellers, Philip José Farmer.
Like many other Science Fiction or Fantasy novels, Venus On the Half-Shell is also a very imaginative commentary on the state of humanity on a planet that is being doomed by the acts of man. Like Hitchhiker’s Guide, a galactic cleanup crew scrubs and washes a dirty and polluted earth and creates the second Flood when it comes time to rise and reapply. Our hero Simon escapes, first by floating on an electric banjo and then in a pharaoh’s museum case and sarcophagus until he finds a Chinese interstellar rocketship that is fully automatic and allows him to escape the drowning Earth for adventures beyond the galaxy with his faithful dog and owl.
Farmer walks a fine line in this entertaining novel between ridiculous farce and deadly seriousness where the reader must decide to consider Farmer’s observations on the destruction of the earth by mankind or just to laugh in all off and have a good time. Actually, the process of reading Venus In the Half-Shell is a good analogy for they way we (mis)treat our planet. Get serious or just laugh it off and doom all future generations.
Either way, this is a fun, quick read you won’t regret.