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Kurt Vonnegut did not write this book. (article explains)
on 12 April 1999
The following is excerpted from Edger Chapman, The Magic Labyrinth of Philip Jose Farmer, (San Bernardino: Borgo Press, 1984) 64-65.
Farmer's most important parody and fictional author story is Venus On The Half-Shell (1975), published by Dell books under the byline "Kilgore Trout." Trout is Vonnegut's itinerant, impoverished science fiction author, a prophet despised and without honor in his own country. A strong admirer of Vonnegut, Farmer has also confessed to a deep identification with Trout (who was actually suggested by Theodore Sturgeon). The identification was strengthened by many things: Farmer's own years as a struggling science fiction author in the early and middle stages of his career; Farmer's experience as a misunderstood social critic; and Farmer's identification with pornography as an Essex House author, a fate that plagued Trout. Finally, not long after Farmer had returned to Peoria, he was accused in 1970 of having written a letter signed "Trout" in the Peoria Journal Star criticizing President Nixon's Vietnam policy-another ironic identification of Farmer and Trout. (The letter is believed to have actually been penned by a college student.)
At any rate, Farmer, when afflicted with a temporary writer's block, conceived the idea of writing one of Trout's nonexistent novels and publishing it under Trout's name. He obtained Vonnegut's permission and went to work. When Venus on the Half-Shell was published by Dell, with Farmer wearing a false beard and a Confederate hat as a disguise on the back cover, the book was a ninety-day wonder, until Farmer's authorship, which Farmer made little effort to conceal, became known. Although the novel brought Farmer some unaccustomed notoriety (and made Vonnegut regret giving his permission to the project), the revelation of Farmer's authorship created a tendency to dismiss the work as simply an amusing parody and literary hoax. An additional irony in this episode has been Vonnegut's claim in a recent interview with Charles Platt (recorded in a book published in 1980) that Farmer failed to avow his authorship of Venus for a long period, presumably in the hope that sales would be increased by association with Vonnegut's reputation. This allegation, however, is not borne out by fact: Farmer told numerous friends, colleagues, and fans of his authorship; in fact, he informed the present writer of it when Venus was appearing as a serial in Fantasy and Science Fiction. Vonnegut's reaction is perhaps not surprising, since Trout is his invention. But when Vonnegut professes to feel anxiety that Farmer's book may somehow have harmed his literary reputation, it is hard to take him seriously. Such concern might have been better devoted to the effect of Vonnegut's self-indulgent seventies novels, Breakfast of Champions and Slapstick.
Divorced from topicality and controversy, Venus On The Half-Shell can be read as a lively satirical anatomy, an absurdist novel that manages to parody Vonnegut while ridiculing human pretentiousness and our persistent search for metaphysical answers in an irrational universe. . .
As a satire, Venus On The Half-Shell has many excellent moments, but it contrasts sharply with Vonnegut's work. Whereas Vonnegut is Juvenalian or Swiftian in his tone, his work suggesting genuine misanthropy, Farmer is a genial Horatian satirist here. There seems to be more readiness to accept the limitations of human life in Farmer, more hopefulness about the human capacity to enjoy life, even if dreams and ideals are for the most part doomed to not to be realized completely.