Friday, July 10, 2009


Some books should be classics, but society resists. Flesh by Philip José Farmer is such a book. In a sane world, young people would be encouraged to read and discuss it and civilization would be stronger for it, but in a world where sex and religion cause citizens to behave like savages, it keeps going out of print.

On the surface, it’s a conventional space opera. Commander Peter Stagg brings his starship back to Earth after eight hundred years to discover that a temporary destruction of the ozone layer has killed off most animal species, as well as the human race, and has radically transformed society in what is now Washington, D.C. There’s plenty of derring-do, and it all leads up to a happy ending. It could be made into a series for the Sci-Fi – excuse me, SyFy Channel.

Then it boldly goes into dangerous territory.

Science was blamed for the world-wide disaster. The American society that rebuilt itself is not our own after a slight interruption. The urge to get back to nature has revived pagan-style religion. Peter Stagg and his men are captured. Stagg is put in the role of the Sunhero, a fertility god in the Wild Man tradition.

He wakes up with a pair of hormone-producing erectile antlers (biological science has been developed while others have been ignored) that force him to play the lead role in rituals that have him literally fertilizing like crazy.

It does not become a simple porno wish-fulfilment fantasy. Farmer’s knowledge of pagan religions and how they work is impressive. The world is shown dramatically transformed. The reader’s preconceived notions about what is civilized are challenged.

For a book that was written nearly half a century ago, on the other side of the so-called Sexual Revolution, it still works well as a satire of sex, religion, and politics. Despite technology providing greater access to sexually explicit material, the whole subject makes people uncomfortable to the point of violent hysterical reactions. Our "sexually-obsessed society" has roots sunk deep into frozen tundra of Puritanism. We all need the joy, humor, and adventure of Flesh.

More precisely, it is the book that today’s teenagers need to read after they’ve gone through Stephanie Meyer’s tame Twilight novels.

If only some brilliant young Fellini/Jodorowsky would make a delightfully twisted film version!

Yeah, I know, Baen did reprint it , as part of a Farmer omnibus that I recommend as a great gift idea, but we need more. We should by used copies and give them to young people. Somehow we’ve raised a generation that has been shielded, or maybe I should say "filtered," from a lot of the things that will allow them to survive in a world that turns upside-down and tears itself apart on a regular basis. They need to know that it is possible to enjoy yourself, even in a world undergoing serious transformation.

It would also be a good book to take when flying to La Fiesta De San Fermin.

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