Sunday, May 20, 2007

Aaron's Book of the Week :: Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout

Venus on the Half-ShellFollowing up on our tribute to Kurt Vonnegut, the Book of the Week is Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout, published in 1975, with cover art by Victor Gadino.

Kilgore Trout was an invention of Kurt Vonnegut, a make-believe science fiction writer who appeared in many of Vonnegut's novels. According to Vonnegut, Trout was underappreciated as an author, largely because he was mistaken for a sleaze writer after some of his early works were published by pornographers. Trout was supposedly the author of over 100 novels, but Venus on the Half-Shell is the only one ever to see print in the real world, thanks to another science fiction author, Philip Jose Farmer.

Philip Jose Farmer is one of my personal favorite authors (you will see more of him in future BOTWs). Even though he has enjoyed significant success in the science fiction field, many of us believe he remains underappreciated, perhaps in part because he was mistaken for a sleaze writer after several of his early works were printed by pornographic publisher Essex House. Farmer delighted in borrowing other authors' fictional creations, and wrote Venus on the Half-Shell as a tribute to Vonnegut.

In Venus on the Half-Shell, Farmer deliberately imitated the style of Vonnegut, successfully enough that when the book came out several reviewers insisted that it really was by Vonnegut, even though he denied it. The Washington Post review declared, "Trout's prose is at least as good as Vonnegut's," then ended the review with the words, "Thanks, Kurt." The confusion annoyed Vonnegut enough that he later had some snappish things to say about Farmer free-loading off his reputation. This was rather unfair, since Vonnegut gave Farmer permission in advance to create Venus on the Half-Shell and declined Farmer's offer to share the royalties.

While Kilgore Trout evolved into a semiautobiographical figure in Vonnegut's writings, he was originally inspired by yet another science fiction writer, the subject of next week's BOTW.

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