Flesh — Philip José Farmer (1960)

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Publisher: Signet

First Signet Edition, 1969

Cover Art: Ellen Raskin

Plot Synopsis (of cover): Huck’s was a Hollywood success story gone cockeyed. As a low-level assistant hoping to be noticed, he had been serving bourbon-laced coffee at an emergency production meeting of Universal Studios big-wigs. The director was present, along with several important money-men (the writer, presumably, was locked in a hotel room weeping, as they usually do after Rewrite #37). “Gentlemen, we’ve got a problem,” one of the executives gravely intoned. “One of our actors has fallen ill, and will likely not survive to the end of filming. We need to replace him immediately—right now!” Another executive shook his head. He replied, “Do you have any idea how much trouble it was to find the first one? The training one needs to play a part like this takes years.” Huck’s eyes widened, sensing an opening. “Sirs,” he said humbly, “I myself have completed years of dramatic study, and have played many parts in theatre productions. Should you require a stand-in immediately, I would volunteer my services.” The director spat out his coffee. “Are you fucking stupid?” he guffawed. One of the money men held up a hand. “Son,” he said, “would you be willing to work for your current salary?” Huck, excited just to be a part of the process, nodded enthusiastically. “Then you’re in. Steven,” the money man addressed the director, “make it work.” Agog for a moment, the director regained his composure. “All right, but this doesn’t change anything else. He can wear the same costume as all of the other actors. I demand authenticity! Be on the helicopter at 6AM and meet us for the snowy ravine scene.” Reflecting upon this conversation during filming, a shivering, pink-fleshed Huck stood naked in line with all of the other reindeer as Santa Claus brought down the lash. While this was a demeaning way to break one’s way into the business, he was thankful, at least, that he wasn’t working for Fox.

Relatively Irrelevant Inside Text: Any review of this book would be disingenuous did I not include the amazing back-cover synopsis (click here), since it is an accurate description in both content and spirit of what is contained within the book. And what a book! My sweet heaven, this hilarious quasi-erotic glimpse into a dystopian version of the American Dream as seen from the early 1960s is a thing of absolute beauty. Sewing together an opulence of literary and theological scraps into a quilt that Grant Morrison would cuddle up under, Flesh is smart and well-crafted. It’s also filthy. Filthy filthy filthy. This is one of the most sexually-focused novels I’ve encountered in my science fiction studies (outpacing Sexmax), and I wish that every one of the books I read from here on out tackle (heh) the subject with similar humor and forthrightness. I mean, yes, it has an early 1960s sentimentality towards sexuality, so its politics aren’t as progressive as those we explore today, but fuck it. Funny is funny, and brilliant is brilliant, and Flesh  is both.

Rating: 9.8 Surgically-Implanted Sex Antlers

Questions for Critical Cover-Viewing:

  • Should television networks take their cues from this and replace all of those black censorship bars with CG forest wildlife?
  • What jerk explained to this young man what going to his prom “stag” meant?
  • Where is it that hosts a strip poker game wherein you can lose all of your clothes but win livestock?

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