Review: Flesh / Author: Philip José Farmer / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out now
One gets the feeling that when working out what PJF titles to reissue, perhaps Titan should’ve skipped this one as it’s hardly representative of Farmer’s best work and is unlikely to get readers coming back for more.
Don’t get us wrong, a story with a concept like this definitely got our interest. Thanks to the breed of science fiction that skips over the details, Captain Peter Stagg and his men return from a space mission to a post-apocalyptic Earth. Think Buck Rogers but with a matriarchal society. Anyway, the leader of the astronauts is christened the ‘Sunhero’ and roped into an ongoing fertility rite (having sex with hordes of screaming women before dying a horrible death).
It turns out that the ladies have made significant advances in biological wizardry and are able to graft the antlers of a stag onto Stagg’s head. This gives him the virility and ability to make a good go of impregnating every woman he can. (Incidentally, while the importance of ‘Stagg’ as the lead’s name is surely obvious, we found it interesting that the character’s first name was ‘Peter’, derived from the Latin for rock…)
Of course, this book is one that's bound to polarise people. One of the afterwords claims that “it is likely that Farmer was parodying the then-prevalent attitudes towards homosexuality”. Though we’re open to correction, we can’t help but feel that this is a bit of historical revisionism. And since Farmer passed away in 2009, we can’t ask him how he felt about homosexuals 40 years ago. We suspect that this will be a question for the ages.
The book isn’t all bad (there are many entertaining scenes and Nephi Sarvant’s plot-line makes for fascinating reading) but the main thing we just can’t get past is that this is a reissue of a work published more than 40 years ago, which means that stuff that was considered taboo and exciting back then is somewhat tamer by the standards of today. And once you strip this novel of its power to shock, there’s not much else left.