Philip José Farmer
Flesh (1968)
Reviewed: 1997-09-05

What a piece of rubbish.

Celebrated as the author who brought sex to science fiction, Farmer profited from the liberalization at the end of the 1960s to bang out "shocking" and "provocative" books with gratuitous and/or explicit sex. In Flesh, Captain Peter Stagg and his crew return after 800 years of traveling the galaxy to a much changed Earth. After a series of cataclysms most technology has been lost, and when the spaceship lands in North America, the crew find the continent fragmented into many small warring countries, with different languages, religions, and strange customs.

Farmer delights in attacking the sensibilities of American readers, desecrating the revered city of Washington D.C. and the holy national sport of baseball. Stagg, (anti-)hero of the novel, is led by the locals to become the focus of a tremendous, absurd fertility rite. Here Farmer again takes up an idea already touched on at the end of his The Image of the Beast, that of a man being forced by unnatural means to monstrous sexual performance, or, as Stagg sums up his situation, "unlimited opportunity and inexhaustible ability".

There are actually no explicit sex scenes in Flesh. The orgies are entirely left to the reader's imagination. Descriptions of women walking around bare-breasted may have been judged erotic back when the book was written, but hardly so nowadays, especially here in Europe. The whole book wavers between silly and absurd. Farmer's imagination is fertile as usual but the results don't make much sense. The ad-hoc plot is occasionally bizarre and rather pointless. Digging for some merit where there is none, I come up with Farmer telling the reader, and well illustrating it, that customs and morals are not universal but tied to a particular culture. Somehow I doubt, though, that Flesh is the kind of book to successfully deliver this message.

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Christian "naddy" Weisgerber <>