Friday, January 1, 2016

Three late 1970s stories by Philip Jose Farmer about sex and excrement

In our last episode we looked at three stories by Philip Jose Farmer which appeared in the 1960s in If, and then were collected in Down in the Black Gang. Today let's advance to the 1970s and check out some stories by Farmer which appear in the 1979 collection Riverworld and Other Stories.  (An earlier version of "Riverworld" also appears in Down in the Black Gang; the version in this later volume is much longer.)   I bought my copy of Riverworld and Other Stories at a Des Moines Salvation Army, along with three other paperbacks, including Andrew Offut's The Iron Lords.

I chose these three stories to read because of their jokey titles.  "J. C. on the Dude Ranch" made its first (and, according to isfdb, its only English) appearance in this volume.  "The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol" and "The Leaser of Two Evils" first appeared in Playboy.

"J. C. on the Dude Ranch" (1979)

Farmer wrote this story after Robert Bloch, author of Psycho and Lori, made up the title as a joke in a letter to Farmer; so Farmer tells us in the intro to the story.

This story is as ludicrous as you would expect from the premise, full of lame puns and crude sex jokes, told in the voice of a ranch hand whose hobbies consist of getting drunk and having sex with whores.  After he introduces himself the narrator begins his tale by informing us that one day a guy drove up to the ranch in a humble white pickup and gave his name as J. C. Marison, thus exploding any suspicions the reader had that this story was about Julius Caesar or John Carter.  Marison is soon followed by a guy in a black Cadillac who calls himself Bales Bub.  Both Marison and Bub, we are told, have exceedingly large crotches!  (In 1964 Damon Knight dared to consider the size and perfection of God's nose and snot, but Farmer in 1979 brings such thinking to its logical conclusion and envisages the prodigious size and character of Christ's genitalia.)

J. C. is there to work on the ranch (among other tasks he turns tap water into vodka, whiskey and gin) while Bub is there to seize the ranch because its owner is overdue on loans to New York bankers.  Or so they say.  After a graphic and bizarre sex scene involving Bub and a Mrs. Lott from New York, J. C. captures Bub and reveals that he and Bub are aliens on opposite sides of an interstellar war.  The war over, no aliens will ever visit Earth again.

Irreverent, pornographic, and stupid, I'm not surprised Farmer didn't get this into a magazine or anthology.  Based on any logical or objective criteria I would have to give "J. C. on the Dude Ranch" a down vote, but since it is so breathtakingly, so audaciously, odd, I have to admit I found it entertaining as a bewildering curiosity. Reading it reminded me of flipping through old underground comix full of caricatured male nudity and dumb jokes told at the expense of establishment beliefs and mainstream culture, jokes the writers thought were "brave" if not actually funny.   Those interested in Farmer's career should probably seek it out as a window into Farmer's unbridled id.  

"The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol" (1977)

In an intro Farmer tells us he came up with the title "The Henry Miller Dawn Patrol" and then built a story around it.  I'm a fan of Miller's, and so was curious about this story.  I was also curious about the DIY "paper starship" advertised on the cover of the issue of Playboy in which this story first appeared.  When I found reproductions of the project online, I was surprised by how discotastically lame it looked.  On the plus side, it apparently is an actual paper airplane that is meant to glide from one end of your bachelor pad to the other while you are lounging about in your smoking jacket listening to jazz records and swishing brandy in a snifter.

Like "J. C. on the Dude Ranch" this story includes graphic descriptions of the male sex organ and jokes about people shitting their pants.  Our hero is in a nursing home, a veteran of air combat in World War One.  While most of the inmates lay in bed in their own excrement, our hero is still virile, and he stalks the corridors at night, meeting and having sex with female patients and staff members.  These encounters are described allegorically as dogfights between early 20th century aircraft:  "...the Hispano-Suiza in his chest thumped... her motor cowlings were still shapely...her widespread legs guided him like landing-strip lights...."--you get the picture.  Much of this sexual intercourse, especially by 2016 standards, has be considered "rapey," the women mentally incompetent, asleep or even unconscious from a blow to the head.

If you want to read jocular accounts of 60-plus-year-old amputees and incontinents having sex without the benefit of affirmative consent, here is your chance. At least three things happen in this story that I feel are too yucky for me to describe, but are surprising and memorable.

Far more clever than "J. C. on the Dude Ranch," and essentially realistic, if off-the-wall, I can recommend this one to people who are immune from being shocked, or enjoy being shocked.  The story also suggests that Farmer was well read on the topic of First World War aviation.  


"The Leaser of Two Evils" (1979)

As with the last story, Farmer thought of this title and then came up with a story to match it.

"The Leaser of Two Evils" is a satire of conventional morality, making the common charge that people who loudly espouse particular values are likely to be hypocrites and perhaps more evil than the people they denounce.  Its star is a police detective, John Healey, who suffers multiple personality disorder.  By day he raids brothels and pornographic bookstores, and eschews tobacco, drugs, and alcohol.  By night his other personality, his "sister," takes over.  "Jane" Healy puts on dresses and wigs, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish, writes and publishes pornographic science fiction stories, and has anal sex (in the receptive role) with strange men.  On a typical morning John wakes up to find his mouth tasting "as if it had been used for an ashtray" and that "his anus was sore and dribbling stickiness."

A sizable proportion of this story is made up of excerpts from one of Jane's novels, a book about a mad scientist who makes artificial penises, and the analysis of this novel by John's psychotherapist.  There are bad puns and jokes about human fecal matter. The plot is resolved when we learn that John, as a child, raped and murdered his real sister and her pet dog, and John begins playing the role of the dead dog, walking about on all fours and licking people's faces.

It was a stretch endorsing the last two tales, and this one has their vulgarity and grotesquery without their interesting or amusing idiosyncrasies.  Thumbs down.

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All three of these stories are essentially extended dirty jokes meant to ├ępater les bourgeois.  There is no way I could claim these stories are good, but as artifacts on the periphery of the world of genre literature they are perhaps worthy of some interest.  I can at least report that they are mercifully short.

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