Jul 12, 2018

Philip Jose Farmer: Gay Sci-Fi with Muscles

When I was in college, you couldn't walk into Adam's Bookstore at the Augustana Student Union or Readmore Book World downtown without seeing a dozen sci-fi novels by Philip Jose Farmer (1918-2009) on display.  Bright, colorful paperbacks with amazingly muscular hunks on the covers, sometimes nude, and stories inside that sounded fascinating.

Sometimes they were.

There were three main types:

1. The World of Tiers: The Maker of Universes (1965), A Private Cosmos (1968), etc.  A man from our world is trapped on a multi-plane world occupied by various human, alien, and mythical beings.   He kills lots of bad guys and falls in love with a girl.  Yawn.

2. The Riverworld series: To Your Scattered Bodies Go (1971), The Fabulous Riverboat (1972), etc. Every person who has ever existed wakes up on the banks of an endless river.  Richard Burton, Alice Liddel (the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland), Mark Twain, a Neanderthal named Kazz, and other colorful characters search for answers.

The first book is great, but it takes three more before anyone solves the mystery, and then it's a complete let-down: "So this was what all the fuss was about?"

Still, it was nice to imagine every person who has ever lived standing around naked, including Genghis Khan, William Shakespeare, and my high school history teacher,

3. I was most interested in the postmodern, self-referential mash-ups of fictional heroes: Tarzan meets Doc Savage (Lord of the Trees and the Mad Goblin, 1970), and Sherlock Holmes (The Adventures of the Peerless Peer, 1974).  

The Jules Verne hero Phineas Fogg meets aliens (The Other Log of Phileas Fogg, 1973).  

Dorothy's son returns to Oz (A Barnstormer in Oz, 1982).

One of the first sci-fi writers to incorporate sexual activity into his stories, Farmer went wild, with graphic descriptions of multiple sexual acts.  But no gay characters that I can recall, though in A Feast Unknown (1969), Tarzan and Doc Savage find that they can only get aroused through violence, so they enter into a violent homoerotic relationship of sorts.  It was originally published as porn.

Also, in Flesh (1960), the good guy mass-murders a tribe of gay-stereotype Elves.


  1. The picture labelled "Tahmoh Penikett", is actually Jamie Bamber from an episode of Battlestar Gallactica.

  2. I've always been surprised by SF beefcake. Fantasy beefcake, sure, barbarians, Tarzan types, thieves who somehow get Flanderized into loincloth-glad muscle...

    Science fiction beefcake always surprised me, though the raygun gothic movement had plenty of examples. (Seriously, look at the number of times a but is wearing shorts, boots, and a fishbowl in his head. Spoiler warning: Do NOT dress like this in space.


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