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Book Review

Book Cover

A Feast Unknown


Author: Philip José Farmer
Titan Books
RRP: £7.99, US $12.95, Cdn $15.95
ISBN: 978 1 78116 288 0
Available 19 October 2012

Lord Grandrith is rudely awoken one night when a shell bursts through his bedroom, followed by a rain of automatic weapons fire. Using his super human abilities he escapes and discovers that he is being hunted by three different factions, the Kenyans, the Arabs and Doc Caliban. Having the reputation of owning the elixir for eternal life, and a hidden store of gold, Grandrith is used to being the target for the planet's opportunists and adventurers, but as the hunt intensifies he realises that Caliban may well be his equal and if so may be more like him than he wants to admit...

A Feast Unknown is an alternative fictitious history written by American science fiction writer Philip José Farmer, better known for his Riverworld novels. A well respected writer, Farmer also produced a series of books based on early twentieth century fictional characters; although in his case he had a dual drive, firstly to resurrect those heroes of his own childhood, whilst at the same time tearing them apart to expose the innate ridiculousness of their central premises. To this end he created his Wold Newton Family concept series of books, all of which were known for their graphic descriptions of sex and especially sex and violence combined.

Although the Tarzan novels, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, have stood the test of time, mostly because of the cinematic adaptations, Doc Savage, created by Henry W. Ralston and Editor John L. Nanovic, has not fared so well and the only film based on his series of books bombed at the box office, pushing the good doctor back into relative literary obscurity.

Both characters were created as the idealised male, strong, hyper-intelligent and irresistible to women, an absurdity which only grew as the years passed by and the advent of women liberation created a less pliable form of literary female. Farmer took this idea and pushed it past the point of absurdity and whilst I’m sure that he felt that he was engaging in post-modernist irony, its telling that the only publishers which would originally touch the book were publishers of erotica and pornography.

The reason for this is that Farmer uses images and descriptions of penises and the act of ejaculation, central totems of the male psyche, not in a way that intensifies the sexual prowess of his two central characters, but as a way to weaken and disable them.

Both Grandrith and Caliban have prodigious manhood’s. For Grandrith his problem is that he can only ejaculate in response to committing an act of extreme violence, which makes the first five chapters, where he is fighting for his life an absurdist’s messy dream. Caliban on the other hand has such a large member that he is unable to engage in normal sex. There are no sexual barriers either for the two men, Farmer feeling that such limitations are for lessor beings, so there are explicit descriptions of buggery, bestiality and sex with wounds.

There is this oddity that, if you go to the cinema there is an age rating placed on the movie, no such limitations are placed on book, who do not have a rating system except for the obscene publications act, which following the 1960 court brought against D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover, has pretty much died a death, allowing works of erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James to be openly displayed and accepted by the general reading public.

The central plot of the book, which is the first in a series, is pretty simple. Grandrith is hunted down by Caliban on the misunderstanding that he had raped and killed someone close to him. When the two travel across Africa to meet with the Nine, a set of near immortals, they discover that they have been manipulated and, in revenge, set out to rid the world of the Nine.

In some ways Farmer succeeds in his central attempt to make the elevation of the male sex act a point of absurdity, certainly by the end of the first five chapters Grandrith has ejaculated so many times that the reader senses overload with description and the whole act takes on the aspect of a Monty Python sketch. Of course, if this particular penny does not drop you’re going to think that you are reading a rather odd, violent homoerotica novel.

Probably not a book to be bought for the under sixteen’s, unless you’re up to very long and embarrassing conversations with your kids.


Charles Packer

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