Saturday, September 6, 2008
Image of the Beast
Speaking of books...
Okay, we weren't, but it's a dark, gray, and rainy Saturday morning as Tropical Storm Hanna passes through Virginia and I'm having difficulty mustering the motivation to do much of anything beyond some Intarweb-assisted free association, which means I'm thinking about books. Hey, at least I'm not Googling the names of former girlfriends and would-be-girlfriends-except-they-really-didn't-like-me-all-that-much; that's gotta count for something!
Many years ago (during college in the '70s, actually) I got caught up in Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series (instead of focusing on the intricacies of microbial genetics or the workings of the Winogradsky column). Since I tend to become a tad... obsessed... about stuff, you might understand why I then sought out every damn thing the man had ever written, just as I do with every author who fascinates me.
With PJF that wound up being a mixed bag. The man has an incredibly odd imagination, which can sometimes be a bit...uh...let's say off-putting, and yet he's managed to publish and keep in print an absolute shitload of stuff.
Oh, and he pretty much introduced sex to science fiction.
So there's my awkward-ass, not-quite-a-segue to Image of the Beast and its sequel, Blown, a couple of multi-genre-crossing novels originally released by erotica/porn publisher Essex House.
Briefly (from the collection of reviews on Farmer's own web page),
"THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST (1968) is a tongue-in-cheek horror cum porno sf thriller set in an eerie smog ridden Los Angeles where Herald Childe*, a laconic gumshoe down on his luck gets involved in gruesome encounters with a curious sexual underworld where Farmer blends vampirism and alien invaders to good effect. If the symbolic structure of the book is somewhat awry at times, the shock effects and perverse encounters Farmer literally scatters throughout the plot are genuinely original."
"Farmer calls both THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST and BLOWN (1969) its less assured sequel (where Forry Ackerman and his famed book collection become major characters), exorcisms, and one supposes that what needs exorcising is the beast in man, the terrifying Dionysian destructiveness his hero encounters."
"The images Farmer uses are outrageous: we see the detective's partner being castrated by a beautiful woman with a set of false iron teeth and a sinister, almost parodic Dracula figure; another major character has a snake-like symbiotic character living in her vagina. Farmer had of course become a past master at outre' "biosexopsychic" situations in his earlier books and better short stories, but the editorial carte blanche of Essex House allowed his imagination to take full, fluent flight. It is not always in the best of taste, but he is certainly a master of startling speculative concepts. (Maxim Jakubowski)"
Note that "Forry Ackerman" reference; it's important. That's Forrest J Ackerman, noted SF fan, collector, former editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland (1958-1983), and, because of the latter, a seminal part of my childhood.
Now, when Ray Ferry revived Famous Monsters in 1993** he started things off with a huge launch party chock-full of SF/Fantasy/Horror celebrity guests including Forry. Since this event was being staged in Crystal City, VA and I figured never again would so many of my heroes be so close to my home (or alive, for that matter), I called up my friend Sam*** and coerced him into going with me for a weekend of autograph-hunting, celebrity-stalking, and intensive Monster Geekery.
And I took along my copy of Image of the Beast.
I figured it would be pretty cool to get Forry's autograph on something besides a back issue of Famous Monsters. That, and I wondered what, exactly, his reaction would be to something so off-beat and obscure, so I kept looking for an opportunity to corner him and get his signature, but, as you might imagine, he was pretty busy the entire weekend. However, at one point the organizers did set up a signing table and I quickly joined the long line of adoring fans while clutching my little paperback in my sweaty, not-so-little hand. Eventually my turn came and as I handed my book over to Forry he shot me this...look...and asked,
"Does your mother know you have this?"
I couldn't resist, not with such a perfect straight line.
"Does your mother know you're in this?
Bless his heart, he laughed, signed the inside cover, gave me a wink, and sent me on my merry way.
*Get it? Herald Childe? As in heralding a new age? As in "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" by Lord Byron? Oh, and later on in Blown we find out he's to be the leader of a gang of warring aliens because he's a descendant of--guess who?--Byron. About as subtle as a baseball bat to the crotch.
**Thereby unleashing a storm of controversy resulting in lawsuits a-plenty. See the Wikipedia article. Ray Ferry presents the his side of the story in Life is But A Scream! The True Story of the Rebirth of Famous Monsters of Filmland.
***The man who introduced me to Famous Monsters back in the '60s and, consequently, horror film fandom. Much of who I am today we can blame on Sam.