Thursday, August 14, 2014


Today I finished reading (for the second time in more than thirty years), A FEAST UNKNOWN, a 1969 science fiction novel by Philip Jose Farmer. The book was reprinted along with several other Farmer titles in 2012 by Titan Books in handsome trade paperback editions.

A FEAST UNKNOWN is a pulp fan's wildest dream come true. It's the story of a fight between Tarzan and Doc Savage, two of the greatest pulp adventure heroes of all time. Except, since this is an unauthorized pastiche, in Farmer's novel the characters go by the names of Lord Grandrith and Doc Caliban. A rose by any other name....

Farmer spins an exciting, fast paced adventure yarn which starts with an attack on Grandrith's Kenyan plantation and quickly escalates from there. There's a chase across Africa, a visit to the fabled city (what's left of it) of Opar (here called Ophir), and an ancient secret ceremony in the hidden mountain stronghold of The Nine, a mysterious organization of immortal beings that includes (among others), Odin. Both Grandrith and Caliban are in service to The Nine which has given both men a mysterious elixir that has prolonged their lifespans indefinitely. And that's just for starters.

Grandrith and Trish Wilde (aka Pat Savage) soon find themselves headed from Africa to England to rescue Clio (Jane) from the clutches of a mad Albanian and a final showdown to the death between Grandrith and Caliban. Oh, and along the way, Grandrith discovers that he and Caliban are brothers and that their father was none other than Jack the Ripper.

Farmer complicates this headlong narrative by having both Grandrith and Caliban stricken with a strange mental/physical aberration (a side effect of the elixir which grants them both near eternal life). Both men become sexually aroused at the thought of killing an enemy in battle and both men achieve orgasms when they take the life of another.

That's right folks, this is a pulp novel with plenty of blood and thunder, just like the good old days but with a new element added: sex. The sex in A FEAST UNKNOWN is not of the casual nature either. It's turned up to 11. We're talking erections, orgasms, sodomy, rape, the eating of testes and clitorises, bestiality, incest, coprophagia and more. There's as much (or more) ejaculate spilled as blood. And the scene in which Grandrith and Caliban duel each other with saber like crossed erections at full mast, is something I'll never forget.

The inclusion of such explicit sexual content in a science fiction novel raised quite a few eyebrows when A FEAST UNKNOWN was first published in the late 1960s. It still does. It's over the top. It's shocking. And, in places, it's pretty damned funny. Is it obscene? Pornographic? You bet it is, so, a warning to potential readers, this is definitely X-rated, adults only material.

But the sexual content sheds new psychological insight into these revered and venerable pulp heroes. Farmer writes Grandrith as a human being raised by wild animals would really behave. None of this noble savage crap. And he allows Caliban to come to terms with the enormous stress and strain of his repressed sexuality in ways that Doc Savage would never have approved of.

If you're a fan of the pulps who has ever wanted to see these characters in a new, adult way, A FEAST UNKNOWN comes highly recommended. It's certainly not going to appeal to everyone but open minded pulp aficionados should find it enjoyable. I thought it was one helluva read.


  1. I believe A Feast Unknown was originally published in the late '60s by a publisher of pornographic paperbacks based in Los Angeles, which would explain the inclusion of explicit sex, scatology, etc. It was out of print thereafter and very hard to find. Farmer, I believe, wrote another Doc Savage pastiche which was part of an ACE Double. I enjoy your reviews. We're about the same age and your pop culture tastes are very relatable.

  2. You're right Peter, the pornographic paperback publisher was Essex, if I'm not mistaken. The company published several books by science fiction writers either under their own names or a fake name. Ray Palmer worked as an editor for the publishing house. I recently reviewed the Palmer bio, THE MAN FROM MARS, here on my blog. Farmer wrote THE MAD GOBLIN, which was a Doc pastiche and LORD OF THE TREES, which was a Tarzan pastiche. They were published as an Ace Double and I have a copy of it in my collection. Both books were reprinted last year in separate trade paperbacks by Titan Books. Thanks for reading and commenting. I do appreciate it!