The fourth installment in Farmer’s Riverworld series, wherein the source of the alien power that has resurrected all of humanity (we’re like the stock market – one minute we’re down, then we’re up!) on a distant planet is finally discovered. SPOILER ALERT: it was aliens with a resurrection machine. They wanted to test Earthlings’ morality, and we failed said test, scoring just above an immoral species of flatworm from Antares IV which befriends you only so it can bang your sister. Also, the clocks go ahead this weekend, so remember to change the batteries in your spoiler-alerter.

On a scale of famous labyrinths ranging from the Pac Man board to Minotaur’s hideout, this book is: the hedge maze from ‘The Shining’.


An Earthman travels to a distant star where he meets strange beings and engages in lengthy discussions about reality, morality and the veracity of various philosophical systems. And I’m all like, “Enough jib jabberin’! Break out the lasers!” Sadly, the lasers remained sealed in their blister packs throughout the novel. Literary critic Harold Bloom loved this book so much he wrote a sequel to it, which is indicative of how boring it is. If you don’t know who literary critic Harold Bloom is, Google him. Look at his sour, pompous, fish-like puss and ask yourself if you’d ever want to read anything he recommended, ever.

On a scale of doomed voyages ranging from the Challenger to the Titanic, this book is: a car ride where you get stuck in traffic.

Stay home.

Having gotten over humans crucifying Jesus, God decides to send another messiah to Earth. But this time, it’s a woman. Not only that, but Morrow infers that God Herself is a She. A female God? Sounds crazy but he might be right; God is demanding, prone to frightening emotional outbursts and no man can make Her happy! Rim shot. I guess the Eleventh Commandment would be ‘Thou shalt not leave the toilet seat up’! Double rim shot.  Vagina! Goodnight everybody. Highly recommended.

On a scale of miracles Jesus performed ranging from turning water into wine to driving demons from a pig, this book is: that time He made the Statue Of Liberty disappear.

‘God’ is ‘cat’ spelled with different letters.

So enamoured are we with the film adaptation of this book that we forget how utterly fucked up the original story is. Within its pages are a beheading, a heroin-induced coma, a sociopathic android, a poisoned dildo and the megalomaniacal, self-crowned ruler of an enchanted city who keeps order through fear, deception and sorcery.  Okay, not the dildo, but still. Of course, when you think about what the children of 1900 were doing – working in factories, eating laudanum, losing their sight in smelting accidents – this book makes sense. Kids back then were tough, and needed stories to match, When’s the last time Dora The Explorer fought her way out of a heroin-induced coma? Never. Because, in addition to having a pussy, she also is one.

On a scale of people from Oz ranging from Beecher to Schillinger, this book is: Adebisi.

I read it while I was high, now I have the Munchkins.

Synopsis: an ancient subterranean worm and its human familiar terrorize the English countryside. For the authour of Dracula, this book isn’t very good. Besides being ploddingly slow, it teems with that ol’ fashioned racism early 20th century writers were so free with. Stoker refers to the novel’s lone black character Oolonga (that’s right; the black guy’s name is ‘Oolonga’) as a ‘nigger’ who is ‘a clever fellow – for a nigger’. This kind of rabid intolerance is hard to stomach in any forum, fictional or otherwise. Of course Stoker, being Irish, was too drunk and stupid to know better.

On a scale of stereotypes ranging from Sony to RCA, this book is Poopsounders (‘Poopsounders: When It Has To Sound Like Shit!’)

Don’t hate the lair, hate the worm.

Every human who ever lived is resurrected along the banks of a mysterious river where they are fed, clothed and made impervious to death by an outside force beyond comprehension. That’s on page three. From there, the authour pits a reanimated Sir Richard Burton against a revived Hermann Goring as the two of them compete for supremacy and understanding of a paradise that may be anything but. If scifi is a what if? genre, then Farmer is a why not? writer, bound by no convention whatsoever. Recommended, if only for the sheer bravado of subject matter and storytelling.

On a scale of things that come back to life ranging from the African lungfish to Jesus, this book is: zombie John Dillinger.

There was a Farmer wrote a book, and Philip was his name-o.

The book is a doozy; 450 pages of arcane high-fantasy prose denser than Oprah’s pubic hair and just as daunting. But if you’ve got the time and patience to push through, it’s worth it. Eddison describes everything from the story’s characters to what they wear to how they fight to what they eat in highly intricate but engrossing detail, and the plot is intricate as hell. By the end it’s like you’re really drunk at an awesome party: you don’t remember where you are, who anyone is or what’s going on, but you don’t care, because you’re having such a great time and no one suspects it was you who pooped in the upstairs bathtub. Recommended for hardcore fantasy buffs.

On a scale of breakdance moves ranging from the Coffee Grinder to the Worm, this book is: the One Arm Elbow Air Flare.

Are you Stedman (or Gail) enough to handle it?

Bradbury pulls the ol’ good cop/bad cop routine with this book. First, he scares you. Then he makes you feel like everything’s going to be okay. Then he scares you again. Then he offers you a cigarette. Then he slaps it out of your hand and talks about the horrible things that happen to readers like you in the joint. But the only thing I’ll confess to is loving this classic tale of small-town horror as seen through the eyes of children. Recommended.

On a scale of coming wickedness ranging from summer gas gouging to Ragnarok, this book is: New Memories Of TuscanyTM Soylent Green (With 33% More Italians!)

Whose writing is amazing? I'm thinking R.B.'s.

Billions of years from now the sun has died out and darkness covers the land. Monsters are everywhere and toe-stubbing is at an all-time high. In search of his lost love, a single adventurer sets out across the unknown blackness of The Night Lands where he has adventures out the wazoo. You can’t see his wazoo, of course, because it’s dark. All this could’ve been avoided if God had used a General Electric EnersaveTM Yellow Sun. They last up to 5,000,000 years longer than conventional suns and use a fraction of the nuclear fusion.

On a scale of dark things ranging from the Dark Knight to dark matter, this book is: Doctrine Dark.

Also, there are giant Pac-Mans.

This book takes place during a time when fairy-folk, or sidhe, still walk the earth. The sidhe are a noble people who eschew iron and despise the evil that men do, but, strangely, love the song ‘The Evil That Men Do’ by Iron Maiden.  They speak their own secret language, ‘French’, have their own laws and hold a seat in the Mythical U.N. next to the manticore. If you’ve got a big presentation on the sidhe due at work tomorrow that you haven’t started, consider passing off this hauntingly beautiful fantasy masterpiece as your own.

On a scale of strange dreams ranging from being naked in school to building a go-cart with your ex-landlord, this book is: you’re rolling a big donut, and there’s this snake wearing a vest.

She got the way to move me, Cherryh!

A prisoner in San Quentin escapes the monotony of solitary confinement and the physical agony of weeks in a straightjacket by putting himself into a trance and revisiting himself in past lives. Like they say: ‘Don’t do the crime if you can’t transcend reality and travel back in time’. Ever the realist, London conducted interviews with actual convicts before writing this book to ensure the prison experiences he depicted were accurate. Hence The Star Rover’s initial title, Cornholed By The Aryans. Highly recommended.

On a scale of Jack London book titles that could double as prison nicknames ranging from White Fang to Lost Face, this book is: The Game.

'Do you like my star roving robe? I star rove in it.'

Someone call Father Dowling, because this book’s a mystery! I have no idea what it’s about! It takes place in England and has Merlin in it, but after that the authour and I weren’t on the same page….literally! I think it’s the final book in Lewis’s theological Space Trilogy, the events of which follow those of Out Of The Silent Planet and Perelandra (a.k.a. Voyage to Venus) and once again feature the philologist Elwin Ransom. But generally, this book overcooked my noodle and made me feel a little like a Grateful Dead song: Dazed And Confused!

On a scale of puzzled exclamations ranging from ‘What the heck?’ to ‘What the what?’, this book is: ‘What in Sam Hill?’

The title should have been 'That Confusing Book'!

If only there was a book in which a young Merlin is instructed in ‘magic’ by a race of aliens who seek to unite a balkanized post-Roman Britain and use humankind as weapons in a millennium-long war against their own enemies. Wait a minute…there is! Merlin’s Mirror is a seamless combo of Chariots Of The Gods and The Sword In The Stone that both entertains and gives pause for (dare I say it?) reflection. This book is one of the reasons Andre Norton was nicknamed ‘The Giant’ by her opponents. Recommended.

On a scale of famous magicians ranging from David Blaine to Circe, this book is: the Silver Age Dr. Strange.

Sit down for a spell and read it.

This book is about an 18th century perfumer who brutally murders young virgins and steals their scents. Which, coincidently, is the same method used by Liz Taylor to make White Diamonds. Not only is this book very interesting and well-written, but the dark subject matter is offset by Patrick Süskind’s use of an umlaut in his name, which makes anything unpleasant seem alluring: löose, rünny stöol. See? Recommended.

On a scale of poorly-selling perfumes ranging from ‘Burnt Toast’ to ‘Hospital Hallway’, this book is: Iggy Pop’s ‘T’aint’.

Know what smell I love? Old books.

Two British children meet a Shakespearean imp who lays bare for them the gloried, storied, lorry-ed history of England by recalling the British Isles’ most famous personages to life. Here, resurrected, is a famous knight who regales them with tales of famous knightery! Here, alive once again, is a Scotch pirate who earns funds by running guns! And here, all the way from the Appian Way, is Roman legionnaire who recalls pitched battles against the Picts before he succumbed to legionnaire’s disease! NOTE: To a Roman legionnaire, ‘legionnaire’s disease’ was simply when the enemy stabbed you in the lung with a spear.

On a scale of famous Hills ranging from Faith to Drew, this book is: Hank.

Puck, yeah!

Guy goes to bed one night, wakes up as a giant cockroach. His family scorns, abuses and ostracizes him, and he eventually dies. Seems harsh, until you realize that waking up as a giant cockroach was, in Kafka’s day, the equivalent of telling your parents you were gay. Your dad would be all, like, ‘If only I’d taught my son to play baseball he wouldn’t have woken up as a giant cockroach!’ Eventually, your family would grudgingly accept your being a giant cockroach and you’d bring your cockroach friend and traveling companion David over for Thanksgiving, but it’d be tense. By the way: doesn’t this this photo of Kafka looks like Tony Soprano’s nephew?

On a scale of things you did this morning ranging from brushing your teeth to waking up as a giant cockroach, this book is: you got yourself a gun.

Riddle: How did Franz Kafka describe a Kafka-esque experience?

Dunsany was a pioneer. And, like most pioneers, he occasionally wandered off track and led his followers into an inhospitable wilderness where they were forced to eat pemmican and bear grease candles until the spring thaw. The Charwoman’s Shadow is one such wilderness. It completely lacks the airy beauty of his Lordship’s other works, and will have you praying to the Gods of Pegana for a quick and merciful end.

On a scale of shadowy things ranging from Shadoe Stevens to a CIA Black Ops Meeting, this book is: a poorly-lit stairwell.

Lord Dunsany's best? Lord, no!

In this play by the authour of Peter Pan (the title of which he stole from a jar of peanut butter) a sorcerer gives five regretful characters the chance to relive their lives over again. A cosmic mulligan, if you will. They hope they will be able to avoid the mistakes that made them miserable in the first place, but, like the (insert currently underperforming sports franchise here), they’re destined to be losers forever. Just goes to show you that a tiger can’t change its stripes. I mean, even if it could get them to run horizontally instead of vertically, that would be a start. But it can’t.

On a scale of movies about repeating life over again ranging from The Butterfly Effect to Groundhog Day, this book is: Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmas.

We can put a mirror into space but we can't cure cancer?

This is the third installment in Farmer’s Riverworld series, in which an all-star cast of both real people (Hermann Goring) and imaginary (Jesus) are resurrected on a mysterious planet and join forces to discover its secrets. Kinda makes you think about what you’d do if you met Herman Goring and Jesus. Personally, I’d say ‘Your life’s work is inspiring to me,’ and walk away, leaving the two of them to figure out who I was talking to. Anywho, the Dark Design is engaging, entertaining and (dare I say it?) illuminating. No. I’d better not. That’s just what they’ll be expecting me to say.

On a scale of third installments of things ranging from Return Of The Jedi to Metal Gear Solid: Snake Eater, this book is: Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits, Volume 3.

You Philip Jose Farmer, you brought her.

Dunsany is like Eminem. He writes with a simplicity and style that makes you think, ‘I can do that.’ But when you sit down and try, you realize how tight, mad and crazy his science, flow and skills are, respectively. And you hate him for his talent, but you don’t want to dis him because you’re afraid he might write a skit about you fellating Insane Clown Posse. So you squash the beef and read this collection of stories, most of which are about how much he hates his ex-wife. Highly recommended.

On a scale of D12 members ranging from Bizarre to Kuniva, this book is: Kon Artis.

'Dear Dunsany; I wrote you but you still ain't callin'....'

Merlin the magician (as opposed to, say, Merlin the plumber) tutours a young Arthur in the skills needed be the King Of England: posing for stamps, inbreeding and waving to crowds. Rule Britannia! Most people are familiar with the Disney adaptation of this book, but the book is better. It has no musical numbers, and its sales don’t go to fund the construction of Israeli earthquake machines. Highly recommended.

On a scale of kings ranging from Burger King to Martin Luther King, Jr., this book is: Abe Froman, Sausage King Of Chicago.

‘Would you like to come into my hut to see my etchings?’

The Vulkings are the bad guys; a malignant force bent on domination and the systematic obliteration of anyone who bars their way. Kinda like Starbucks. Arair is a rebel magician who fights the Vulkings with a small, pathetic resistance which seems doomed to fail at any moment. Kinda like Second Cup. Rapine and grammary ensue, not to mention numerous incidents of skullduggery, calumny, opprobrium, malaxation, squadrism, wanion and pasquinade. There’s even some tachydidaxy thrown in for good measure. The moral of the story is that life is often sad, bitter and unwelcoming. Like Timothy’s. 

On a scale of things with one horn ranging from the rhino to the narwhal, this book is: the 2004 Toyota Matrix.

Magicians were gayer-looking in those days.

Crompton Divided: A novel written by Robert Sheckley. About a man with different personalities. He takes a big trip. On a space ship. And starts a story that’s exceptionally well-knit. This guy’s certifiably a schitzo. But he’s gonna try to cure himself of it, though. The authour goes off on a tangent like that. With a style that’s in its very own class. The writing is the best. Ain’t no tellin’ when he’s down for a plot twist. There’s a dénouement to keep y’all reading. Cuz you don’t know where the story is leading. The novel is exciting but it doesn’t end well. Cuz the protagonist is crazy as hell. The voices in his head revile and haunt him, but by the final chapter, they’re driven straight out of Crompton.

On a scale of things you can use to keep cool during the summer ranging from air conditioning to an oscillating fan, this book is: ice cubes.

Sheckley: Novelist with attitude.

A society of sentient cucarachas living in a man’s kitchen worship Him as their god. But when the Man gets drunk and shoots himself, they begin to question the wisdom and power of their hitherto beloved deity. Basically, it’s Watership Down with roaches. Or maybe Watership Down is this book with rabbits. Either way, it’s a good read. And when you’re done, you can use it to swat real cockroaches. Cut your Raid bill in half. Save some cash. Times are tough out there. Recommended.

On a scale of famous cockroaches ranging from Freddie Roach to Gregor Samsa, this book is: Carl Anthony Payne II.

This book really bugs me.

An American, an Irishman and a Russian battle an ancient culture in the South Pacific that worships a god they call ‘The Shining One’. I love it! Who do you see playing the lead? The Rock? I love it! Can we get Michael Bay to direct? We can? I love it! Can John Williams score it? Can we cross-promote with Pepsi? Can we hire that catering company that makes the spicy peanut saytay? Love it! Love it! Love it!  What’s that? The book? Oh, I hated it. Total snooze fest.

On a scale of moon things ranging from Moon Pies to Atari’s Moon Patrol, this book is: Sun Myung Moon.

Guests must shower before using the Moon Pool.

I’m a huge fan of B.W.A., but many of the stories in this fantasy anthology are altogether incomprehensible, narrative-wise. Overall, this book is like a hot girl with a stutter: beautiful, well put-together, but very difficult to understand. The book says, ‘C-c-can I come out with y-y-you and your f-f-friends tonight?’, to which you reply, ‘Only if you undo a couple buttons on your blouse and keep quiet.’ Eventually you come to resent the book so much you wait until its birthday to break up with it, just so you’ll hurt the book’s feelings that much more. God, I hated it. Great body, though.

On a scale of imaginary lines ringing the globe ranging from the Tropic Of Cancer to the Tropic Of Capricorn, this book is: the Antimeridian.

One day, son, Aldiss will be yours.