This was a classic sci-fi novel. I read it about 20 years ago but it was older. Okay, so here is a description of the book’s plot:

It starts with the destruction of the Earth, but it’s not blown up like in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it’s a big flood. The main character escapes in a spaceship with a sex robot.

I don’t remember why, but he ends up going on some kind of quest in space. I don’t know if it’s his initial goal to find the creators of all life in the universe, or if it happens over time, but that’s his end goal.

On the way, he stops at three planets and spends a while at each one. I don’t remember the order he visits them in, and I don’t remember all three planets, but I remember two of them.

At the first one I remember, he goes to a planet and immediately gets arrested for indecent exposure. On this planet, everyone goes naked, but wears a mask. They consider the face the only truly “private” part of you, because all faces are unique but bodies are just bodies. So he spends a while there, gathers clues or whatever, and then leaves but I don’t remember why.

The second planet I remember was a planet where everyone has a tail, and they take pity on him because he is a poor, tailless creature, and they give him a tail, like a surgically attached, fully functional biological tail, prehensile like a monkey so they use it to rest on and pick things up and such. On this planet, I think it’s a monarchy, because he works his way up in the court and becomes a very important person, but for some reason or another, a huge revolution breaks out and because he is part of the “old regime”, he is a target too, and during the kerfuffle, someone chops off his tail with a cleaver.

So he and the sex robot escape and continue the journey. There is another planet but I don’t know where it falls in the order of things and what that planet’s gimmick is.

Also, during trips either between planets or on the way to find the creators of life, he encounters a black hole. This is where I get the timeline in, because in the book he calls it something weird, like a 'wabjub' or something weird like that that starts with 'W' but I don’t think it’s exactly that. Then, there is a footnote describing about how this book was written before the discovery of the black hole so he kind of discovered it first. Now, I can’t remember if he wrote about it before they were first called black holes or before they were first theorized to exist. I looked it up before and basically, there are two time periods that are important for black holes along those lines, so the book was either written in the 50s-70s somewhere, or in the very early 1900s.

So eventually, he ends up discovering the creators of all life and visiting them where they were, and he wants to ask them like, what is the meaning of life? Is there a purpose? Why did they seed life through the whole universe? You know, like life’s big questions.

It turns out, the creators are a species of gigantic beetles, absolutely massive. So he goes and asks them, why did you put life everywhere?

The beetles say that when their species was young, they used to be explorers, and explored everywhere. They would land on planets and investigate them. While there, they had to of course perform biological functions, like poop, and their poop like ours was filled with microorganisms, and those organisms then colonized those planets and evolved into all the life in the galaxy. So in the end, there was no big reason for life and everyone just evolved from beetle poop.

I know it would be helpful if I could remember character names or specific quotes, but that’s all that I can recall from it. I’m fairly sure it’s not a well known author. Someone obscure.

What I’ve tried so far is asking in book clubs, asking sci-fi people I know, all kinds of Google searches for the date of publication or using bits I remember from the book, as well as asking several different AI assistants and haven’t had any luck.

Anyone have any ideas?

  • It sounds qualitatively like Jack Vance, but I can't think of anything that matches specifically.
    – Buzz
    Sep 7 at 18:53
  • 1
    Honestly I'm struggling to think of any book written in the last few years that hasn't got a man escaping an exploding earth with a sex robot. Talk about cliché
    – Valorum
    Sep 7 at 19:37

1 Answer 1


This is Venus on the Half-Shell (1974) by "Kilgore Trout," one of several pseudonyms used by Philip José Farmer.

Farmer wrote Venus on the Half-Shell (1975) under the name Kilgore Trout, a fictional author who appears in the works of Kurt Vonnegut.

The Goodreads blurb mentions that the protagonist, Simon Wagstaff, escapes a flooded Earth in a spaceship and has a "sexy robot companion:"

Simon Wagstaff is the Space Wanderer, a seeker of truth and electric banjo player who narrowly escapes the Deluge that destroys Earth when he happens upon an abandoned Chinese spaceship, the Hwang Ho. A man without a planet, he gains immortality from an elixir drunk during a sexual interlude with a cat-like alien queen in heat. Now, with his pet owl, his dog Anubis and a sexy robot companion, Simon charts a 3,000-year course to the most distant corners of a multiverse full of surprises to seek out the answers to the questions no one can seem to answer.

Front cover of "Venus on the Half-Shell" (1974) by Philip José Farmer.

The Wikipedia page mentions that Simon goes on a quest to find the answer to "the Ultimate Question" and claims that the novel inspired the plot of Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy franchise:

The plot, in which Earth is destroyed by cosmic bureaucrats doing routine maintenance and the sole human survivor goes on a quest to find the "Definitive Answer to the Ultimate Question", was an inspiration for the plot of the later Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.

This lengthy review covers most of the other plot points you mentioned, such as an encounter with a black hole, a planet populated by humans with tails, a planet where a person's face is regarded as the only indecent part of their body, and massive cockroaches (not beetles) that helped the Supreme Being seed life throughout the universe:

The novel opens in the year 3069; our hero Simon Wagstaff is getting busy on the head of the Sphinx in Egypt. The goofy tone of the novel is displayed posthaste as a sudden flooding wipes out civilzation (not to mention Simon’s girlfriend) in the span of a few pages. Simon manages to stay afloat on a plastic mummy display case. Along the way he picks up a pair of what will become constant companions: a dog, which he names Anubis, and an owl, which he names Athena. They are the last survivors of the planet Earth; eventually Simon will learn that the planet was wiped out by the Hoonhoors, an alien race that ventures around the cosmos and “cleans” planets that have become too dirty.


After an encounter with an old space traveler (who has returned to Earth merely to find out who won a particular ballgame in 2457), Simon takes off into space. His goal is to get to “the Truth” behind reality and life. Instead he’s promptly chased by a Hoonhoor ship, and accidentally slips into a black hole, which takes him into another galaxy.


The first planet up on the menu is Shaltoon, which is populated by humanoid felines.


Simon gets his own taste of that “cat-heat;” invited to a personal meeting with Queen Margaret of Shaltoon, Simon enjoys some (off-page) sex with the lady, and more importantly is served an elixer by her that grants immortality. He shares the drink with Anubis and Athena after some mulling over if it’s right to make animals immortal. But he turns down the queen’s offer to rule beside her and heads off again, eventually landing on another planet: Giffard. This one is a bizarre world with “zeppelin” males that fly and “pyramid” females that graze on the grass.


More importantly so far as the novel goes, here Simon also meets what will become his other constant companion, though to tell the truth on this reading I discovered she’s less narratively important than I remembered her being: Chworktap, a blonde beauty with a “nice figure” that Simon first glimpses coming nude out of the water


Only after they have the expected sex – which again occurs off-page – does Simon learn that Chworktap is…an android! She leaves with Simon when he must escape Gifford, when Simon pisses off the natives with his suggestion on how they manage the male-female discord he caused – a suggestion which ends up with Simon being labelled “Simon the Sodomite” by the angry natives. Next up is the planet Lalorlong, which curiously Chworktap suggests, as the natives there might have the answers Simon seeks, as they have nothing to do but ponder. I say “curiously” because all this is overlooked once they get there and the Lalorlongs turn out to be sentient tires that think of nothing but endlessly circling around the planet.


Next up is the planet Dokal, which takes up a good portion of the text.


Dokal is populated by humans with tails, and Simon has a tail attached to his body via surgery, urged to do so by the natives.


The planet Goolgeas is the next stop, and this one takes up nearly as much text as Dokal did. It is however the most irritating section of the novel, as the planet is a satire of litigation run rampant.


They’re all thrown in prison for trial…and wait decades until it’s their turn, due to how swamped the courts are. Eventually everyone on the planet is in prison for some technicality, and our heroes are finally let go because so much time has passed that a “normal lifespan” has been reached. All told, they spend 130 years in prison.


We’re close to the end, so “Trout” skips over three thousand years; Simon is now a legend in the cosmos, the “Space Wanderer,” who still seeks the answer to his question.


And once again he’s in prison, arrested on the planet Shonk for covering his genitals but not his face, contrary to native custom. Five years later Simon’s sprung by a Hoonhoor ship; the occupants apologize for their ancestors having destroyed Earth, and to make up for it they send Simon off to the planet of the Clerun-Gowph. A recurring subplot in the book is Simon’s search for these elusive, impossibly ancient beings; in most planets in the galaxies, one will find a massive “candy heart-shaped” structure, planted there billions of years ago by the Clerun-Gowph. Simon’s certain if they are that ancient then they will know all there is to know about life.

The year is now 8,120,006,000 AC (“After Creation”), and the Clerun-Gowphs are massive cockroaches. Their leader is named Bingo and he was one of the first to plant those structures; he actually worked with the Supreme Being, whom he refers to as “It.” Those expecting a probing answer to Simon’s burning question have come to the wrong book; after much goofy back and forth, Bingo’s response to why “It” created life, despite all the suffering that would ensue, is a mere “Why not?”

I checked the Google Books preview of the novel, and the author referred to a black hole as a "boojum:"

A boojum was a collapsed star which formed a gravitational whirlpool that sucked in any matter coming close to it. In fact, its gravity was so strong that even light couldn't escape from its surface.

  • 2
    The backstory of the "Kilgore Trout" pseudonym is that in several of Kurt Vonnegut Jr's works, there's mention of a hack science fiction writer named Kilgore Trout. And going down another level "Kilgore Trout" as a name is a reference to "Theodore Sturgeon".
    – user888379
    Sep 7 at 22:22
  • 1
    @LogicDictates You nailed it sir, finally I can check this out again!
    – Ryan Hibbs
    Sep 8 at 3:25
  • Did you just know this? Or did you have some way of finding it out?
    – Ryan Hibbs
    Sep 8 at 3:33
  • @Ryan Hibbs - I found it pretty quickly with a Google search. I included the word "goodreads" in the search term, which definitely helped. I just tried searching for it without including that word and it didn't come up. Sep 8 at 4:19

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